Skip to comments.Theodore Roosevelt Dies Suddenly at Oyster Bay Home; Nation Shocked
Posted on 01/06/2004 8:46:08 PM PST by Bayou City
Theodore Roosevelt Dies Suddenly at Oyster Bay Home; Nation Shocked, Pays Tribute to Former President; Our Flag on All Seas and in All Lands at Half Mast
This event took place on January 6, 1919, and was reported in the The New York Times the following day.
EMBOLISM CAUSED DEATH
Blood Clot, Physicians Announce, Killed Col. Roosevelt in His Sleep
WORKED UP TO THE LAST
Worn by Illness, Former President with Indomitable Will Kept Up Activities
WAS IN PERIL IN HOSPITAL
Embolism Then Threatened His Life--Rheumatism Traced to Tooth Infected 20 Years Ago
Special to The New York Times
Oyster Bay, L.I., Jan. 6. -- Theodore Roosevelt, former President of the United States, died this morning between 4 and 4:15 o'clock while asleep in his bed at his home on Sagamore Hill, in this place.
His physicians said that the immediate cause of death was a clot of blood which detached itself from a vein and entered the lungs.
His sudden death took by surprise his physicians as well as all others who had been with him lately. It was announced that the blood clot was not directly due to the inflammatory rheumatism from which he had been suffering for two months, but must be traced to earlier conditions. One of the contributing causes was the fever which he contracted during his explorations in Brazil, when he discovered the River of Doubt early in 1914. This fever left a poison in the blood which had been a partial cause of several attacks of illness which he had suffered since that time.
Colonel Roosevelt was working hard as late as Saturday, dictating articles and letters. He spent Sunday quietly, but looked and felt well, until shortly before 11 o'clock, when he had difficulty in breathing. After treatment he felt better and returned to bed.
Mrs. Roosevelt looked in to see how he was sleeping at 2 o'clock this morning. He then appeared normal. Two hours later, James Amos, an old negro servant of the family, formerly with them at the White House, thought that there was something wrong with the manner in which Colonel Roosevelt was breathing. Amos had been placed in the next room to keep a close watch over Colonel Roosevelt, and went at once to the bedside. He was alarmed at the hollow sound of his breathing and summoned the trained nurse. When she arrived, the breathing had stopped. Dr. George W. Faller of Oyster Bay, the family physician, was summoned, and found that life had left the body a few minutes before.
Statement By Physicians
Later, the following statement was given out by Dr. Faller and Drs. John H. Richard and John A. Hartwell of New York, who had Colonel Roosevelt under their care at Roosevelt Hospital:
Colonel Roosevelt had been suffering from an attack of inflammatory rheumatism for about two months. His progress had been entirely satisfactory and his condition had not given cause for special concern. On Sunday he was in good spirits and spent the evening with his family, dictating letters. He retired at 11 o'clock, and at 4 o'clock in the morning his manservant who occupied an adjoining room, noticed that, while sleeping quietly, Colonel Roosevelt's breathing was hollow. He died almost immediately, without awakening. The cause of death was an embolus.
George W. Faller, M.D. John H. Richards, M.D. John A. Hartwell, M.D.
An embolus is a clot of blood. Dr. Faller said that it had probably occurred in the lungs, but might have been in the brain.
Colonel Roosevelt was taken from Roosevelt Hospital to Oyster Bay to spend Christmas with his family, but was expected to return for further treatment. The inflammatory rheumatism was due, in the opinion of his physicians, to an infected tooth, which had originally given trouble twenty years ago. Inflammatory rheumatism is not known to be a cause of embolism, and it is not believed that the rheumatism was responsible for his death, although it may have contributed to it.
Colonel Roosevelt suffered from pulmonary embolism at the Roosevelt Hospital three weeks ago, and was then in a critical condition for a time, but his recovery was thought to be thorough.
Mrs. Roosevelt was the only member of the family at home when the death occurred. Captain Archibald Roosevelt had left yesterday with his wife, formerly Miss Mary S. Lockwood, for Boston, on receiving word that her father was dying. Lieut. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., is in France with the Army of Occupation. Captain Kermit Roosevelt is also in France. His daughter-in- law, Mrs. Richard H. Derby, and her two children had been at Sagamore Hill for Christmas, but had gone to Aiken, S.C. All the members of Colonel Roosevelt's family now in this country at once started for Sagamore Hill on learning of his death.
Colonel Roosevelt himself had no idea that he was seriously ill, and was full of interest in everything in the world and full of plans for the future. He was vexed over his two months of invalidism. When he was asked about his health by visitors his reply was a vigorous "Bully!" He deceived not only himself, his family, and his friends as to the seriousness of his condition, but deceived his physicians as well.
Dr. Faller said that he had been paying two visits a day regularly to Colonel Roosevelt since his return to Oyster Bay and believed that he was improving.
