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  Issue Date: 10 / 2017  
 

Restoring Hope: The Roosevelts in Hyde Park



Iris Brooks
 

FDR IN HYDE PARK PHOTOS & MONTAGE © JON H. DAVIS & IRIS BROOKS Click image to enlarge.

       "Let us carry on the good that the past gave us. The best of that good is the spirit of America. And the spirit of America is the spirit of inquiry, of readjustment, of improvement, above all a spirit in which youth can find the fulfillment of its ideals."
       -Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1935
       
        Imagine a U.S. President as a caretaker of the American people. With a vision in search of a better tomorrow, confronting fear, and restoring hope, Eleanor and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were a powerful team with a far-ranging impact on the country and throughout the world. After all, the term "United Nations" (celebrating its birthday on October 24) originated with Franklin Roosevelt 75 years ago.
       
        Hyde Park, New York is known for its Culinary Institute and foodies flock to this "C.I.A.," as it is popularly known, while locals appreciate the drive-In theater (one of 27 remaining in New York State). But history buffs–regardless of political perspectives and affiliations–journey to this town in Dutchess County to visit the National Park Service administrated, Franklin Delano Roosevelt home, Presidential Library and Museum, and the nearby Val-Kill, to learn about Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband Franklin, the 32nd President of the United States.
       
        A visit to Hyde Park for the Roosevelt home estate (a National Historic Site) where FDR was born and later buried in the family Rose Garden, Henry Wallace Visitor and Education Center with a huge floor mosaic of Hyde Park and its environs by Olin Dows, and the Presidential Library and Museum, (operated by the National Archives and Records Administration) is a chance to encounter history with interactive, immersive exhibits brought to life in compelling presentations.
       
        THE ROOSEVELT ESTATE
       
        The guided group tours of the "big house," known as Springwood, show an eclectic art collection with political cartoons, family portraits, nautical paintings, and pastoral scenes in this grand mansion where you can see the birth room of Franklin Roosevelt on the 110-acre estate with panoramic Hudson River vistas purchased by Franklin's father, James. Some considered the home to be the "Summer White House," but the more interesting building is the Presidential Library where self-guided explorations uncover pieces of American history. Presidential Libraries serve as more than archival repositories. They are museums filled with curated collections of artifacts in both permanent and temporary exhibits.
       
        In this case, the Dutch Colonial fieldstone building with a steeply pitched roof is made from local materials. It houses a treasure trove of memorabilia with a selection of naval art, campaign banners, buttons, and political posters as well as personal items: pinch-nose eyeglasses worn on inauguration day, Roosevelt's wheelchair, and the 1936 Ford Phaeton car modified by FDR to use without working legs. There is also a digitized program for researchers, who are able to access a vast collection of archival documents (over 17 million pages) and historical photographs online.
       
        In addition to timelines, maps, photos, and letters, the Presidential Library now features interactive touch screens, fireside chats for listening in a room outfitted with period furniture and a radio from yesteryear, and digital flipbooks dealing with controversial issues. Small audio-visual theaters are located in alcoves throughout the exhibits, showing historic footage–as the president campaigned, traveling across the country by train–and newly created materials to elucidate history in a dynamic way.
       
        FIRESIDE CHATS
       
        These 30 informal radio speeches, termed "fireside chats" by a CBS reporter, ranged from topics such as drought conditions to unemployment and fighting fascism in Europe while instilling confidence and reassuring the broad segment of American people who listened to FDR's radio talks. The chats–made from both the White House and Hyde Park– were started in 1933 during the Golden Age of Radio. Sprinkled with concrete examples and folksy anecdotes, they were an effective means for building popular support and resulted in a large quantity of fan mail from citizens around the country. Many Americans felt these broadcasts connected their household to the White House. The Fireside Chats were also the perfect medium for President Roosevelt, who was an excellent orator.
       
       "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
       -Franklin Delano Roosevelt
       
        CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
       
       "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that
       the only thing we have to fear
       is fear itself."

       -Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933 Inaugural Address
       
        Franklin Delano Roosevelt has an impressive list of career highlights after studying history at Harvard and law at Columbia University: NY Senator (1912), Governor (1928), President (1933-1945), New Deal legislation (WPA, 1933 and Social Security, 1935), establishing the first presidential library (currently one of 14 across the country, 1939, opened in 1941), elected for an unprecedented third (1940) and fourth term (1944) as President, and Commander-in-Chief during WW II (1941). Remarkably, most of these impressive accomplishments took place after Franklin was stricken with polio. And this was at a time when physical disabilities were erroneously linked to a diminished mental capacity.
       
