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The Hickories: A Budding Naturalist

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

The extended Roosevelt family were great believers in the benefits of summer vacations in the country and outdoor pursuits. Teddy, as a frail boy who suffered from severe asthma, was urged by his father to do all he could to strengthen his body. He embarked on a program of vigorous exercise, which he continued throughout his life. Adding on to his interest in natural history and zoology (which began at age seven), he welcomed family excursions up the Hudson River, to the New Jersey shore, the Adirondacks and other locations reachable by train from New York City, including the estate of his Uncle Cornelius in Maplewood.

Teddy kept scores of notebooks and diaries on Natural History and the family’s travels in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. (Most of these notebooks have now been digitized and are available online in libraries at Harvard and at Dickinson State University.) They show a keen interest in nature and a delight in the workings of the animal kingdom. He and his brother Elliott and sister Corinne, who called themselves “We Three,” established the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History” in their New York City townhouse, its holdings expanded by Teddy’s growing collection of field specimens bagged during trips to the country.

In one notebook entry of 1872, referring to his Uncle Cornelius’s estate in Maplewood, he writes,

Mr. C. Roosevelt informed me that a goshawk once swooped down on a rooster that was right by his house, seized it by the back and carried it up about fifty feet in the air, when he shot at it. It then dropped the cock (who was not seriously injured) and made off.

Goshawks are still found in areas like the Great Swamp, although they are not very visible because they do not tend to sit on branches or soar. One former Maplewood birder, Joe Zellers, recalled that in November 1996 he happened to see a goshawk on Springfield Avenue near the Hilton Branch Library. “It swooped down out of nowhere, grabbed a pigeon in mid-air and took off to a tree in Maplecrest Park.”

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