Experiencing History

Experiencing History

Rock Creek Park has played host to many guests throughout its tenure as the district’s largest preserve. Perhaps none is more remembered and beloved than Theodore Roosevelt. In his autobiography he remarked, "When our children were little, we were for several winters in Washington, and each Sunday afternoon the whole family spent in Rock Creek Park, which was then very real country indeed." (1)


President Roosevelt (or Teddy, as he is more commonly remembered) was an avid outdoorsman. Advocating a “strenuous life”, the man was constantly in motion and could often be found chopping down trees on the outskirts of Washington or swimming across the Potomac. The press never tired of reporting on his various athletic outings. Teddy was particularly fond of what he called “scrambles,” exhausting cross-country hikes. His favorite place for this in the district was Rock Creek Park, where he would lead members of his "Tennis Cabinet" and various hapless foreign diplomats on grueling treks through the woods, hills, and creek itself. Teddy’s favorite method was his point-to-point strategy, whereby he would point to a spot on a ridge and then proceed in a straight line directly in that direction. His motto was "Over, Under or Through – But Never Around." (3)

“While in the White House I always tried to get a couple hours' exercise in the afternoons – sometimes tennis, more often riding, or else a rough cross-country walk, perhaps down Rock Creek... Often, especially in the winters and early springs, we would arrange for a point to point walk, not turning aside for anything – for instance, swimming Rock Creek or even the Potomac if it came in our way. Of course under such circumstances we had to arrange that our return to Washington should be when it was dark, so that our appearance would scandalize no one. On several occasions we thus swam Rock Creek in the early spring when the ice was floating thick upon it We liked Rock Creek for these walks because we could do so much scrambling and climbing along the cliffs Once I invited an entire class of officers who were attending lectures at the War College to come on one of these walks; I chose a route which gave us the hardest climbing along the rocks and the deepest crossings of the creek; and my army friends enjoyed it hugely –being the right sort, to a man.” (4) Rock Creek Park regularly reenacts these famous hikes for anyone bold enough to attempt them.


It is said that out of all the diplomats, dignitaries, and cadets who accompanied him, only one was able to regularly keep up with good old Teddy. That man was French Ambassador Jules Jusserand, who, like Roosevelt, was an avid birdwatcher. The natty Jusserand gamely followed T.R. on many excursions, often skinny dipping together in the creek together. Writing of one occasion when they forded a creek, Jusserand recalled, "I, too, for the honor of France removed my apparel, everything except my lavender kid gloves. The President cast an inquiring look at this as if they, too, must come off, but I quickly forestalled any remark by saying, ‘With your permission, Mr. President, I will keep these on; otherwise it would be embarrassing if we should meet ladies.'” (6) Jusserand was so well loved that he is the only person with a memorial dedicated to him in the park – a lasting testament to their friendship.

The best-known tale of Teddy Roosevelt within Rock Creek Park was that of his time crossing (and inadvertent naming) of Boulder Bridge. The president claimed to have been hiking along the creek near the bridge when a ring slipped off his finger. Dismayed, he placed an ad in the local gazette that read, “Golden ring lost near Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek. If found, return to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Ask for Teddy.” (7) To this day, his ring has still not been returned.




The point of this blog was such: that much of history goes untold and forgotten. It is impossible to truly appreciate the world around you without firmly grasping how it affected those who came before you.



Until next time.




(1) Roosevelt, Theodore. An Autobiography. Charles Scribner's Sons: New York. 1913. pp 337.


(2) Theodore Roosevelt Laughing. Photograph. Wikipedia. Web. 5 Feb. 2012. <http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9b/Theodore_Roosevelt_laughing.jpg>.


(3) Morris, Edmund. "Theodore Roosevelt." TIME. 13 Apr. 1998. Web. 5 Feb. 2012. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,988150,00.html>.


(4) Roosevelt, Theodore. An Autobiography. Charles Scribner's Sons: New York. 1913. pp 45.


(5) Theodore Roosevelt Hiking with Family. Digital image. Corbis Images. Web. 5 Feb. 2012. <http://www.corbisimages.com/images/Corbis-U15832INP.jpg?size=67&uid=c65dad63-917d-462b-aa7f-054ae3de66e3>.


(6) Thayer, William R. "XVII. Roosevelt at Home. Thayer, William Roscoe. 1919. Theodore Roosevelt." Bartleby.com: Great Books Online. 2011. Web. 07 Feb. 2012. <http://www.bartleby.com/170/17.html>.


(7) "Paraphrase from park ranger." Park Tour. Febuary 2012.


(8) Boulder Bridge, Rock Creek Park - Beach Drive circa 1919. Digital image. Ghosts of DC. Web. 5 Feb. 2012. <http://ghostsofdc.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/00033r.jpg>.

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