Evaded Physician's Inquiries
"When I called on him last night at 8 o'clock, which was the regular hour for one of my visits," Dr. Faller said, "I wanted to know his condition, but I could not get him to tell me anything about his case. He talked about almost everything except himself and his condition of health. His months of illness had not made much change in his appearance. He was ruddy, and, to outward appearances, nearly as sturdy as ever. I left him on my first visit in the evening apparently improving rapidly and feeling first-rate.
"I was called again at about 11 o'clock by the nurse. I found Colonel Roosevelt looking about the same, but he said that he was having trouble to get his breath, and that he felt as if his heart would stop beating. He was interested in his condition, but not worried. He had no idea that he was in danger.
"After I had been with him for some time he said that he felt better. When I was called again he was dead."
Colonel Roosevelt had not been confined to his bed at all by illness since he returned from the hospital. He had been down to the village in his automobile once and had several times taken walks about his estate. He felt well generally, but was considerably troubled by pains in his right hand, which was still badly swollen by rheumatism.
Colonel Roosevelt was considered only partially recovered from the rheumatism when he left the hospital on Christmas morning to have Christmas dinner with his family. He was met on his arrival at his home by the two Derby children. One of them hailed him by saying:
"Come on, Grandpa, and see what Santa Claus has brought."
Colonel Roosevelt started to be very cautious and to take good care of himself on his return to his home, but he was soon back in his old stride, dictating letters and articles with his normal prolific energy. He spent most of the afternoon on Thursday dictating, and resumed his work on Saturday. According to his physician, he was dictating letters only a few hours before his death.
His last work was on editorial articles for The Kansas City Star, and on an article for the Metropolitan Magazine. About the last thing he did was to write a long letter to his son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., in which he enclosed proofs of his last article for the Metropolitan.
The last words uttered by Colonel Roosevelt were to his colored servant Amos after he had retired, and they were:
"Please put out that light, James."
One of Colonel Roosevelt's last visitors, outside of the physicians and his family, was John Gerardi, a barber. Colonel Roosevelt usually made a practice of shaving himself, but since he has been ill, he has been visited regularly by Gerardi.
"He was in the sitting room in an easy chair yesterday," said Gerardi, "when I came in. He started to get up and said, 'Hello, John,' in the friendly way he always spoke. Then he said:
"'You don't have to send any of your circulars to me when you want something for the feast of Saint Rocco. Come yourself, John.'
"He shook hands with me, when I was through. He was one fine man. If anybody was sick or needed help in the village, you never had to go to Colonel Roosevelt but once."
Mourning in Oyster Bay
The village of Oyster Bay was stunned by the news of his death. Colonel Roosevelt was appreciated by the village as a world figure, but he also was looked upon as much of a fellow- townsman as the village blacksmith or any other local citizen. The Oyster Bay flag was lowered at once to half mast, crepe went up on the fire house, the rooms of the Masonic Lodge and elsewhere in the village, while all the residents of the town went about with an appearance of deep personal grief.
Colonel Roosevelt was a member of the local lodge of Masons, and never failed to keep up his interest in it. He had made a habit for many years of visiting Masonic lodges wherever he went, as a member of the Oyster Bay lodge, and, returning, to tell his brother Masons here of his visits. He found Masonic lodges when he was in Africa at Mairobe, and in South America he found a lodge on the Asuncion River. The Masons here knew from Colonel Roosevelt of the doings of Masonic lodges in all parts of the world. The members of the local lodge suggested a Masonic funeral yesterday, but this was dropped when the wishes of the family became known.
When Colonel Roosevelt returned from his South American journey in 1914, he gave the first account of his discoveries in an address at the local church, months ahead of the announcement of the discovery of the mysterious Brazilian River, now the Rio Teodoro, in a magazine. He was a village institution as the master of ceremonies over the Christmas tree in Christ Episcopal Church, and in the role of Santa Claus at the Cove Neck School, near Sagamore Hill, where all of his children learned the A B C's. Last Christmas was the first time that Colonel Roosevelt had failed to take charge of these functions since he left the White House, with the exception of the Christmas of 1913, when he was on his way to South America. His son, Captain Archie, took his place last Christmas as the Santa Claus of the Cove Neck School.
Colonel Roosevelt's old negro servants were inconsolable. James Amos, to whom he addressed his last words, and his coachman, Charles Lee, had been with him since his White House days. Charles Lee was the son of a man who had been the personal servant of General Robert E. Lee. Charles Lee had been an employe of the late General Fitzhugh Lee, and left the service of the General to go with Colonel Roosevelt when the latter was in the White House.
"I have lost the best friend I have ever had," said Lee, when he could find voice, "and the best friend any man ever had."
