Workers prepare a floor medallion for the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Workers prepare a floor medallion for the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (Associated Press photos)
Sunday September 30, 2012

NEW YORK -- Theodore Roosevelt had a lifelong association with the American Museum of Natural History that began when he was a young boy and donated 12 mice, a bat, a turtle, four bird eggs and the skull of a red squirrel to the venerable institution that his father helped found.

"He literally grew up with the American Museum of Natural History being created," said Roose velt biographer Douglas Brinkley.

To newly honor that long partnership, the museum is reopening its Theodore Roosevelt Memorial on Oct. 27 after a three-yearlong restoration. The date would have been Roose velt's 154th birthday.

The memorial is a 2-story space that encompasses the facade exterior, the rotunda, the North American Mam mals hall and the Theodore Roose velt Memorial Hall.

A new life-size bronze statue of the 26th president and 33rd governor of New York will be unveiled during the dedication ceremony, which will launch a yearlong celebration of Roosevelt's role in fostering the American conservation movement and his connection to the museum. A new exhibition will chronicle his journey from budding naturalist to national leader committed to conservation. Excerpts from Ken Burns' award-winning film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," will be on permanent display.

One of the museum's most popular exhibitions of re-created habitats of large and medium-sized species, the Hall of North American Mammals, also underwent major restoration.


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Its 43 dioramas depict a moment in time of the parks, forests and species that Roosevelt helped preserve through conservation policies during his presidency. They are scientifically accurate as captured by artists who painted or photographed the scenes and later painstakingly reproduced them on site as backdrops for the animal habitats.

A vast majority of the taxidermy on black bears, bison, black-footed ferrets and other mammals were performed at the museum in the late 1930s and 1940s.

During the restoration, a master taxidermist worked closely with a team of conservators to clean and recolor animals' faded fur, replace fake snow that had yellowed and fix tree branches, flowers and other foreground landscape elements into newly vivid tableaux.

They "provide an exclamation point and a perfect way of revealing the breadth, reach and beauty of what Roosevelt preserved," museum President Ellen Fuller said. "They represent the intersection of art and science."

The three-year, $40 million restoration also included work on the Central Park West facade, on three historic murals depicting achievements in Roosevelt's life and to divide an iconic display of dinosaurs to allow visitors to walk between them -- both located in the museum's majestic rotunda.

Visitors also will find several dozen new artifacts on display, including Roosevelt's first book, "Summer Birds of the Adirondacks," written when he was an undergraduate at Harvard studying to become a naturalist.

On a recent visit, the new Roosevelt statue was still wrapped in a packing blanket, with only his head exposed.

Futter said when it is unveiled, visitors will see Roosevelt seated on a bench in his outdoors attire -- hat, binoculars and all. A Roosevelt impersonator modeled for the statue. It is positioned with the long corridor of the Hall of North American Mammals directly behind him and a diorama of two Alaskan brown bears in the distance.

"It's a very genuine presentation of Teddy in a highly approachable, comfortable mode," she said. "He's seated in a way that people will be able to sit right with him and, we hope, will take his exploring spirit and passion for nature and his sense of responsibility and stewardship toward the world with them."

In 1869, the museum's founding charter was signed in the parlor of Roosevelt's boyhood home in Manhattan. Throughout his life, Roosevelt consulted with and received reports from the museum's scientists, and after his presidency went on an expedition with them to the Amazon.

Roosevelt's conservation efforts and connection to the museum cannot be overstated, said Brinkley.

He was the first president to make conservation a central policy of his administration, protecting some 230 million acres in national parks, monuments, forests and wildlife refuges.