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Teddy Roosevelt’s stolen pocket watch recovered by federal agents in Florida

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President Theodore Roosevelt’s once-beloved pocket watch that went missing while on display at a Buffalo museum in 1987 has been recovered, according to the FBI and National Park Service.

The historic silver pocket watch, which traveled the world with Roosevelt during his presidency, including his charge up San Juan Hill and travels to Africa and down the Amazon River, is now safely back in Oyster Bay at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.

The watch was given to Roosevelt as a gift from his youngest sister, Corinne, and brother-in-law, Douglas Robinson, prior to Roosevelt’s departure to Cuba during the Spanish-American War, according to the FBI.

The inscription, which includes Corinne and Douglas’ initials, reads: “THEODORE ROOSEVELT FROM D.R. & C.R.R.”

The watch somehow ended up with an auctioneer in Florida in 2023, who suspected he was in possession of a presidential artifact and contacted Sagamore Hill and the Theodore Roosevelt National Inaugural Historic Site in Buffalo.

The watch was eventually confirmed to be authentic, with help from the FBI Art Crime team. 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,” said Special Agent Robert Giczy, a member of the FBI Art Crime Team.

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 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 the watch was reported stolen from the site on July 21,1987.

“It is an honor to have a role in preserving American history for current and future generations to learn from,” said National Park Service director Chuck Sams. “Recovering and returning this remarkable piece of presidential history, a cherished personal item of President Theodore Roosevelt, to its rightful home here at Sagamore Hill reflects the dedication and hard work of NPS and partners in the spirit of preservation.”

Starting today, June 27, the watch will be featured in an exclusive exhibit at the Old Orchard Museum, part of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, and available for free public viewing over the next three months, officials said.

And the folks in Oyster Bay are ecstatic.

“The stories this watch could tell over the last 126 years include colorful and profound moments in American history,” said Superintendent Jonathan Parker of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. “Historic objects are powerful because they are literal participants in historic events, and in the case of this storied watch, it is also a beloved family heirloom of a renowned American president.

“Almost 40 years have passed since the public had last seen President Roosevelt’s watch and we’re excited to place this watch back into the light on public display.”

The pocket watch, part of the thousands of items originally gifted to the NPS by the Roosevelt family through the Theodore Roosevelt Association in 1963, will remain in the permanent museum collection of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.

Photo Credits: Sagamore Hill National Historic Site Below: The watch resting on Roosevelt’s desk in Oyster Bay.

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