Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 15 October 2010 00:00
If you’ve noticed that the statue of Theodore Roosevelt is no longer sitting in front of the Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich, not to worry. The two and a half ton statue is off for a cleaning and waxing to get it ready for its “monumental day” when it is placed atop its new location in the triangle at the corner of Berry Hill Road and South Street.
Michael Rich, Sr., a lifetime resident of Oyster Bay has been involved with the project since its inception. He said putting a statue of Theodore Roosevelt located on the triangle was part of his proposal to Charles Wang of Island Properties when he asked for funding for the TR license plate project. He asked Mr. Wang to buy the Busy Bee property for a statue project. The idea was to have Mr. Wang commission a sculptor to create a statue of TR, with the sculptor working in a Commander Oil garage building that Mr. Wang owned. Mr. Rich thought it would be a great point of interest for local children, adults and visitors to come to the area to see the work in progress.
“Mr. Wang said no, but six months later he bought the property,” said Mr. Rich.
He said Dr. John Gable, Theodore Roosevelt Association executive director, was aware of Mr. Rich’s attempt to put a statue of TR on the triangle. Then Sandy Church offered him the opportunity of having the statue by Alexander Phimister Proctor, made from the original molds.
An article in the Nov. 23, 2001 Enterprise Pilot said that Mr. Rich was contacted by Phimister Proctor Church, director of the A. Phimister Proctor Museum in Poulsbo, WA. Mr. Church was willing to have an original casting made of a statue of Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider in their collection. They had the original monumental plaster of the statue.
Mr. Rich said the sculptor used TR’s actual uniform in the design process, that Edith and Kermit Roosevelt found after rummaging through family trunks.
The cost of the casting of a bronze of A. Phimister Proctor’s Roughrider would cost $400,000 delivered to Oyster Bay. The price did not include any site preparation such as a pedestal or the mounting of the statue on the pedestal, said the article.
Making a copy of the Proctor statue would add a historic note said Mr. Rich as the time, since the sculptor knew TR. They met at the 1893 World’s Fair. The president commissioned him to carve the buffalo heads for the White House’s State Dining Room fireplace. His panther became an emblem for the Roosevelt administration, the earlier story said.
Mr. Rich said in a telephone interview that he told Rotarian Andy Tini about the statue, who thought it was a good idea for a Rotary Centennial project, something all the club’s chapters were doing.
Rotary thought it was a good idea and called Dr. Gable who said to call Mike Rich. That was when the committee to bring the statue to Oyster Bay was formed with architect Joe Reilly; Mike Rich; John Hammond, the Oyster Bay Town Historian; Dr. Gable; and with Andy Tini as the chair.
The funds were raised by Rotary and the project became a reality, said Mr. Rich. That was when they went to see Charles Wang to ask for the triangle property to which he said, “No.” “We tried,” he said. At first there was a question of whether the project would continue, but Mr. Rich said it was too good an offer not to accept. He said a statue created today would cost over $1 million. This one was going to cost much less. The first $200,000 was donated by Fritz Coudert and that started the fundraising.
Mr. Rich said with no place to put the statue, he suggested asking Roger Bahnik, the Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich if they could use that site, opposite the triangle for the statue until a permanent place could be found for it. Mr. Rich was asked to create a mock-up of what the statue would look like in place. Instead he asked William Uhlinger, who is the Commander of the Rough Rider Troop re-enactment group of the Nassau Suffolk Horsemen’s Association. He came on his horse, and in uniform and stood on the site as people decided what angle was best. “They were surprised and I was surprised by how that worked. We knew it was temporary but we always hoped for the triangle. They didn’t create a permanent base for the statue, they just used the original pins in the horse itself. No trees were taken down on the site or the road leading up to the statue although they hid the horse a bit as the trees grew bigger over the next five years, he added.
“Then the town magnanimously bought the property and said they would do the work. They took the wires down and are preparing the site,” he said. Now the telephone pole at the point of the triangle is gone and a flag yardarm is in place there.
“We are now waiting for completion of the site. We have no time line. We don’t know when the town will finish but we have time,” he said. “We are a very patient group.” Mr. Rich is vice president of the TR Statue Corporation and Jack Bernstein is the president. It is a 5013-C. They will continue to own the statue after it is placed on the site which is now town property. He said, “We will make sure it is cared for and cleaned properly.” He said the Huntington statue of Christopher Columbus has been allowed to have a green patina but they intend to maintain the statue as it is now – in bronze – that shows all the detail in the statue.
It is currently in a safe venue being prepared and waxed for the installation day.
Andrew Woodstock did the demolition of the concrete at the Boys & Girls corner with jack hammers. It took about an hour and a half to two hours. Then it quickly was lifted over the wires, and placed on the truck that carried it up Pine Hollow Road.
The flag flown from the yardarm will be the first flag flown over the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. The Oyster Bay American Legion will be responsible for monitoring the flags – when they are flown at full or half mast. There will be a light on the flag 24/7.
There will be five trees on the site. They were originally proposed after WWI to honor the five Oyster Bay men who died in the war including Quentin Roosevelt. During the ’70s they proposed the triangle have a TR statue but it never happened, he said. “So we decided to incorporate the ideas,” he said. The new site will incorporate the original bronze plaque from the Quentin Roosevelt Post No. 4 with the names of the five heroes. A second plaque was made and is now on the American Legion monument at Town Hall East. The original plaque said it was for the dead in the World War, later called WWI.
Mr. Rich said in 1987, he and Dan Walker worked to get the bust of TR by Greg Glasson placed in front of Town Hall East. The pedestal and plaque were donated, he said.
The new site will also have the original cornerstone from the American Legion building – at the flagpole.
There will be a plaque that describes the statue, a small plaque with the committee names, and a plaque with the name of the town fathers, and Joe Reilly who designed the park area.
Mr. Rich said everyone agreed the statue should be there – it just took some time to do it. But it was worth the wait, he said.
The statue created by Alexander Phimister Proctor is called Theodore Roosevelt/Rough Rider.