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‘American Ride’ TV show stops at Sagamore Hill

Wearing a skull rag and a denim vest, Stan Ellsworth drove his Harley around Theodore Roosevelt’s estate at Sagamore Hill Thursday.

The visit to the former president’s home in Cove Neck was just one of the many stops Ellsworth, a former high school history teacher and football coach, has made across the country while filming his television show, “American Ride.”

“‘American Ride’ is basically the marrying of teaching history and riding a motorcycle,” said Ellsworth, the show’s on-camera talent, and one of its creators and producers. “We use the motorcycle as a metaphor for freedom . . . and we try to follow the trails of American history.”

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The weekly half-hour program airs on BYUtv, a television network owned by Brigham Young University that broadcasts to more than 53 million households. Ellsworth and his crew are currently shooting Season 5 of the show, which is titled “The Progressive Era.”

“Theodore Roosevelt is the president who set the stage for America to become what she would be in the 20th century,” explained Elsworth, calling the 26th president “the man with the vision.”

While watching Elsworth film inside the Theodore Roosevelt Museum at Old Orchard, Susan Sarna, Sagamore Hill’s museum specialist, said the 6-foot-2, 300-pound biker reminded her of TR.

“He comes off as such a large personality, as Theodore Roosevelt did, yet the minute he starts talking, the passion comes out . . . his tough persona kind of melts away,” Sarna said. “That’s how Theodore Roosevelt was. He came off as this tough bravado, and yet was very intelligent, very caring and kind.”

Sarna said she was happy the show chose to film at Sagamore Hill, because it allows people who cannot visit the site in person to experience it.

“Even if you read books on Theodore Roosevelt or watch movies, you never really understand the man until you come to Sagamore Hill because . . . his heart was here,” she said.

Although the show could not film in Roosevelt’s house, because it’s still undergoing renovations, Ellsworth said that he could still sense “the colonel’s” energy while touring Old Orchard, which Roosevelt's son, Theodore Jr. built in the late 1930s.

Ellsworth prides himself on breaking the mold of the traditional history show host.

“Most of the time when you watch a history show . . . the talking head of history will be wearing a sweater vest and a bow tie, and is going to discuss history in very scholarly terms,” he said.

With his biker-look and enthusiastic delivery, Ellsworth said his program has more of an “edge,” and can, therefore, attract a broader audience.

“If we get them to break down for just a minute, they buy in and they listen, and all of sudden they say, ‘This is interesting. I wish I would have listened in history class.’”

Ellsworth’s director, Scott Murphy, said he never considered himself a history buff, but he’s gained a new appreciation for America’s past since joining the show’s production team in Season 4. He credits Ellsworth with bringing the stories to life in a way that makes them easy to understand.

“I kind of become a foil or a student almost,” he said. “If it makes sense to me, everyone in the world will get it.”

Season 5 of “American Ride” will begin airing in September, and the episode featuring Sagamore Hill is expected to run in mid-November.

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