A Curse on This House
How a personal tragedy changed Theodore Roosevelt’s life
It was the eve of Valentine’s Day, February 13th, 1884, and Theodore Roosevelt was on top of the world. At 25 years old, the youthful New York congressman was at what appeared to be the height of his personal and professional life.
That very morning, while serving at the New York State Assembly in Albany, Roosevelt had received a telegram from home that his wife had given birth the night before. It was a girl—Roosevelt’s first child—and the congressman was thrilled.
Roosevelt’s wife, Alice, was said to be “only fairly well,” but that didn’t give the congressman any alarm. After all, it seemed only natural that recovery was necessary after the childbirth.
Just a few hours later, Roosevelt received a second telegram. Suddenly, the young man’s world flipped upside down.
A Curse On This House
There is no record of the second telegram that Roosevelt received. We don’t know what it could have said, but we understand the context.
As Edmund Morris, the Pulitzer-winning biographer of Roosevelt, wrote in The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt:
No word remains as to the text of the telegram, but it undoubtedly contained a gentler version of the news that Elliott [Theodore’s brother] had just given to Corrine [Theodore’s sister] at the door of 6 West Fifty-seventh Street: “There is a curse on this house. Mother is dying, and Alice is dying too.”
Although he immediately dashed to the nearest train station and caught the fastest locomotive to Manhattan, it was nearly midnight when Theodore Roosevelt finally reached his home on West Fifty-seventh Street.
Alice was quickly dying of Bright’s disease, a kidney disease that had gone unnoticed and undiagnosed before she gave birth. The disease was quickly ravaging her body, and she was only semi-comatose by the time Roosevelt reached the home.
On a different floor of the house, Roosevelt’s mother, Mittie, was dying of acute typhoid fever.
Within the first few hours of Valentine’s Day, 1884, Mittie Roosevelt passed away. And despite the best efforts of attending physicians, Alice…