Tuesday, December 10, 2013
When Governor Baxter Day is held in two weeks in Portland, a more famous conservationist will share in the celebration of the governor's legacy.
And when Teddy Roosevelt seemingly speaks to us from the grave, he'll tell stories about his time in Maine and how it was a time that shaped his life, perhaps even his presidency.
Joe Wiegand, the legendary repriser of Theodore Roosevelt who will perform in Portland, said it's appropriate that Teddy speak on the day celebrating Gov. Percival Baxter.
"Theodore Roosevelt during his presidency declared for the first time in history a conservation ethic from (the White House). And I would think a young Percival Baxter who began his own service in state legislation in 1909, at the same time Teddy was leaving office, would have perhaps gleaned some inspiration from him," said Wiegand at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, N.D.
The performance by Wiegand at 6 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Maine Historical Society is part of a day-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of Baxter's last acquisition of the land that became Baxter State Park.
And Roosevelt's conservation spirit is not the president's only tie to the wilderness park.
Roosevelt visited Maine multiple times, first as a boy at age 13 on a trip to Moosehead Lake and later during college, when he climbed Mount Katahdin.
On his now legendary trip in 1878, Roosevelt went to Island Falls after his father's death to visit two hunting guides at the suggestion of one of his Harvard professors, Wiegand said.
Those guides, Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, because large figures in Roosevelt's life. Eventually, Roosevelt hired both to run his ranch, Elkhorn Ranch, in North Dakota, where he shared several adventures with them.
"He made a contract with Sewall and Dow that said if things went well, in two to three years they would make a significant amount of money in the cattle ranching business. That didn't pan out and they returned to Maine," Wiegand said.
Sewall was invited to the White House right before Roosevelt left office and is in a portrait of Roosevelt's closest advisers, Wiegand said.
"He was so impressed by the quality of the men, and also of the truly difficult life in Island Falls in 1884. TR strengthened himself and found resolve for life to a great extent as a result of spending time with William Sewall. He was a father figure for TR, a man of nature, a man of the woods, a good hunter. TR probably confided a good deal in Sewall."
Roosevelt's ties to Maine goes beyond those two guides.
When visiting Dow and Sewall, Roosevelt spent time alone near Mattawamkeag Lake at a spot that's been placed on the State Register of Historic Places. The site at the confluence of the West Branch of the Mattawamkeag and First Brook that Roosevelt used to paddle to alone is today a 27-acre state historic site called "Bible Point."
"I found that a very important place," Wiegand said. "If I understand it correctly, he went out hiking and hunting on adventures, but before that he would take his own canoe to Bible Point and spend the early morning in Bible devotion, which is how he grew up."
Wiegand will bring to life all of Roosevelt's adventures in Maine, as well as his time as president, and the entire Rough Rider spirit behind his conservation effort that paralleled Baxter's work.
"Part of what I talk about is his own playfulness. He had a great deal of humor and that's interwoven with a lot of inspiring stories," Wiegand said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: