FARGO — Theodore Roosevelt racked up quite a resume.
He served as president — the nation’s youngest — vice president, governor of New York, assistant secretary of the Navy, New York City police commissioner and a member of the New York State Assembly.
His accomplishments were no less impressive, as shown by this cursory list:
He won both a Nobel Peace Prize and the Medal of Honor, averted a national coal strike, reined in the monopolistic power of railroads, broke up the “beef trust,” pushed Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act, and is widely regarded as the greatest conservation president.
As many schoolchildren know, Roosevelt inspired the Teddy bear, because he once refused to shoot a bear.
Here’s something, however, you might not know: Roosevelt also provided the inspiration for Batman.
That’s right — the Caped Crusader was modeled after the eventful life, both tragic and triumphal, of the Rough Rider.
The connection between the comic book hero and the heroic statesman was explicitly made by Paul Levitz, a writer and editor at DC Comics, which for 42 years, said the Batman story was grounded in Theodore Roosevelt’s story, as the online magazine Salon noted in a 2015 article. Levitz’ Batman found his powers after Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered before his eyes as a boy.
Similarly, Roosevelt’s life was transformed by the dual tragedies of losing his wife and his mother on the same day — Valentine’s Day in 1884.
“The light has gone out of my life,” he wrote in his journal. He sought solace and renewal in the Little Missouri Badlands of Dakota Territory, where he ranched and hunted.
“People succeed in wonderful and dramatic ways in history,” Levitz told Salon. “And that provides the inspiration for what the heroic journey can be.”
Christopher Nolan, who directed a trilogy of Batman movies, also found guidance for the cinematic depiction of the comic book hero from Roosevelt’s larger-than-life story. In directing “The Dark Knight” in 2008, Nolan based parts of the story on Roosevelt’s life and encouraged his star, Christian Bale, to read a biography of Roosevelt to prepare for the roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman, according to news reports at the time.
Winthrop Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s great-great grandson, learned that his famous ancestor was the basis for Batman several years ago, when he stumbled onto the connection while browsing online.
At first, he found the ties surprising, but the many parallels between Theodore Roosevelt and Bruce Wayne/Batman quickly became evident. In a phone interview with The Forum, Winthrop Roosevelt rattled off some of the similarities.
Both grew up in wealth and privilege in Manhattan or, in Bruce Wayne’s case, Gotham, a stand-in for New York City.
Both lost their “larger-than-life father figures,” who were accomplished figures and philanthropists, at an early age.
“Theodore Roosevelt said his father was the greatest man he ever knew,” Roosevelt said.
Also, he said of the motivational fathers, “They both pushed their sons to overcome adversity at an early age,” Roosevelt said. As a boy, Bruce Wayne falls into a well and his father has him climb out unassisted. Theodore Roosevelt was sickly and asthmatic as a boy, and his father encouraged him to exercise and develop his body, equipping a home gym for his son.
“They were both transformed by tragedy,” Roosevelt said. Theodore Roosevelt famously credited his experience in the North Dakota Badlands for helping mold him into the man who became president — a transformation that his great-great grandson believes was genuine.
Roosevelt went into a self-imposed exile in the Badlands, where he learned how to be a cowboy and was toughened; Bruce Wayne’s transformation came from becoming skilled in martial arts.
Significantly, Bruce Wayne’s Batman does not have superpowers, but instead uses his wits and flashy technology — the Batmobile, for instance — to vanquish his criminal foes.
“He’s a man just like TR was himself,” Roosevelt said, noting that his great-great grandfather was a boxer and knew jujitsu.
Theodore Roosevelt also was embraced technology. As police commissioner, he installed telephones in police stations, used “heat maps” to identify high-crime areas as well as mugshots to identify suspects.
“He was very innovative and very ahead of his time,” Winthrop Roosevelt said.
Also, both Batman and Roosevelt were humane in dealing with criminals. Batman took the bad guys into custody, turning them over to the police, instead of killing them. While in the Badlands, Roosevelt and a couple of his ranch hands tracked down three boat thieves and brought them into Dickinson to face charges instead of imposing harsh frontier justice, Winthrop Roosevelt said.
Roosevelt, a deputy Billings County sheriff at the time, consciously made an example of catching the boat thieves, whom he hunted down in numbing cold. “That story was told far and wide,” he said.
As New York City police commissioner, Roosevelt’s nocturnal prowls seem an obvious inspiration for Batman’s Dark Knight, Roosevelt said.
“He would do these night walks around the city to make sure these police officers were doing their job late at night,” he said. “As we know, Batman pretty much only operates at night.”
Winthrop Roosevelt said the family considers Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands an important site for preserving his conservation legacy, he added, and supports the concept of the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum near the park’s entrance in Medora.
In fact, Roosevelt said, he worked in Medora one summer while in high school, for the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, including staffing the pitchfork fondue and leading tours on horseback into the Badlands.
So what would Theodore Roosevelt, who was born in 1858 and died in 1919 at age 60, think of being the inspiration for Batman?
“I think anyone would like to be compared to Batman,” he said. “I think he would have enjoyed it. Who doesn’t like Batman?”