        Amazingly, Franklin Roosevelt was not able to walk from 1921 (when he was only 39-years old) until his death. And some believe that Roosevelt's crippling disease created more empathy and compassion in a man who grew up in such a privileged environment. The public did not have an image of FDR as disabled, since the press was asked to avoid photographing him trying to walk or getting in and out of a vehicle. At that time there was a good relationship between politicians and the press, so this was not an issue and Roosevelt remained a symbol of strength and perseverance throughout his career.
       
        But more importantly, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States–who led the country throughout the Great Depression and reshaped the American Presidency–had a vision in search of a better tomorrow, confronting fear, and restoring hope. This was apparent through his action and speech, as well as his 1941 references to the four freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
       
       "We must not be confused about what freedom is. Basic human rights are simple and easily understood: freedom of speech and a free press; freedom of religion and worship; freedom of assembly and the right of petition; the right of men to be secure in their homes and free from unreasonable search and seizure and from arbitrary arrest and punishment."
       -Eleanor Roosevelt, while working in the Human Rights Commission
       
        CONTEMPORARY VIEWS
       
        Not everything in the Roosevelt Presidential Library shows Franklin–a man of many accomplishments–in a favorable light. Roosevelt is usually celebrated for his views on freedom. In an annual message to Congress in January of 1941 he said: "In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms." These four freedoms were illustrated on iconic posters created by artist Norman Rockwell. And yet the year 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt establishing the Japanese-American internment camps, during which freedom was curtailed during a forced incarceration. To bring this negative part of American history to light, the library has a special exhibit, "Images of Internment." Of particular interest is the "Freedom From Fear/Yellow Bowl Project."
       
        Photographer and ceramicist Setsuko Winchester (self- described as an American-Japanese) went on a 16,000-mile journey through the United States to investigate and experience locales associated with the Japanese internment in the US during WWII, when Japanese-Americans were wrongly imprisoned. Her resulting photos incorporate her installations of different arrangements of 120 of her fragile, yellow tea bowls representing humanity.
       
        She chose yellow to symbolize the “Yellow Peril,” a derogative name Asians were called during this period. Her Yellow Bowl Project focuses on this uncomfortable part of American history, with the hope of “exorcising shame and guilt” and diffusing fear. She later expanded her yellow bowl installations to include iconic landscapes related to freedom such as Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York, Four Freedoms Rotunda at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and at the footsteps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. This type of well-curated exhibit, veering away from the strict historical footage, photographs, and artifacts to incorporate new perspectives of contemporary American artists, keeps the Presidential Library and Museum fresh and alive, making it worthy of return visits. And to reflect on these exhibits, the grounds, gardens, and trails remain open to the public.
       
        THE UNITED NATIONS
       
       "We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere."
       -Eleanor Roosevelt, upon submission of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the United Nations General Assembly in 1948
       
        Arbitrating international conflicts, negotiating peace, and reaffirming human rights were some of the aims for establishing the United Nations. Considered the "First Lady of the World" for her humanitarian efforts, Eleanor Roosevelt was a natural choice to work in the United Nations. She was an outspoken pioneer for human liberties, acting as a link between the elite and grassroots groups, while making democracy more inclusive as a champion of human rights.
       
        After the death of Franklin Roosevelt, President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to the first American delegation to the United Nations, where she served from 1945 until 1952. She worked with the Committee on Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Concerns and was the chair of the Commission on Human Rights. She was proud of her work as a driving force in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which begins with this preamble: "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. . ." And as a UN ambassador, she traveled widely with an emphasis on humanitarian and diplomatic issues.
       
        ELEANOR ROOSEVELT NATIONAL HISTORIC SiTE
        VAL-KILL COTTAGE

       
       "At Val-Kill, I emerged as an individual."
       -Eleanor Roosevelt
       
        A visit to the modest Val-Kill cottage alongside the Val-Kill (meaning "Valley Stream" in Dutch) with a lush landscape including nut and fruit trees is a chance to focus on Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a writer, teacher, Champion of Human Rights, UN Delegate, Ambassador, and significant First Lady. A short and informative film, Eleanor Roosevelt: Close to Home by Anne Makepeace begins the visit to Val-Kill and reveals how Eleanor, who diligently campaigned for FDR, was an important advisor (and liberal conscience) to her husband during his four terms as President of the United States. The proceeds from the film assist the Save America Treasures project, which helps with the restoration of the Val-Kill Cottage. http://valkill.org/DVDOrderForm.pdf
       
        Following the film is a 45-minute guided tour of the simple cottage with a paneled interior of knotty pine. Each room is presented with personal anecdotes, such as her flight with Amelia Earhart. Among the memorable objects are an old, long-distance Zenith radio housed in a tiger maple console and family photos including a portrait of her uncle, Teddy Roosevelt.
       
