Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Adam Lindquist, Teddy Roosevelt impersonator
Of the 20 or so semi-professional Teddy Roosevelt impersonators working in the United States today, Adam Lindquist guesses he is the country’s second-most popular, and second-highest paid.
Last winter, while most Minnesotans were busy fending off frostbite, Adam Lindquist put on a beaver-fur felt hat and jetted out of town to tail Sally Jewell from city to city. He wanted to talk to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior about the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. For decades, environmentalists had called for this vast parcel of land in New Mexico—dotted with meso-American petroglyphs and prehistoric rock shelters—to be declared a national monument. But they were making no progress. Then Lindquist got on the case.
He donned his custom-designed hat, slipped into a wool sweater, and put on small wire-rim eyeglasses. Then, fully armed with a capacious knowledge of the life of 26th U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt and looking remarkably like him, Lindquist went to intercept Jewell. Because he was flying, he left behind both his Tiffany & Co. silver Bowie knife—identical to the one Roosevelt used to kill a cougar in the Dakota territories—and his Roosevelt reproduction cavalry sword.
“Everywhere I went, I actually got to talk to her,” says Lindquist, who was being paid for his troubles by a group called Environment America. “The Secret Service guys knew I was coming—it was in all the newspapers. They would escort me straight to Secretary Jewell. I was being so carefully handled it got to be kind of funny. I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen—maybe another charge up San Juan Hill?”
The charge was not needed. “Two senators finally called my client and said, ‘Call the Roosevelt dog off; we got the message,’” says Lindquist. On May 21, Barack Obama used one of Teddy Roosevelt’s laws, the U.S. Antiquities Act, to declare some 496,000 acres of southern New Mexico protected lands. Those acres are now the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. Lindquist was carrying on the legacy of the real Teddy Roosevelt, who set aside some 230 million acres of America for future generations— including the Grand Canyon, which had been under imminent threat of destruction from miners. Nearly 100 years after his death, Teddy Roosevelt’s work soldiers on. “They didn’t put his face on a mountain for nothing,” Lindquist says.
Of the 20 or so semi-professional Teddy Roosevelt impersonators working in the United States today, Lindquist guesses he is the country’s second-most popular, and second-highest paid. (The top Teddy is Tennessee-based Joe Wiegand, who plays the elder White House president version of Roosevelt.) Not bad for someone who got into the game in 2008. Lindquist, who is 52, grew up in New Hope, and acted for fun as a student at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School and afterwards in community productions. Mainly, though, he pursued a contemporary life, with a career in the marketing of international finance risk management, and a son he raised with his lovely bride on a vineyard in the southeastern Minnesota town of Lonsdale.
Then, one day, he noticed a picture someone had taken of him wearing his reading glasses and had a thought that would change his life: “I kind of look like Teddy Roosevelt.” A friend who kind of looked like Buffalo Bill convinced Lindquist to compete as Colonel Roosevelt in the military division of Buffalo Bill Days in Golden, Colorado. Needless to say, Lindquist won. After that, Lindquist worked to get Roosevelt’s voice down, and he studied the president’s life. Now, he says, he’s the trifecta: “re-enactor, lookalike, and living history re-enactor.”
To prove what he means, Lindquist adjusts his glasses, and instantly transforms from a nice normal guy of 2014 to someone with the upper crust, slightly English clipped tones of 1900. He rattles off a monologue about the origins of the Teddy Bear (named for a pardoned bear on a bear hunt), then follows with one about the president’s daughter Alice. (Called Princess Alice, she was famous as a beauty and a mischief-maker, prompting her father to say, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”) He finishes with a heartfelt, and honestly stirring soliloquy about how Roosevelt was one of the truest of American heroes, a passionate advocate of peace (the first American to win a Nobel Peace Prize, for brokering the end to the Russo-Japanese war), a brave warrior (recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor for leading the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American war), and a man who made decisions not on political expediency, but on the effects his choices would have for three generations.
Lindquist’s voice rises as he ticks off Roosevelt’s many accomplishments. “As Roosevelt said, ‘No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,’” he says. Lindquist cares. In the past year, he attended a FEMA meeting in Maryland; he explained the Rooseveltian origins of the Affordable Care Act to a group; he spent a week in a tent for the Mankato History Fest showing schoolchildren photobooks that he had carefully assembled and sharing the story of how Roosevelt singlehandedly created the U.S. Forest System; and he did a lot of parades. This winter, he’ll debut a one-man show called, naturally enough, Roosevelt!
In it, Lindquist will reveal one of the keys to understanding Roosevelt’s character: namely the way he was confined to his bed as a child, reading adventure stories and thinking himself an invalid, so that by the time he began to get better, in adolescence, he had acquired the energy of a tightly coiled spring, enough to launch him through 50 tireless years. “I think about that all the time,” says Lindquist, his blue-gray eyes wide with awe. “Roosevelt crammed so much life into his 60 years. Because of him, I try to fit as much into my life as I can.”
For instance, a mid-life career switch from an ordinary life to one in which Lindquist fills vintage steamer trunks with safari supplies. Did his wife predict that 15 years into their marriage Lindquist would take a turn toward Teddy Roosevelt? Could she have guessed he’d have his own island on the Internet called TeddyRooseveltLive.com?
“She knew I was crazy—she just didn’t see this coming, exactly,” says Lindquist. “Given my druthers, I’d look like George Clooney. But you have to work with what you’ve got. Given what I’ve got, I think I can make a good case: If today’s politicians took into account Roosevelt’s philosophy of making decisions for our children and our children’s children, we’d be better off,” he says. And then he clarifies: “That’s Adam talking, not Roosevelt.”
Which begs the question: Can you even tell the difference any more? “Sometimes,” he says. “Most of the time,” he says. Then he adjusts his hat. “Well, sometimes.”