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Stolen 37 Years Ago, Theodore Roosevelt’s Watch Finally Returns Home

LocalStolen 37 Years Ago, Theodore Roosevelt’s Watch Finally Returns Home

Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite pocket watch, which he carried around the world and wore in the White House, was returned Thursday to the president’s former home on Long Island decades after it was stolen from a mansion in Buffalo.

The watch itself is “fairly pedestrian,” with an “inexpensive coin silver case,” the F.B.I. said in a news release. But its historical value is significant. The watch accompanied Roosevelt in 1898 as he led the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, nicknamed the Rough Riders, at San Juan Hill and other battles in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, the military campaign that made him famous, according to the National Park Service, which owns the timepiece. It traveled with him down the Amazon River, across Africa and during his administrations as New York’s governor and the nation’s 26th president.

It was a present from Roosevelt’s sister, Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, and he cherished it.

“You could not have given me a more useful present than the watch; it was exactly what I wished,” he wrote in a letter to her.

When Roosevelt died in 1919, the watch became the property of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, his home on Long Island for the last 34 years of his life. The site, which is part of the park service, lent the item in 1971 to the Wilcox Mansion in Buffalo, where Roosevelt was sworn in as president in 1901.

In Buffalo, the watch was displayed in an unlocked glass case. It was stolen in July 1987, according to a 123-word story about the crime published in The Buffalo News.

Investigations by the local police and the F.B.I. stalled. Thirty-six years later, the watch reappeared at an auction house in Clearwater, Fla. Edwin Bailey, the owner of Blackwell Auctions, who had received the watch in 2023, briefly listed it for sale. In an interview with The Buffalo News last year, Mr. Bailey declined to say who had given him the watch. He could not be reached Thursday for comment.

In 1987, police detectives estimated the value of the watch at “less than $1,000.” By the time it popped up in Florida, it was worth up to half a million dollars, Mr. Bailey told The Buffalo News.

Mr. Bailey decided against selling the watch. Instead, he contacted the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site and the mansion in Buffalo, now the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. Leaders at both sites confirmed the watch’s authenticity, the F.B.I. said. That may have been a fairly simple matter, as the watch case is inscribed “THEODORE ROOSEVELT, FROM D.R. AND C.R.R.,” the initials of Roosevelt’s sister Corinne and her husband, Douglas Robinson.

The watch was recovered by the National Park Service. It was returned to the Sagamore Hill site Thursday during a repatriation ceremony. It will go back on public display at the Old Orchard Museum at Sagamore Hill, which is part of the historic site.

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