Theodore Roosevelt pocket watch returned.
Theodore Roosevelt pocket watch returned.

Cool story from the FBI who worked together with the National Parks Service after an auctioneer in Florida discovered a pocket watch from the 1800s belonging to the Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. The timepiece was given as a gift by Teddy’s sister Corinne and brother-in-law, Douglas Robinson, and was with Theodore Roosevelt as he charged up San Juan Hill, led the nation as our 26th President and explored the Amazon (read the book River of Doubt, its incredible). The watch was stolen in Buffalo, NY in 1987 and had been off the radar ever since. Cheers to the NPS and the FBI, read the full press release below.

FBI/NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE PRESS RELEASE:

When a Florida auctioneer was asked to auction off a pocket watch from the late 1800s, his research led him to believe that he may be holding a piece of U.S. presidential history.

The auctioneer realized that the watch may have belonged to Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. He contacted two historic sites closely associated with Roosevelt—Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site—who confirmed the authenticity of the watch.

Roosevelt’s watch had been in possession of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site since he died in 1919. They loaned the watch to the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in 1971 for a six-year term to be shown in an exhibition. The loan was extended, but, unfortunately, the watch was reported stolen from the site in Buffalo, New York, on July 21,1987, and wouldn’t be identified again until 2023 at the Florida auction house.

Since Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS), they reached out to NPS to recover the stolen artifact. NPS, the lead investigative agency, contacted the FBI Art Crime team for additional assistance. Both the NPS and FBI confirmed that this was the watch stolen almost 40 years earlier.

“This watch was a fairly pedestrian Waltham 17 jewel watch with an inexpensive coin silver case. It’s a ‘Riverside’ grade and model ‘1888’ with a hunter-style case, meaning it has a lid on either side which fold and encase the dial and the movement.” -FBI Art Crime Team Special Agent Robert Giczy

“The repatriation of the watch would not have been possible without the close collaboration between the FBI and NPS. This partnership ensured that this historic treasure could be returned safely for future generations to enjoy.”

-Special Agent Robert Giczy

Roosevelt had many pocket watches during his life, but this one is unique due to its sentimental value. Roosevelt received this watch from his youngest sister, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, and his brother-in-law, Douglas Robinson, Jr., prior to Roosevelt’s departure to Cuba during the Spanish-American War. The inscription, which includes Corinne and Douglas’ initials, reads: “THEODORE ROOSEVELT FROM D.R. & C.R.R.”

After NPS recovered the watch, they coordinated with the FBI to navigate the asset forfeiture process. As Paralegal Specialist Kellie Dodd from the FBI Tampa Field Office explained, this “allowed the FBI to begin the process to return the watch back to the rightful owner, the Sagamore Hills National Historic Site.”

Roosevelt’s watch was returned to Sagamore Hill National Historic Site during a repatriation ceremony in New York on June 27, 2024. Representatives from the NPS and the FBI—to include our New York, Miami, and Tampa field offices and members of the Art Crime team—attended.

“NPS does a great job in enforcing and recovering our national property. The repatriation of the watch would not have been possible without the close collaboration between the FBI and NPS. This partnership ensured that this historic treasure could be returned safely for future generations to enjoy.” –Special Agent Giczy

images from NPS.org

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