Who is that rotund man? Seems it’s not Teddy
December 14, 1999
A man thought to be Theodore Roosevelt, second from left, relaxes at Crater Lake National Park. But that’s not him.
President who created park never visited it
KLAMATH FALLS — A famous photograph of Teddy Roosevelt sitting on a rock near Crater Lake has been reprinted countless times.
Trouble is, it’s not him, argues the Theodore Roosevelt Association in New York.
“It’s just a guy with a mustache and glasses,” Linda Milano, assistant director of the association, said from Oyster Bay, N.Y.
The man in the picture, taken circa 1911, has a walrus mustache and wire-rim glasses like Teddy’s. But while this “Roosevelt” has a robust waistline, Milano said the real Teddy was in shape: “At the time that photo was taken, he was compact and muscular.”
There are other things that set this man apart from other images of the former Rough Rider and U.S. president, Milano said.
“The shape of the chin, the shape of the nose, the hair, the weight — it was all wrong,” she said.
Questions about the man’s identity arose after the National Park Service began preparations to celebrate Crater Lake National Park’s centennial.
As president, Roosevelt created the park in 1902. He also designated 81,619 acres in the Lower Klamath Lake area in August 1908 as the nation’s first waterfowl refuge.
The National Park Service had hoped to use the photograph for the centennial, “but they don’t want to if it’s not real,” said Pat McMillan, director of the Klamath County Museum.
Historians at the Theodore Roosevelt Association examined the picture, and have concluded the man is not the former president, but a look-alike.
“And not much of a look-alike, either,” said Milano.
According to local lore, Roosevelt visited the area some time around 1911, just a couple of years after he left the presidency. Nothing in the historical record confirms that Roosevelt actually made the trip, said Steve Mark, historian at Crater Lake National Park.
“There’s a few problems with that,” said Mark. “Why aren’t there any newspaper accounts of his visit? It would have been huge news. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Mark said there is nothing in the correspondence or journals of park superintendent W.F. Arant or park concessionaire Will Steel about Roosevelt visiting.
“Steel was the kind of guy who collected anything he could get his hands on,” said Mark.
The Southern Oregon Historical Society published the “Roosevelt” photograph before the evidence accumulated against it, said society librarian Carol Harbison-Samuelson.
She said Roosevelt passed through the Rogue Valley in 1911 on a train trip from Portland to San Francisco. He waved to onlookers while the train rolled through Medford, but he did not get off the train.
“We can find no written record that he ever trod upon the earth in Southern Oregon,” she said.
Roosevelt’s supposed visit to Klamath Falls’ Baldwin Hotel was noted on a plaque when the Baldwin Hotel Museum was designated as a state historical site in 1968.
In a custom-built display case at the Baldwin Hotel Museum sits a leather-bound book with a gold presidential seal. There is also a photograph showing Theodore Roosevelt — or someone resembling him — in front of the hotel.
“People have always sworn that Theodore Roosevelt had been here,” McMillan said. “I never doubted the photograph until all of this.”
McMillan still hasn’t been able to verify his visit. But she can’t imagine that he didn’t visit, given his curious nature and love of the outdoors.
“I just imagine that they are setting the record straight,” she said of the Roosevelt Association’s dismissal of the photographs. “But in some instances, there is always a question.”