The servants and the old personal friends of Colonel Roosevelt, as well as the members of his family, were especially affected by the news of his death, because they thought he was getting well rapidly. Bulletins of the Colonel's condition had come to the village from Sagamore Hill by word of mouth every day since he had been home, and the story always was that the patient had said he was feeling "bully" and "great."
The news of his sudden death was not believed when it first came to the village. When it was verified by the local physicians, photographs of Colonel Roosevelt, many of them autographed, appeared in shop and residence windows draped in mourning.
Flood of Telegraph Messages
The telegraph office was hardly opened when telegrams of condolence began to arrive. They were soon coming in too fast for the single operator. Two more telegraphers were put to work, but the volume of messages was soon far beyond their capacity to receive them.
W. Emlen Roosevelt, a cousin, living near the village, was the first relative of the family to arrive in the morning after the news of Colonel Roosevelt's death. He had called at Sagamore Hill yesterday and found Colonel Roosevelt in good spirits, so that the news staggered him. He reported that Mrs. Roosevelt had borne the death of her husband with great fortitude. Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., arrived during the morning.
Others who called at the home today were Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Douglas Robinson, Elon R. Hooker, former Treasurer of the Progressive Party; Joseph W. Bishop, and Miss Josephine Stryker, Colonel Roosevelt's private secretary.
Five airplanes from Quentin Roosevelt Field flew in "V" formation over Sagamore Hill in the afternoon and dropped wreaths of laurel about the house. They flew very low, sometimes circling just over the tops of the trees, and letting fall the wreaths within a few feet of the house.
The airplane squadron was under the command of Lieutenant M. S. Harmon. Three of his fellow pilots were Lieutenant L. G. Williams, Lieutenant Coates, and Lieutenant Parnell. Quentin Roosevelt Field, which is between Mineola and Westbury, was so named after the death of Colonel Roosevelt's son in France.
Lieutenant Harmon announced that an airplane watch would be kept over Sagamore Hill until the hour of the funeral on Wednesday. The watch will be maintained night and day, one plane relieving another.
Colonel Roosevelt was a personal acquaintance of hundreds of the American air pilots, especially those on Long Island, many of whom had been his guests at Oyster Bay. Every week that he has been at home since the war began he had been visited by men from all branches of the service. The War Camp Community Service made a practice of taking about thirty men from Camp Mills or other military, naval, and aircraft stations to visit Colonel Roosevelt every Saturday afternoon. He would be on the front porch, waiting to give them a regular Roosevelt welcome and to assure them that they all came to Sagamore Hill on "the most favored nation" basis. He took great pleasure in showing these boys over his trophy rooms, where the two most striking exhibits were the gigantic elephant tusks presented to him by King Menelik of Abyssinia and a great tome in which was engrossed and illuminated the entire pedigree of ex-Emperor Wilhelm, autographed and dedicated by him.
Colonel Roosevelt took the deepest pleasure in the letters which he received from many of these soldiers after they had reached the other side and gone into action. He was in regular correspondence with some of them.
Broken by Quentin's Death
Only the members of Colonel Roosevelt's own family and his most intimate friends knew how deeply he suffered because of the death of his youngest son, Quentin, who was killed in an airplane combat in France on July 14. This, however, is believed to have been one of the contributing causes of his death.
Colonel Roosevelt received his first inkling that this had occurred when a correspondent at Oyster Bay brought him a dispatch, censored until it was unintelligible, but containing some reference to one of the Roosevelt boys. As soon as he read it Colonel Roosevelt took his visitor into another room, so that Mrs. Roosevelt should not learn the topic that was under discussion.
"Theodore and Archie are in hospitals," he said. "Kermit is on his way from Mesopotamia to France. It must be Quentin."
When the news was confirmed next day, Colonel Roosevelt, who had always declared that families should accept cheerfully the sacrifice of their sons in the war, went to his office at 347 Madison Avenue as usual, attended to his work, and later issued a statement in which he said that he and Mrs. Roosevelt took pride in his death. The following day he kept his engagement to address the unofficial Republican State Convention at Saratoga Springs, where the enthusiasm for him resulted in a unanimous attempt to induce him to run for Governor.
Colonel Roosevelt's recent illness followed within a week after his long and strenuous address at Carnegie Hall just before the election, which he made the occasion of a reply to President Wilson's appeal to the people to elect a Democratic Congress. On the Saturday night following this speech he was troubled with a badly swollen ankle. When this continued he went to Roosevelt Hospital, where it was found that he had inflammatory rheumatism, complicated with other troubles. Dr. J. H. Richards, one of his physicians who treated him at Roosevelt Hospital, said today that a detached clot of blood had nearly caused the death of Colonel Roosevelt while at the hospital, and that it was recognized that there was some danger of a second such attack.
"Pulmonary embolism is not a usual occurrence in cases of inflammatory rheumatism," he said. "Embolism comes in childhood but not ordinarily in adult life."
