Going big on Teddy
By Neal A. Shipman
Marty Mulder’s love affair with Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, started quite by accident. And he has turned that love affair into a hugely successful motel in Watford City, which bears Roosevelt’s name.
“My wife, Crystal, and I bought the Watford Inn, a 50-unit motel, back in 1989,” states Mulder. “We decided then to rename the motel as the Roosevelt Inn and try to capture more tourism business.”
At that time, according to Mulder, everyone seemed to be pushing Medora and the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park as vacation destinations. He hoped that by renaming the motel as the Roosevelt Inn, they could tie into the tourism traffic.
“With the Roosevelt name, we started looking for memorabilia on Theodore Roosevelt to use to decorate the motel,” stated Mulder, on what would become a quest to completely showcase the former president and once cowboy in the North Dakota Badlands throughout the motel.
“eBay really changed the look of the motel,” states Mulder. “We’ve bought hundreds of photos, postcards, paintings, newspaper articles and just about anything else we could find online that had a direct tie-in to Roosevelt.”
And today, thanks to Mulder’s love affair with Roosevelt, the motel’s registration area, and all of the hallways and rooms are lined with articles and photos of the man, who once claimed that he would not have been president if not for the time that he spent in the Badlands of what would become North Dakota.
Among Mulder’s most prized pieces of Roosevelt memorabilia is a 1897 signed letter from Roosevelt when he was the assistant secretary of the Navy, as well as one of the 200 Andy Warhol prints of Roosevelt as a Roughrider.
While Mulder is proud of every Roosevelt keepsake that he has on display in the motel, his newest addition is the granddaddy of them all.
The newest addition - a bust of Theodore Roosevelt.
And this is not just your typical bust.
It’s a giant of a bust that has become a real eye-catcher and the talk of the town.
Standing at just over 20 feet tall and tipping the scales at around 8 tons, Mulder thinks that this bust of Roosevelt is the perfect compliment to his new $6 million, 55-room addition to the motel that will open this spring.
Just as it was by chance back in 1993 that Mulder decided to hang the Roosevelt name on his motel, it was by chance that he found the bust.
“A salesman that was passing through Watford City mentioned that there was this bust of Roosevelt that might be for sale in South Dakota,” stated Mulder.
And that tip was all that it would take for Marty to convince his wife to make a trip with him to South Dakota to see the bust.
“The bust was in the President’s Park in Leed, S.D.,” stated Mulder. “The park had closed two years ago and the owner was trying to sell off the busts of the various presidents that had been on display.”
For Mulder, seeing the bust was “love at first sight.”
“I wanted it as soon as I saw it,” stated Mulder. “Crystal didn’t. But I was able to convince her that it would be a good buy.”
But according to Mulder, the owner of the bust was already in the process of trying to sell the Roosevelt bust to someone in Medora.
For Mulder, he wasn’t going to let that happen.
“I asked the guy what he wanted and what he would take if I paid him cash,” stated Mulder. “I ended up buying it on the spot.”
And now with a one-of-a kind bust of the former president now gracing the front of the Roosevelt Inn & Suites, Mulder is pleased with his latest addition.
“The response from our visitors as well as from people in Watford City has been overwhelmingly positive,” states Mulder. “The one question that many ask is if we are going to paint it? But we are going to leave it just the way the sculptor, David Adickes of Houston, Texas, wanted it to be.”
While Mulder is the first to admit that the Roosevelt theme has worked very well in the motel, he is thinking of broadening what is going to be on display in the new addition.
“When the new addition opens, we are going to add more Roosevelt memorabilia,” states Mulder. “But we are going to more prominently display color photos of the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as well as the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which is located in the Badlands.”
For Mulder, going big on Roosevelt back in 1993 was the right decision.