        Touring the cottage is an opportunity to learn about this pioneering woman devoted to social reform, who reshaped the role of the First Lady. She formed important political alliances with reformers and dignitaries and invited them to dinner, carefully considering the seating arrangement to stir up unexpected discussions. This style of dinner-side diplomacy took place at Val-Kill where she hosted guests shaping national and international policies, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Nikita Khrushchev, Haile Selassie, Winston Churchill, Queen Wihelmina (of the Netherlands), and John F. Kennedy who came to seek Eleanor's blessing for his presidential run.
       
        Adjoining the stone cottage is another building, which became the site of Val-Kill Industries, created in 1927 to teach skilled crafts and provide farmers other work during their off-season. This evolved into a small furniture (mostly colonial reproductions) and pewter factory. Household furniture (chairs, chests, and tables) was made in cherry, maple, walnut, and pine, while forged kitchenware included plates, pots, pitchers, cups, cheese knives, cake servers, and candlestick holders. Eleanor Roosevelt created Val-Kill Industries with her friends Nancy Cook, Caroline O'Day, and Marion Dickerman in response to the needs of the local community, with the hope rural New Yorkers would not relocate to more urban areas in search of work. Established in 1977, the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site serves as a commemoration to an inspirational woman in American history.
       
       "I have a firm belief in the ability and power of women


ELEANOR IN HYDE PARK PHOTOS & MONTAGE © JON H. DAVIS & IRIS BROOKS Click image to enlarge.

       to achieve the things they want to achieve."

       -Eleanor Roosevelt
       
        THE ROOSEVELTS: An Intimate History
        Ken Burns Documentary Series

       
        An intimate look at the Roosevelt family is arranged in a chronological series of seven extended episodes ranging from 1858 to 1962, the year Eleanor Roosevelt died. This Ken Burns documentary series introduces Franklin–with a most infectious smile–in the context of an over-protective mother in a privileged home, a fiercely influential relative who preceded him as a US president, a powerful wife who served as advisor, and various relatives who suffered from alcoholism and depression. Great feats accomplished by Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor are portrayed in context with historical clips, old photos with enhanced movement (popularly referred to as the "Ken Burns effect") and multiple, intersecting story lines with appropriate musical accompaniment. In addition to historians’ perspectives, the narration of The Roosevelts is by Peter Coyote, along with a cast of star-studded voice-overs by Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, John Lithgow, and Ed Harris among others.
       
        In the 21st century, during an era where politics have become most disturbing, a visit through American history in Hyde Park, New York or by watching these documentaries about the Roosevelt family, is time well spent, leaving visitors and viewers with models of a hopeful spirit in America.
       
       "If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships–the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace."
       -Franklin D. Roosevelt
       
       RESOURCES
       
       VISIT
       Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home National Historic Site
       4097 Albany Post Rd.
       Hyde Park, New York
       Open year-round, seven days a week
       845 229 9115
       Link
       
       FDR Presidential Library & Museum
       4079 Albany Post Rd.
       Hyde Park, New York
       Open year-round
       845 486 7770
       Link
       
       VAL-KILL, Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site
       54 Valkill Park Rd. (2 miles East of FDR’s home)
       Hyde Park, New York
       Open daily from May-October
       Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday November to April.
       800 337 8474
       Link
       
       STAY
       Le Petit Château Inn
       West Dorsey Lane
       39 Hyde Park New York
       845 437 4688
       Link
       
        At the intimate Le Petit Chateau we are greeted by giant yellow hibiscus blooms and appreciate the handmade lavender soap. Farm-fresh breakfasts are often prepared by students of the Culinary Institute of America at this simple, renovated farmhouse from 1900 in a tranquil setting. It is a prime location for a bed and breakfast with excellent proximity to explore Hyde Park's historic sites and the Culinary Institute of America.
       


Iris Brooks is a widely published author and regular contributor to the World & I. She explores and documents everything from art in New Mexico and history in New York to hiking in New Zealand and music festivals in Newfoundland and Norway. Follow her globetrotting work with visionary photographer & videographer Jon H. Davis at the Northern Lights Studio web site, www.NLScreativemedia.com
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