Stolen 16 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt's revolver will be returned





It's been 16 years since the pistol Theodore Roosevelt used during the Spanish-American War was stolen from Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. And now, because of a tipster with a sense of history, the revolver is coming home.

After the caller told the site's chief curator that the gun belonged at TR's Cove Neck estate, the FBI was able to recover it in the South last fall. And while continuing to investigate the April 1990 theft from a display case at the Old Orchard Museum, the agency will return the .38-caliber Colt to the National Park Service June 14.

"The theft of the weapon remains a pending investigation and we're pursuing all leads," FBI spokeswoman Christine Monaco said Friday. "But we certainly want to see it returned to its rightful owner."

After the park service turned the lead over to the FBI, investigators said, agents met with the caller and retrieved the gun. The caller is not believed to have been the thief.

The pistol, valued at $1 million by police in 1990 but considered priceless by historians, was salvaged from the battleship Maine after it exploded and sank in Havana Harbor in 1898. It was given to Roosevelt by his brother-in-law, Navy Capt. William Sheffield Cowles. When the war broke out later that year, Roosevelt helped formed a volunteer regiment, the Rough Riders, which he ultimately led. He used the pistol in the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba, which propelled him to the governor's office and ultimately the White House. Historians consider TR's Rough Rider uniform and weapons the most iconic objects at Sagamore Hill.

"It was a very special gun to him and therefore to the family and we're delighted to have it back," said Tweed Roosevelt of Boston, a great-grandson of Roosevelt. "I always thought it would come back. These things eventually do."

Sagamore Hill personnel have not seen the gun. But Amy Verone, the chief of cultural resources, said that based on FBI photographs "it looks very much like our gun, but we are going to have two experts look at it. It seems to be in good shape."

The recovered gun has the same inscription above the grips: "From the sunken battle ship Maine" and "July 1st, 1898. San Juan. Carried and used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt."

Sagamore Hill Superintendent Greg Marshall said "the National Park Service would like to celebrate the fact that this cherished artifact is going to be returned because it helps tell the story that we're trying to tell."

Verone said the tipster called the park on a Sunday and she returned the call. Verone said he told her that after being shown the pistol by an acquaintance, he had said, "Gee, that's Teddy Roosevelt's pistol. That should be at his home."

The park service then contacted the FBI.

The gun was taken from a display case that was slated to get an alarm, but it had not yet been installed.

Immediately after the theft, alarms were installed in all display cases that did not have them.

This is the second time the Rough Rider pistol has been recovered after being stolen. In 1963, a thief grabbed it from the mansion, panicked and threw it into the woods.


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