The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and Forty-Five

December 6-13, 1917

According to Kate Roosevelt’s diary entries for the second week of December, 1917, she was playing the role of the doting grandmother. Langdon Roosevelt Geer was just five years-old and he seemed to me to be the “apple” of his grandmother’s eye. His baby brother, Shippen Geer, and his distracted, mother, Dorothy Roosevelt Geer, were also vying for Kate’s “authoritative” attention, but it was Langdon who she took under her wing, guiding him through all the most interesting historical, social and entertaining facets of New York City in the second decade of the twentieth-century.

Indian Motorcycle Ambulance

On November 5th she wrote, “Took LRG (Langdon Roosevelt Geer’s initials) to Hero Land. We saw tanks, trenches and vehicles.” Hero Land was organized by the National Allied Relief Committee of New York City during World War One to raise money for the troops, orphans and allies overseas. It was the largest of the many charity bazaars ever held in America. Through November and December of 1917 crowds flocked to the Grand Central Palace on Lexington Avenue, between 46th and 47th Streets to literally become “entrenched” with the forces fighting in World War One.

Indian Motorcycle Ambulance

The exhibit was located just a few blocks uptown from Kate Roosevelt’s home at 301 Lexington Avenue. Admission was fifty cents and worth every penny. There little Langdon Geer got to experience war from the safety of the beautiful Beaux Arts Building. Its vast exhibit space allowed real Army tanks and an Indian Motorcycle Ambulance to roll-in; powerful Howitzer canons to be displayed and realistic-looking trenches assembled.

Grand Central Palace Postcard

Mrs. Whitelaw Reid, the widow of the editor of the New York Tribune and former Ambassador to Britain during Theodore Roosevelt’s term was one of women who worked untiringly for the success of Hero Land. Possibly, Kate and Langdon got a VIP tour of the exhibit as the Reid’s were long-time family friends and often entertained the Roosevelts at their home on Madison Avenue and Fiftieth Street.

Admission Fifty Cents

Langdon Geer was quite well-rounded and was presented with all of the opportunities that went along with being the grandson of a Roosevelt. Even at five-years-old he was expected to take part in the finer things in life and that included attending dancing class.

Edith Kermit Roosevelt as a Young Girl (far left)

On December 7th, 1917, Kate Roosevelt wrote, “Went with “LRG” to Dodworth’s Dancing Class at 12 East 49th Street. When I read that entry, I knew immediately that Langdon was attending the same dancing school that his grandfather, Hilborne Roosevelt and all of the Roosevelts had attended in the 1870s, but now in a different location and most likely staffed with new teachers.

In the book, Edith Kermit Roosevelt: Portrait of a First Lady, Sylvia Jukes Morris wrote, “Every week Edith attended classes at Mr. Dodworth’s School for Dancing and Deportment on the corner of Twenty-Sixth Street and Fifth Avenue. The strict old dance-master and his wife taught succeeding generations of New Yorkers not only how to waltz and polka over the wide slippery floor, but also how to conduct themselves in society.”

Hilborne Roosevelt

The future first-lady’s dance partners included the Roosevelt Cousins: Theodore, Elliott, Emlen, Alfred and Hilborne. Hilborne Roosevelt must have been a star student, especially on the subject of how to conduct oneself in society and that is confirmed by a letter he wrote to his cousin, Anna “Bamie” Roosevelt in 1873. In it he poured his heart out and at the same time might have ruined the reputation of a Dodworth’s Dancing School graduate.  In the letter, he lamented to “Bamie” that he was very disappointed by Miss Bulkley’s turning down his marriage proposal. Apparently the two had been dancing partners at Dodworth’s since 1867 and Hilborne thought they had “an understanding.” He confided that he was very disappointed in “women like her who lead men on.”

It took him ten years to get over this romantic rejection, but he finally found his soulmate when he married Kate Shippen in 1883. He would be proud of how she was keeping the Roosevelt legacy alive through her grandson, Langdon Roosevelt Geer.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
Poster for Hero Land
Library of Congress

Photo Two:
Indian Motorcycle Ambulance
Popular Mechanics Magazine, 1918
Public Domain

Photo Three:
Indian Motorcycle Ambulance
Popular Mechanics
public domain

Photo Four:
Grand Central Palace Postcard
Lexington Avenue between 46th and 47
Demolished 1953
wiki

Photo Five:
Admission Fifty Cents
Library of Congress Poster

Photo Six
Edith Kermit Roosevelt as a Young Girl (far left)
wiki

Photo Seven:
Hilborne Roosevelt
Courtesy Noel Geer Seifert