Bully! Roosevelt addresses Saranac Lakers
SARANAC LAKE — Theodore Roosevelt stood in the back corner of the Harrietstown Town Hall, nodding, smiling and laughing his big, roaring laugh. Onstage, Bob Brown introduced the former president to a full crowd.
No, Brown didn’t dig up or reincarnate the legendary politician. This was the efforts of two families to bring Roosevelt impersonator Joe Wiegand to town, to educate and encourage the community.
Wiegand’s performance is a blend of comedy, history and vivid storytelling, as he channels Roosevelt’s image, voice and most importantly his character. Giving a comprehensive biography of the president, from an autobiographical perspective, Wiegand uses “I” while recounting tales of White House pranks, cattle ranching and hiking in the Adirondacks.
Earlier in the day, Wiegand performed for Saranac Lake’s elementary, middle and high school students, students at St. Bernard’s School and senior citizen residents of Saranac Village at Will Rogers. Even after six shows in one day, Wiegand remained in character while talking with the audience after the show and while walking the streets of Saranac Lake, shouting “Bully!” and taking selfies with people.
Students were given a crash course on early 20th century history and politics through the humorous stories of Roosevelt’s life, also learning the beliefs and ideas of one of the most colorful and accomplished American presidents.
Roosevelt is no easy person to sum up in an hour-and-a-half monologue but, Wiegand packs a lot of information into his short time, covering the life, career and philosophy of the former president through a series of stories delivered with the friendliness of a conversation and the cadence of a good audiobook.
Wiegand, as Roosevelt once did, emphasizes the need to be “in the arena,” meaning working hard at work worth doing, contributing to one’s community and making advancements regardless of naysayers.
This message was taken to heart by the four Saranac Lakers responsible for bringing the former president to town. Joe and Sally Spadaro, and Bob and Pat Brown had seen Wiegand perform before and, after finding help from their community, were able to introduce schools and a full town hall audience to Roosevelt.
“We had a meeting in this town hall a month ago about, ‘How do small towns stick together and make themselves known?'” Brown said. “This is how you do it. This is what turned out from a phone conversation between two friends.”
The couples also took the opportunity to raise money for victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. All $650 donated in a bucket at the event will be given to the people of Texas and Florida via Chief Brendan Keough of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department through the First Responders Association, which Brown said will not take a portion of the proceeds, like other organizations.
Roger Gorham, a resident of Rainbow Lake, won a raffle for a teddy bear, which had been donated from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company.
Wiegand, as Roosevelt, remarked about the spirit of Saranac Lake and the Adirondacks, a park the president enjoyed as a child – long before it was a park – and an area his politics helped preserve in his adulthood.
As a young boy suffering from asthma, Roosevelt found exercise and the mountain air to be a therapeutic outlet, which helped shape him into the rugged, healthy outdoorsman he became known as.
Later in life, he stepped into the presidency while hiking on Mount Marcy in 1901. Then-President William McKinley died after being shot during a post-speech meeting with the public more than a week earlier.
Because the chain of command moves up, immediately following the death of a president, Roosevelt ascended to the presidency as he descended Marcy, immediately taking a train to Buffalo to be officially sworn in.
Roosevelt’s history in the Adirondacks stretches further than that, but to hear about it in person, you may want to come to First Night Saranac Lake on Dec. 31, when Wiegand will once again put on his suit, hat and spectacles to use his “bully pulpit” to keep Teddy Roosevelt alive.