Disney-fying Niagara Falls and Theodore Roosevelt
Unit #38 / 413 - Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
"How do we tell the story of a piece of history that only lasted a moment?" Stanton Hudson, Superintendent/Executive Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS stated early into my visit.
"It's a question we grappled with hard, but one we think we've also done quite well solving."
Indeed Mr. Hudson had a point. Many national park sites don't have acres of land or thousands of years of geology to assist telling their park's story, so how do they do it when their space it confined to just one house?
The answer, it appears, is to make the moment a complete story. Just as Caesar's stabbing does not describe the entire saga, neither does the moment Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office and replaced recently assassinated President McKinley.
So the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation takes visitors on a journey, both physical and mental, through the stages of the story.
Much like Disney would do, guests are led on a tour that involves interactive exhibits, guided presentations, and movies/light shows. Beginning with the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, it sets the stage for why President McKinley was in Buffalo and how the Exposition's visitors would play such an interesting role in his eventual gunshot wound.
Next, guests are led into a room where curtains are closed, lights are raised, and everyone is invited into the thoughts of Theodore Roosevelt as he prepares his condolences for Mrs. McKinley and weighs the issues he'll have to tackle as President. From immigration to conservation, the multi-sensory show shares the monumental task any person would face by becoming the Commander in Chief.
After this well-done emotional setup, visitors are walked into the actual room where Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States. An audio presentation brings the room to life in a way no national park has done thus far on my trip.
With the ceremony complete, another room exposes the immediate aftermath Roosevelt inherited: that of restoring trust to a nation rocked by the loss of its leader. Replica telegraphs reiterate that though the technologies of the new century were on display at the Exposition, modern communication has helped tremendously in sharing the happenings of our political leaders.
Finally, guests are left in a mock Presidential office. Here they are givin unstructured time with a number of interactive exhibits that left both me and my millennial comrades itching to take our turns.
It was this mix of guided tour, multi-sensory media, and interactive exhibits that led me to tell the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural staff, "That is the best museum experience I've had on this trip thus far!"
Their physical cheers and expressions of joy were a representation of the work this park has put into making it an enjoyable and informative experience. Raising 65% of their budget separately from federal funding, they are also working to stay connected to the greater community, hoping this funding model shows other parks how to become not just located in their respective municipalities, but a vital part of them.
Given that the larger Buffalo area also contains Niagara Falls--an incredibly popular tourist destination--I was especially impressed at the way Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS interested my local friend.
"I'm going to tell all my friends to come here," he said as we left the building.
And as I continue on this trip and discover just how common it is for people to have not visited the National Park Service sites in their own backyards, I can think of no higher compliment.
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural NHS Highlights (You Can Do)!
1. Take the Tour!
OK, I say this often for parks, because for many of the battlefields, memorials and historic sites it really helps bring them to life. But as I mentioned above, this really was the best tour I've done to date on this journey. The interactive aspect and Disney-fication really make it worth your time, but note: Don't forget your National Park Pass. Though many of the 413 NPS sites are free, this one has an admission fee (which is waved if you have an annual pass).
2. Visit Nearby Niagara Falls
"Why is Niagara Falls not a National Park?" I have not only heard numerous times, but also wondered myself.
Some say the area was too touristy pre-NPS creation to bring it into the fold, while others assert New York State doesn't want to lose the income they make through it being state property. Personally, I wonder if its international nature/borders (shared with Canada) would make it particularly cumbersome to handle. So whatever the reason, or combination of, this incredible location is not run by the National Park Service.
However, you'd be crazy to miss it.
Not only is it helpful toward understanding the wider NPS mission, such as when Ferdinand Hayden led the first scientific expedition of Yellowstone and feared it would become Niagara Falls overrun in private development, but it's also an incredible natural wonder.
Through the Discovery Pass sold at the Niagara Falls Visitor Center visitors can gain access to all the park's attractions, including my favorites: the Maid of the Mist boat ride into the falls, the Cave of the Winds walk alongside the American falls, and the Niagara: Legends of Adventure movie which shared Niagara's history in an engaging way.
Make sure you remember your passport if you'd like to visit the Falls from their Canadian side as I did in 2011 when creating this fake proposal with a friend from my days in a Montreal improv troupe.
Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
New York to Vermont to New Hampshire to Maine
-Women's Rights National Historical Park
-Fort Stanwix National Monument
-Martin Van Buren National Historic Site
-Saratoga National Historical Park
-Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
-Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
-Appalachian National Scenic Trail
-Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument *New NPS site added 1 week ago*
-Saint Croix Island International Historic Site
-Acadia National Park
The journey thus far: