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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, Buffalo, NY

The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, a unit of the National Parks Service, has done a remarkable job shaping the visitor experience. The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation led an effort to raise $2 million for a renovation. This work included reconstruction of the Carriage House that had previously been lost. Even greater changes came inside the house itself. A shift was made from being a house museum with rooms interpreted to different periods, to making the house a vehicle to tell the story leading up to and the moment of the Theodore Roosevelt inauguration that took place there.
The primary rooms associated with Theodore Roosevelt including Dining Room, Parlor, and Library were treated as period rooms. Other rooms were given over for interactive displays that helped to provide valuable contextual information about Theodore Roosevelt and his taking of the Oath of Office.

A National Parks Service guide took tour groups from room-to-room. This started with an overview of the Pan-Am Exhibition of 1901. Two videos took visitors up to the moment when then President McKinley was shot. At the moment that the second video ended, the narrator recounted the events that followed, as if they were in the present day and taking place. He recounted how President McKinley was being treated and showed signs of recovery, and how then Vice-President Roosevelt decided to head to the Adirondacks to continue his vacation. When the President's health took a turn for the worse the narrator indicated how Roosevelt returned to Buffalo.

Beginning of presentation on themes of Theodore Roosevelt presidency

Images from scrim showing images to accompany narration of TR Presidency

Visitors were taken to another room with a scrim covered in images on one side and benches on the other side. Once in the room the guide referred to an image of Roosevelt on the wall with another gentleman standing by his side. From there an audio narration of Roosevelt began. Roosevelt asked his guest to give him a moment to himself to gather his thoughts prior to taking the oath. What followed was a 10 minute narration by Roosevelt of the many challenges and issues the nation faced from the role of monopolies/trusts, to immigration, civil rights, and natural resource conservation. As the narration went from one topic to another a pre-programmed sequence of lights were turned on and off, highlighting different images and three-dimensional objects embedded in the display. All other areas were left dark while focusing on the topic of the narration. The overall effect was dazzling and helped to connect spoken words with visual cues that reinforced the message.

Panoramic view of the library where TR most likely took the Oath of Office

The tour proceeded to the next room, the library off of the front porch, where Roosevelt is believed to have taken the oath. Once in that room, an audio narration of Roosevelt taking the oath followed. The experience of hearing this in the very spot where this event occurred was thrilling. After the oath was administered, several recorded voices provided their greetings and wishes to the President.

Exhibits were produced by Boston Productions, Inc. in collaboration with Trace Design Group. The BPI website describes the project as follows:
Once a quiet classic house tour, the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site is now a media-rich walk through history.  Boston Productions completely re-imagined the venue’s visitor experience.  The orientation exhibit transports the visitor to the 1901 Pan American Exposition, featuring a working hand-cranked kinetoscope and period arcade activities.  The lush exhibit space tells the story of the Gilded Age, culminating in the dramatic assassination of President McKinley.  Visitors move through historic rooms that set the scene for Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration.  The immersive Issues Theatre features a 25’ printed scrim and layered images that are revealed through show-controlled lighting, depicting the historic themes that Roosevelt would confront during his Presidency.  In a recreation of Roosevelt’s White House office, visitors use a touch-screen embedded into the desk to sign or veto congressional bills.  The visitor can also e-mail home a customized newspaper that features his/her photo at the desk, along with a headline and article that names the visitor as the President of the United States.  BPI completed conceptual design, all AV software production and AV hardware integration.
On the second floor was a room that re-created Roosevelt's office at the White House when he was president. Visitors were given an opportunity to sit at a desk that resembled his. An electronic touchscreen was embedded in the desk that allowed guests to veto bills, and do a variety of other things. One of the options was to send a photograph and personalized newspaper with headline home via email. One such form newspaper and the customized email follow:

GmailPlace Promo

President Kremer's Image From The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site

hello@trsite.org Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 12:43 PM

To: Placepromo@gmail.com

Dear President Kremer,

We hope you enjoyed your visit to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site. Click and download the attachment to view your commemorative newspaper.

Thanks for visiting and we hope you'll come again soon!

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
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Your participation provides us with valuable feedback about our tour, and offers you an entry into a monthly drawing for a book of full-color political cartoons featuring Theodore Roosevelt.

Upon exiting was a display on "Issues of the Day" and "Issues of Today" comparing and contrasting the Theodore Roosevelt and Obama presidency.

Panoramic photo showing the location of the Wilcox House on Delaware Ave

Efforts are underway to acquire the bank building next door to the TR Inaugural Site. The effect of this and other multi-story buildings built up to the sidewalk edge is to hide the TR Inaugural Site from passersby. The acquisition and demolition with the bank building will make the TR Inaugural Site more visible, as well as give more space for interpretation and programs.

While writing this article after my visit to the site, I also encountered some nice materials on YouTube that help to tell the story of the TR Inaugural Site. Just like the site itself, I was favorably impressed by the social media presence.

A reenactment video of Theodore Roosevelt's 1901 inauguration was produced by the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in 2001 as part of the centennial commemoration of the inauguration.

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