Huge Collection of Teddy Roosevelt's Letters, Diaries, and Speeches Is Now Online

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Put your research hat on—a new batch of archival material related to President Theodore Roosevelt just dropped. The Library of Congress has released a new online collection of several hundred thousand papers from T.R.'s tenure in public life, including his time before and after the White House, much of which had never been digitized before.

The Roosevelt project encompasses the largest collection of the former president's papers in the country, and one of the largest presidential collections at the Library of Congress in general. In total, it's made up of 276,000 documents, the bulk of which date from the period between 1878 and 1919. It includes, among other things, personal letters, official correspondence, diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and drafts of books, articles, and speeches.

A yellowing stereograph of Teddy Roosevelt in front of a crowd
Theodore Roosevelt speaks to navy servicemen in Massachusetts, 1902

Roosevelt gave a big chunk of his personal papers to the Library of Congress in 1917, just two years before his death in 1919. The former president was a history buff who had written a number of history books and biographies on American politics, and he was a big booster of the library during his presidency, so he was well-equipped to envision his archival legacy. He also had a personal friendship with longtime Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam. Putnam promised that if the former president donated his papers while he was still alive, they would be kept locked within the Manuscript Division so that they wouldn't become public during his lifetime, a deal that Roosevelt agreed to. Over the decades, other donors have given the library even more records related to the former president, including his daughter Alice, who donated seven volumes of his diaries in 1958. While the collection doesn't represent a complete reckoning of Roosevelt's written records during his lifetime, it's a pretty thorough account.

A roster of Rough Riders from the 19th century
Rough Rider muster roll, 1898

It includes the first written record of his use of the phrase "speak softly and carry a big stick," included in a 1900 letter to Henry Sprague of the Union League Club of New York, written while Roosevelt was governor of New York. It also includes letters to figures like Upton Sinclair, whom the president invited to the White House in March 1906 after reading The Jungle, his muckraking novel about meatpacking plants. There is also a roster for the Rough Riders, a campaign speech for his failed presidential run as a Progressive Party candidate in 1912, and other archival material from his life.

The collection comes online just in time for what would have been Roosevelt's 160th birthday on October 27, 2018. Explore it here.

Mental Floss just launched a new podcast with iHeartRadio called History Vs., and our first season is all about Theodore Roosevelt. Subscribe here!

Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Anthony Blunt: The Art Historian/Russian Spy Who Worked at Buckingham Palace

Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Des Willie, Netflix

*Mild spoilers for season 3 of The Crown on Netflix ahead.

Viewers of the third season of The Crown on Netflix will likely have their curiosity piqued by Anthony Blunt, the art historian who is revealed to be a spy for the Russians during his 19 years of service to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Instead of getting the boot once he was discovered, however, Blunt went on to remain under Her Majesty's employ for eight more years—until his official retirement. While treason never looks good on a resume, the royal class had good reason to keep him on.

Blunt, who was born and raised in England, visited the Soviet Union in 1933 and was indoctrinated as a spy after being convinced of the benefits of Communism in fighting fascism. He began recruiting his university classmates at Cambridge before serving during World War II and leaking information about the Germans to the KGB. Blunt was one of five Cambridge graduates under Soviet direction. Two of them, diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, relocated to the Soviet Union in 1951. Another, Kim Philby, went undetected until 1961. John Cairncross escaped notice, too, but was eventually outed.

However, it was Blunt who had a post at Buckingham Palace. After being tipped off by American intelligence, MI5 interrogated Blunt. He confessed to his treachery in 1964 and was granted immunity from prosecution. Why was he able to remain employed? One theory has it that British intelligence was so embarrassed by Blunt's ability to circulate in the upper levels of the monarchy that firing him would have raised too many questions. Another thought has Blunt having knowledge of some bizarrely congenial wartime correspondence between Adolf Hitler and the Duke of Windsor (a.k.a. King Edward VIII, whose abdication led to Elizabeth's eventual ascension to the throne).

Whatever the case, the Queen was advised by MI5 to keep Blunt around. In his role as art curator, he had no access to classified information. Blunt was at the Palace through 1972 and spent another seven years roaming London giving lectures. His actions remained a tightly guarded secret until Margaret Thatcher disclosed his treason in 1979.

As for that speech seen in The Crown, where Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth makes some not-so-subtle digs at Blunt at the opening of a new exhibition, there's no record of such a takedown ever happening. While the two reportedly kept their distance from each other in private, according to Miranda Carter's Anthony Blunt: His Lives:

“Blunt continued to meet the Queen at official events. She came to the opening of the Courtauld’s new galleries in 1968, and in 1972 she personally congratulated Blunt on his retirement, when the Lord Chamberlain, knowing nothing of his disgrace, offered him the honorary post of Adviser on the Queen’s pictures—inadvertently continuing his association with the Palace for another six years.”

Stripped of his knighthood as a result of the truth about his actions being made known, Blunt became a recluse and died of a heart attack in 1983. His memoirs, which were made public by the British Library in 2009, indicated his regret, calling his spy work "the biggest mistake of my life."

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