Having tea with the first lady; Julia Marple portrays Edith Roosevelt
Guests are served tea or lemonade under the shade of a cottonwood tree when Edith Roosevelt -- wife of President Theodore Roosevelt -- steps forward to greet everyone.
Living history reenactor Julia Marple talks about the life of Edith Roosevelt when her husband ranched in the Badlands, led the Rough Riders volunteer cavalry in Cuba, served as governor of New York, and lived in the White House from 1901-09.
“Edith Roosevelt was an extremely strong woman -- she was the calm in the Theodore Roosevelt storm,” Julia said. “He could be a tornado, while she was the calm center and she kept things running.”
Julia and her husband, Larry, are portraying Edith and Theodore Roosevelt this summer at Medora. They can be seen greeting visitors on the streets or at the pitchfork fondue. They play games with children on Mondays and Thursdays, and tell stories about Roosevelt's public service on Wednesdays and Fridays. But Edith takes center stage on Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m., when she serves tea and tells stories outside the Von Hoffman House. Her husband may join the discussions, as well.
“She was fairly unflappable,” Julia said. “She was fortunate to come of age at a time when education was valued for women. It was the most fashionable thing for women to have some type of in depth formal education and she did.”
Edith Kermit Carow and Theodore were childhood friends and attended elementary school together. Theodore went on to Harvard University, while she attended Miss Comstock’s finishing school. After his first wife, Alice, died unexpectedly two days after the birth of their daughter, he married Edith in London, England on Dec. 2, 1886. They enjoyed more than 30 years together until his death Jan. 6, 1919. They raised his daughter, Alice, along with their own children -- Ted Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archibald and Quentin.
When Roosevelt wrote about his ranching adventures in the Badlands, Edith had to see for herself.
“He had written so many letters about it, and they were so descriptive, she could see and imagine everything he wrote about. It was very important for her to come out here,” Julia said.
Edith, along with several family members made the long trip to the Dakota Territory by train, stepped into the mud-covered street to climb aboard a springless buckboard wagon and head north into the Badlands. She tells about the hardships of that trip and the multiple crossings of the Little Missouri River. However, she came to appreciate why her husband so loved the Badlands.
His parting for the Spanish-American War was difficult back at the home front.
“She cherished each letter and slept with them pressed against her heart,” Julia said during tea. “She burned most of his letters, but the few surviving letters were very sweet and tell they had a solid love affair.”
Julia tells how Edith managed the family’s finances.
“Theodore was not good with money and he lost about 60 to 70 percent of his cattle the winter of 1886-87,” she said.
Speaking as Edith, Julia shared several stories of the misadventures by the Roosevelt’s sons while they lived in the White House.The stories were taken from the “White House Gang” -- an adventuresome group of conspirators led by her youngest son, Quentin.
Judith and Larry Marple are constantly researching the lives of the Roosevelts.
“A big help has been the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University,” Judith said. “They have digitized so many documents that are easy to access -- that’s been tremendous.”
Julia and Larry Marple live in South Charleston, Ohio, where Larry teaches second grade. Julia’s professional background includes living history and museum work, and more recently she worked for a faith-based nonprofit.
“We’ve always been interested in history, and in 2008, one of my husband's students said he looked just like Theodore Roosevelt,” she said.
They gradually started their research and presentations. Then six or seven years ago, Larry befriended Joe Weigen, the other Theodore Roosevelt at Medora. Larry was invited to substitute for Joe when he was out of town. Both Marples were invited to join the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation family in 2014.
“We thought what a wonderful opportunity to come out here,” she said.
This is their fourth season at Medora. They are in character six nights a week, not to count the time they spent on the streets of Medora.
“We like to greet people and to have our picture taken with them -- we will tell a few stories if they want,” Julia Marple said.
“We like what we do so much,” she continued. “Our country is divided politically, but people on both sides claim Theodore Roosevelt as their own -- he’s a unique person. He transcends a lot of that division -- that’s why he’s so dear to people. People appreciate his conservation work, what he did to grow the national parks. There’s a lot of appreciation for him. Even in Ohio, we have many requests to do programs.”
Julia is looking forward to the weekend of July 14-16 when Roosevelt reenactors are invited to a Gathering of the TR’s in Medora.They are coming to celebrate his legacy and to learn about his time spent in the Badlands. Julia will be there as Edith Roosevelt, and a Quentin Roosevelt reenactor also is expected to attend.
Julia encourages everyone to become Edith’s guests for tea at the White House. Imagine joining the wives of the senators or Cabinet members of that day. Sometimes, the men came too. Special guests included Roosevelt’s friends from back in the Badlands, including Sylvan Ferris, TR’s foreman on ranch.
“Theodore always paid them honor by inviting them to the White House when they came to Washington, D.C.,” she said.
In a postscript, Julia said President Roosevelt died at the age of 60 on Jan. 6, 1919. Edith remained a window for another 29 years back home in New York. She died Sept. 30, 1948 at the age of 87.
Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt requests the pleasure of your company for Tea and Conversation Saturday and Sunday, 1 o’clock in the afternoon at the Von Hoffman House. FREE.
Join the Roosevelts in Medora
11 a.m. on the Joe Ferris Store lawn.
Monday and Thursday: “Games with the Roosevelts.”
Wednesday and Friday: “They Served Us Well: Stores of the Roosevelt Family’s Public Service.”