Nearly 87 years after he came by Great Northern Railway freight train to Minot, amid all the pomp one would expect to honor the man called simply "TR" by his admirers, the bronze statue of President Theodore Roosevelt on horseback and in his Rough Rider garb is still one of the most photographed sights in Minot.
TR's days are now mostly spent in solitude among the birds and squirrels that reside in the park named for him. But the day "Teddy" was unveiled, there was a party going on, and he was the guest of honor.
The day was Sept. 11, 1924, and seemingly all of Minot turned out for the dedication of the statue and to rename and dedicate Riverside Park in Roosevelt's honor.
"Business institutions of the city were closed this afternoon from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. while the dedicatory program was being held," The Minot Daily News reported that day. The parade from the downtown section of the city to the park, beginning shortly after 1:30 p.m., included a cowboy band, D Company of the National Guard, members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, cowboys, Boy Scouts, speakers and guests, and notably school children.
School had been dismissed early, after all, the students were major "players" in the unveiling of the statue by the famed A. Phimister Proctor.
Among the dignitaries was Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, of Portland, Ore., who picked up the tab for the greatest cost of the party the statue itself.
The following report from the Ward County Independent answers much of how and why such a magnificent gift was made to the Magic City:
"Dr. Coe, in his youthful days, was a newspaperman, publishing a weekly newspaper at Valley City, N.D. With the money he made from his newspaper he paid his way thru medical college. He practiced medicine and surgery at Mandan, N.D. during the four years that Theodore Roosevelt was a rancher on his Medora, N.D., ranch. The two became fast friends. For thirty-five years their friendship was not interrupted. After the Great American passed away, Dr. Coe wanted to do some one thing to commemorate that friendship. He engaged the services of A. Phimister Proctor, of New York City, a noted sculptor, who created a wonderful piece of work, representing Theodore Roosevelt as a westerner, a Rough Rider. The first bronze was presented to the city of Portland and dedicated to the school children of that city. The cost of the first statue was upwards of $50,000. In another column of The Independent, the doctor tells how Minot came to secure the second statue, an exact replica of the one he presented to the city of Portland. Our beautiful parks, the spirit of our citizens, the effective work of his old friend, Jim Johnson (a Ward County pioneer) and the other members of the committee who waited on him at his Portland home; the fact that the Roosevelt park is located along the Roosevelt highway, in further fact that Minot is located on that highway, midway between Portland, Maine, where the highway begins and where the doctor's son resides and Portland, Ore., where the highway ends, and where the doctor himself lives, all had to do with his decision in presenting the statue to Minot.
" 'I am delighted that I came to the decision to present the statue to the city of Minot,' Dr. Coe said to a representative of The Independent. 'I had decided on giving the large statue to Mandan, where I formerly resided, and had chosen a smaller statue for Minot, but when I came to look over your beautiful parks, I determined that it would be only fitting that I should give the large statue to Minot.' "
The smaller statue is in fact located in Mandan, near the old train depot.
In his address, where he dedicated the Teddy statue to the school children of all of North Dakota, Coe spoke about what the state came to mean to his dear friend.
"It was in North Dakota, in this state, that he was next to nature and where he grew closely connected with nature's man, the typical North Dakotan, and where he learned that it was not what a man possessed, or where he was born, but what he did, that counts in this world."
Trivia question answer:
In the last Back in the Day column the question was asked: By what name was Minot's Grand Hotel originally known? The answer is, The Lexington.
New trivia question:
Some people might remember that up until the flood of 1969, the Roosevelt statue was located in the mall area in front of the main zoo building, now called the Education Center. But what is the name of the street within Roosevelt Park that loops around the statue in its present location?
The next Back in the Day reminisces about another of Minot's beloved statues, Rocky, the Great Northern Railway's mountain goat mascot, which countless youngsters climbed aboard and rode when it was on display near today's Amtrak train depot.
(Kent Olson is managing editor of The Minot Daily?News)