GARDINER - It was exactly 100 years ago today that President Teddy Roosevelt grabbed a trowel and helped lay a chunk of basalt here, forming the foundation of the famous stone arch that has welcomed millions of people to Yellowstone National Park and that still bears his name today.

There will be no birthday party for the arch today - that will come Aug. 25 - but on the day Roosevelt spread the mortar, thousands had gathered in this little town for the festive occasion.

Doris Whithorn, a Park County historian who has written numerous books about the area, noted in a recent Livingston Enterprise article that all of Gardiner was festooned in red, white and blue.

She said the event attracted 3,500 people.

The Livingston Mason's Lodge estimated the crowd was even bigger: 5,000 people, which is several times Gardiner's population today.

In April 24, 1903, most of America moved by train and that is how Roosevelt traveled to Yellowstone, disembarking at Cinnabar, a couple miles north of here.

He was spending about two weeks vacationing in the park, which had been closed to most other visitors during his visit, Whithorn wrote, and much of the country's affairs were conducted by telegraph from the presidential train parked at Cinnabar.

Though the arch would later bear his name, Roosevelt didn't come here with the arch in mind.

Rather, local Masons appealed to their brother to help them dedicate the structure.

"The undersigned representatives of Livingston Lodge #32 A.F. and A.M., and the citizens of Montana and Wyoming, respectfully … invite his excellence, the President of the United States, to assist in the laying of the cornerstone," the lodge wrote to a presidential aide.

The message traveled to Roosevelt's camp at Tower Junction - where a set of cabins and other facilities now bear his name - and the devoted member of a Masonic lodge in Oyster Bay, N.Y., accepted the invitation.

He arrived on horseback, dismounted and worked his way through the happy crowd, Whithorn wrote.

That's quite a contrast to modern presidential visits: the last one was Bill Clinton's in 1996 and involved two giant helicopters, hordes of aides, secret service agents and federal sharpshooters on the ridgetops.

The stone Roosevelt laid covered a time capsule that contains a bible, a picture of the president, local newspapers and other items.

There will be no official commemoration of the event until Aug. 25, park spokeswoman Stacey Valle said Wednesday.

Local masons are gearing up for the event, however, according to lodge member Jim Liska.

"Masons are going to converge from all over the area for a rededication," he said.

"Details are still kind of sketchy," he said, but invitations have been sent to high profile Masons like Sen. John McCain, Sen. John Glenn and former president Gerald Ford, Liska said.

The Masons are a service group best known for providing free medical care for children.


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