Andrew Vietze, 40, of Appleton, spent 10 years as managing editor of Down East magazine before switching careers. He still writes, both as a freelancer and as an editor-at-large for Down East, but he spends summers working as a ranger at Baxter State Park and as a Registered Maine Guide.

Requirements of those two separate careers converged to produce “Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th president,” scheduled for an April 1 release by Down East Books.

Roosevelt traveled in what is now Baxter State Park and climbed Katahdin. He was led by Bill Sewall, a lumberman, guide, business owner, lawman and more who was the first white child born in Island Falls.

“Becoming Teddy Roosevelt” tells the tale of the relationship between Sewall and the 26th U.S. president, which lasted from 1878 until Roosevelt died in 1919. It covered time at Roosevelt’s ranch in the Badlands and several trips Sewall took to the White House.

While the book tells a lot about Sewall and Roosevelt, Vietze has also created a nice history about the early years of Island Falls, the area around Mattawamkeag Lake and Aroostook County.

 

Q: How did you find out about Bill Sewall?

A: I spend my summers at Baxter Park as a ranger. One of my supervisors required me to read “Legacy of a Lifetime,” the story of how Baxter Park was created. In that book is a little account of Roosevelt climbing Katahdin, and I had that in the back of my mind that it would be a good idea for a freelance article. I knew that Down East had not done it, at least in recent memory. I hit up the editor, and he liked the idea, and that started me going.

 

Q: What in your research surprised you the most?

A: I guess the sheer amount of time Roosevelt was here. And the lifelong nature of their friendship. It was not a short thing. Until the day Roosevelt died — Bill outlived him — and the depth of the friendship between these two really unlikely characters.

Another thing that really stood out — I wish I came upon it earlier in my research, because it appears fairly late in the book — is that after Roosevelt died, Bill was asked to speak at a variety of different places, and one was the Roosevelt School for Boys in New Jersey, a military academy. And Bill said that he wanted to tell people that Roosevelt was always a weak person, very contrary to the image we have of him.

I was surprised that he said that. We knew he started out weak, with the asthma and all that, that he never was a powerhouse, he never went much beyond that, despite the idea of him that we have today.

 

Q: What is the fascination with Teddy Roosevelt? I’m as guilty as anyone. “Mornings on Horseback,” “River of Doubt,” “Wilderness Warrior” — all those and more.

A: Well, he really was a genuine larger-than-life person. I think a lot of the mystique comes from his conservation efforts, but he just was a huge personality in a way that I don’t think you’ll see someone like George W. Bush becoming. I mean, he took a bullet and then went on to give his speech. He was a huge personality. And he was really quite deep. There were a lot of facets to his personality.

 

Q: Even without T.R., your book could have made an article on the rise and decline of Island Falls. I personally found that part of the book intriguing. Has anyone else reacted that way?

A: I haven’t heard much of that, but one of my ideas when I started to put a book together was that I loved the way (David) McCullough did “Mornings on Horseback,” which was more of a portrayal of a time and place that gave rise to this person. I kind of tried to do a similar thing, of how this community of Island Falls was created and how it would have such a lasting impact on Roosevelt.

 

Q: Can you give me a brief version of how you went from managing editor of Down East to a Registered Maine Guide and park ranger at Baxter State Park?

A: I got my start at the Maine Times, and I remember Peter Cox taking me out to lunch. There was a new job posting, and Peter told me this job wasn’t really what I wanted to do with my life. I was just out of college, and I thought it was what I wanted to do with my life.

Well, there was an opening at Down East, and the editor there told me that was what I wanted to do with my life. Well, I was there 10 years, and I found out it really wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.

I got into the writing life because I wanted to be the character and free spirit, and here I was wearing a tie — I called it the daily noose. I enjoyed my time at Down East, and it was a great experience writing every single day, but I loved it when they would send me to someplace like Baxter Park.

The other thing I always wanted to do in life was be a park ranger. Jack Kerouac didn’t have student loans, and I graduated with all these student loans, and I got them all paid off and could afford to be a park ranger. And I went to find something to write about.

Q: What article did you get the International Regional Magazine Association award for?

A: Two of them, actually. Down East is a member of IRMA, along with Arizona Highways and others. The judges have to go through like a zillion pieces, and they like pieces they can relate to. So I won for “Becoming Teddy Roosevelt” and for a piece on Judge Crater, the missingest man in America. I did one on (Robert E.) Peary last summer that I entered, and I hope to win again.

 

Q: The publicity with the book says you are writing a thriller. How’s it going?

A: It’s going all right. I started working on it up at the park. It’s based in the lumber-camp era, and it’s been a few years in the making. I’ve been working on it fast, and I’m hopeful it is going to amount to something soon.

 

Q: Anything you’d like to say that we haven’t covered?

A: I don’t know. Buy my book? It was a heck of a lot of fun to do.

 

Staff Writer Tom Atwell can be reached at 791-6362 or at

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