Shedding Some Light On TR’s Menorahs


As in many homes, a seven-branch menorah sits atop a bookcase along with hunting trophies and heirlooms for all to see. Only this particular home is on public display — President Theodore Roosevelt’s Summer White House on Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, L.I.

And there are two identical menorahs in the room.

The two brass menorahs have been conversation pieces since they first adorned what is known as the house’s North Room, which was added in 1905 to host social gatherings and special events. But little is known about the menorahs other than the fact that they were a gift to the president from Mrs. James Leavitt, described by the National Park Service as a close friend of Martha Bulloch Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., the president’s parents.

According to Alanna Sobel, senior manager of communications for the National Park Foundation, the menorahs are on two identical bookcases that were copies of bookcases made for the White House as part of the renovation that occurred there during Roosevelt’s presidency. The architect who facilitated the renovation gifted them to the Roosevelts.

A picture of the North Room taken in 1909 shows both menorahs on top of the south bookcase. But one taken in 1948 showed they had been moved to the north bookcase, flanking a bust of President Abraham Lincoln. Although the menorahs remain there today, Lincoln’s bust now sits atop the south bookcase.

Sobel said it is likely that James Leavitt and his wife, the former Sarah Bancroft Foster, lived on Long Island and traveled in “the same philanthropic circles” as the Roosevelts.

“Donation records from 1895 show that Mrs. James T. Leavitt and TR both donated to the New York Orthopaedic Dispensary and Hospital,” Sobel said. “The Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard and the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson University contain correspondence between TR and Sarah Bancroft Leavitt from 1901 until just before TR’s death in 1918.”

Sobel noted that the Harvard College Library contains a letter Roosevelt wrote to his mother in which he asks her to send his regards to his aunt and Mrs. Leavitt.

But she said it is a mystery why the Leavitts gave the Roosevelts the two menorahs, which contain no marks to reveal who made them or precisely when they were made. But Sobel said they are believed to date to the 19th century.

“What was it about the menorahs that they decided to keep them and display them?” she asked, adding that there is “no indication the Leavitts were Jewish.”

Renee Steinig, a Dix Hills, L.I., geneologist, confirmed that the Leavitts were not Jewish and that James Leavitt’s great-great-great-great-grandfather was from England and came to Massachusetts in 1827. In fact, he was a deacon of his church.