Arts + Culture

The Presidents as Travelers

by Ted Widmer

Theodore Roosevelt

Where The Eagle Landed: Brazil, Congo, Cuba, Kenya, Panama, Sudan

Home and abroad: It was fitting that Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to leave U.S. soil while in office, for travel was a lifelong diversion. As a child, he was brought to Europe and the Middle East on family tours, and when, at 26, his world was shattered by the death of his wife and mother on the same day, he recuperated with a long stay in North Dakota, where he learned some of the cowboy skills that would come in handy later as a Rough Rider in Cuba. Roosevelt had two presidential yachts, the Mayflower and the Sylph, but for his trip to Panama in 1906 he traveled a bit more safely, in a naval convoy. Roosevelt did not slow down a whit after leaving office in 1909. He went on a safari from 1909 to 1910 in Africa, visiting remote sites in what are now Kenya, Sudan, and the Congo River Basin, and bagging a staggering total of 11,397 animals (you can see many of them, in stuffed form, in museums across the United States). In 1913 he went deep into the jungles of Brazil to explore the ominously named River of Doubt. The expedition was murderous in every sense (one of his party killed another), and at one point Roosevelt, ill and exhausted, contemplated suicide. Yet he survived, damaged but intact, and to this day a long stretch of the river is known as the Rio Roosevelt.

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