The inflammatory rheumatism which the Colonel suffered was traceable twenty years back to an infected tooth, it was said. While he was at the hospital the rheumatism spread to nearly every joint in his body. At the time that he left the hospital, however, the attending physicians issued a statement that the disease was taking a normal course and nothing extraordinary was recognized in his condition.
Carried Schrank's Bullet
At his death Colonel Roosevelt carried in his body the bullet which was fired by Schrank, at Milwaukee during the Presidential campaign of 1912, which nearly resulted in Colonel Roosevelt's death, because he went on and delivered his speech immediately after the attack.
This and other shocks to his constitution, it was said, might have contributed to the condition which finally brought about his end. Colonel Roosevelt survived innumerable accidents and dangers to his life, which might have left some mark on his constitution. When he first entered the White House, his Secretary of State, John Hay, concluded a letter of praise for Colonel Roosevelt by saying: "He will not live long."
He referred to a series of accidents to the President, each one of which was not far from fatal. Of all the accidents which Colonel Roosevelt went through, that which left the worst effects happened in South America. He tore his leg badly when he was thrown from a boat while descending the River of Doubt and the wound became badly infected. While ill from this he suffered an attack of fever. His health was never sound for any long period since his return from South America early in 1914.
This wound in his leg was directly responsible for the complication of diseases which sent him to the hospital in February of last year, where for a time his life was despaired of. He suffered from a fistula and from an abscess in the ear, which stopped just before it reached the mastoid process.
Even after this illness his energy would not allow him to lead a cautious life. Shortly after his recovery he undertook a trip in the West for the National Security League and made a number of speeches. It was during this tour that he had his historic reconciliation with ex-President Taft at the Hotel Blackstone in Chicago.
In June, while he was in the Middle West, he had a severe attack of erysipelas, but refused to go to a hospital. In spite of intense suffering, he made speeches at Omaha, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. Taking his physician with him he made a 120-mile automobile trip to keep speaking engagements and returned to Indianapolis leaving his physician a "wreck," while he was fresh and vigorous physically though in a good deal of pain. He came home by train and spent a part of his first day chopping wood.
Besides carrying a bullet in his body, Colonel Roosevelt was partially blind and partially deaf. The sight of his left eye was destroyed while he was in the White House in a boxing match. The hearing of one ear was destroyed by the abscess in his ear last February. He had suffered from broken ribs on numerous occasions, mostly in falls from horses, and a strained ligament on a rib caused him a severe attach of pleurisy in 1916. After that attack he was ordered by his physicians to give up violent exercise, but this advice he would not follow.
Colonel Roosevelt would never go to a physician unless he was in a bad way. He would not admit that he could become ill and the idea of regular examinations and medical care never attracted him. He was perplexed and indignant with himself when the attack of disease came on in February of last year which sent him to Roosevelt Hospital. This began with a fainting spell, the first of the kind he had ever suffered. When he recovered consciousness and learned what had happened, he exclaimed:
"What a Jack I am."
When he was at a farm in Stamford, Conn., in 1917, reducing flesh by the most violent exercise conceivable, in spite of medical advice that violent exercise was dangerous to him, he became very angry over a report that his health was seriously impaired and issued a statement, in which he said:
"That is a complete fake. I haven't seen a physician for months. No human being told me to cancel a speaking engagement or take a complete rest."
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Besides carrying a bullet in his body, Colonel Roosevelt was partially blind and partially deaf. The sight of his left eye was destroyed while he was in the White House in a boxing match.
This part I havn't heard before, he was one tough dude. Can you picture TR challenging Chiraq to a boxing match!
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High speed, low drag. A tough man and arguably America's greatest President.
Agree, I'm a big fan of TR.
While he was President. His selfish and egotistical third-party run gave the country the disastrous Woodrow Wilson.
Not knowing when one is beaten can be a benchmark of greatness too. As for "selfish and egotistical," many say it was the Progressives dangling a LaFollette candidacy in front of him that drove him to embark on his ill-advised 1912 run. Of course, Roosevent was bull-headed, a trait I can identify with and, with reservations, admire.
Note the difference in writing style from then to now--unlike today, where the perks, prestige and protocol seem to follow former presidents, back then, they usually reverted to the title of "Mister" or, in TR's case, "Colonel" as he was last known in the military.
He shouldn't have done that Amazon basin expedition; he shouldn't have run as a third party candidate; he shouldn't have feuded with Taft; he shouldn't have continued his very strenuous exercise against doctor's orders . . . but without that stubbornness he would never amounted to anything -- would have just been another young, sickly, effete, layabout scion of an old New York family.
Well said Mom..
In my opinion, that is a trait that the current holder of that office shares to some degree with TR. It would have been so easy for GWB to merely pay lip service to Saddam's brutality and treachery in Iraq. After the misdeeds of Krintong, its refreshing to have a leader who does exactly what he says he will do.
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