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Sagamore Hill and Google partner for online tours and exhibits

From left, museum technician Laura Cinturati, curator Susan

From left, museum technician Laura Cinturati, curator Susan Sarna, and museum technicians Betsy DeMaria and Lana Dubin in the North Room of Sagamore Hill. Credit: Audrey C. Tiernan

Those who can’t get to Sagamore Hill and those who’ve been to Theodore Roosevelt’s Cove Neck home but want more information now have a new tool to explore the National Historic Site.

A collaboration between Google and the National Park Service curatorial staff has produced online tours and exhibits of the Queen Anne-style house and grounds.

Google Arts & Culture had previously worked with several other park service sites before the Sagamore Hill project — the most extensive to date — went live on Presidents Day. It can be viewed at google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/partner/sagamore-hill-national-historic-site.

The different links feature more than 200 artifacts from the house and the Old Orchard Museum on the property. They include TR’s Rough Rider hat and saber from the Spanish-American War, a ring embedded with Abraham Lincoln’s hair given to the 26th president by Secretary of State John Hay at Roosevelt’s 1905 inauguration and the family china used by the Roosevelts in the White House.

“The new Google/NPS partnership is an innovative and exciting adventure into the realm of digital media,” Sagamore Hill Superintendent Kelly Fuhrmann said. “The project provides opportunities for those not able to visit the site to explore the Roosevelt family’s historic house and discover many of its treasures.”

Tweed Roosevelt, a great-grandson of TR who serves as chief executive officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, said, “This virtual tour is second-best to visiting Sagamore Hill.”

Susan Sarna, supervisory museum curator at Sagamore Hill, said that another company had contacted the site a year ago about producing online tours of the house and property. “It was something we were very interested in because we’re off the beaten path,” she said. “So we wanted to be able to expand our viewership of Theodore Roosevelt throughout the entire world.”

Before Sagamore Hill could finalize an agreement with the company, the National Park Service decided to do a similar project systemwide with Google Cultural Institute. This followed a trial project in which Google did video tours of several other National Park Service presidential sites.

Once the Google deal was in place, Sarna said, “They provided the framework and the computer expertise and came with their Google 360-degree camera to photograph the house and the entire site.”

Google also provided the software for supplemental online exhibits. So Sarna and her staff — museum technicians Betsy DeMaria, Laura Cinturati and Lana Dubin — selected objects that were either in the house, on display at the Old Orchard Museum or in storage for seven themed online exhibits: “Art of Sagamore Hill,” “The Private and Family Life of Theodore Roosevelt,” “Political Gifts,” “Furnishings in the Theodore Roosevelt Home,” “Theodore Roosevelt in the Public Eye,” “Many Hats of Theodore Roosevelt,” and “Theodore Roosevelt as Hunter-Conservationist.”

Clicking on an object opens a text description and, in some cases, an audio one. The exhibits not only show close-ups of the objects that are in the house but also their placement in the rooms. This benefits even those who do visit the house because many of the objects are impossible or hard to see from the gates at the entrance to each room.

Sarna added that “we decided to highlight the art” because Sagamore Hill is filled with so many artifacts that individual works can become lost in the background.

“The other wonderful thing is that not everything is on exhibit in the home or at Old Orchard,” Sarna said. “This was a chance to highlight some of the objects that were in storage that are only put out for special exhibits.”

Artifacts that were not on display in the house when Roosevelt lived there are kept in the archives. Some of those artifacts included in the online exhibits are the inkwell that TR used while a Harvard student; First Lady Edith Roosevelt’s jewelry, toiletry case and passport; a selection of letters sent by Roosevelt; and his original sketch showing what he wanted the house to look like when he first bought the property in Cove Neck in 1880.

The Sagamore Hill staff plans to add more images and text to the website over time.

Google so far has created a digital collection with 3,800 objects from more than 350 national park sites.

Since the Sagamore Hill exhibits went online last month, more than 4,000 people from as far away as India have viewed them.

“Thanks to this Google project, we’ve reached countries throughout the world,” Sarna said.

Highlights of the new Sagamore Hill online exhibits

• A bronze bust of Roosevelt done by Gutzon Borglum. It was cast from artist’s preliminary model for the head of TR he carved on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

• Target pistols belonging to TR’s father, Theodore Sr.

• A silver coffeepot that belonged to TR’s grandfather Cornelius with the family coat of arms.

• A silver tea service owned by his mother, Martha Bulloch Roosevelt.

• Spurs and a branding iron Roosevelt used on his cattle ranches in North Dakota.

• A wastebasket made from an elephant foot, possibly from his African safari.

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