Fireside Chats from FDR's World (2)
ANNETTE ON THE ROAD Thoughts from Springwood, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Home in Hyde Park, New York.
How Long Is This Post? About 4100 words, or approx twenty minutes.
“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”
—Otto Von Bismarck, founder of Germany, someone I don’t especially want to quote, but I can’t find a better way to put it.
My post on my visit to the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library was a bit emotional. But sentimental or not, I wanted to be upfront about my fandom of the Roosevelts.
Still, I also want to show you that even despite this weak spot, and even though I’m not at my strongest in knowledge of the 20th century US, I’m still a historian.
Being a historian means not only that I cannot avoid awkward questions and materials about the people to whom I grow partial, but that I’m trained to actively seek out the bad stuff with genuine enthusiasm. Why, yes, that is weird!
How weird are historians? I salivated over a display of hundreds of document boxes at the FDR Presidential Library, and my heart leaped (UK: Leapt. Wow, I miss those “t”s!) In those particular boxes, the Library has at least 20,000 letters that the public sent to President and Mrs. Roosevelt! Cool! And if these all turned out to be hate mail? Highly unlikely, but oh, I wish! How interesting would that be? In the early Sixties, Eleanor and a friend used to meet each week to read their own hate mail to each other. That’s the spirit!
Whether or not you’re American, whatever your politics, I beg you to please not put a line under what you already know about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, and especially not if you’re a fellow admirer. And neither will I, I promise. The deeper I dive, the more fascinating I find the Roosevelts. There are plenty of excellent biographies of FDR and Eleanor aimed at the public, and reading about them is also a great way to get to grips with America in the Great Depression and the New Deal, and the lasting impact of them all.
But as with everything I do here at NBH, my goal here is to sample subjects with you, and whet your curiosity (usually mine, too, but I have to keep moving, alas) My goal is not to try to stuff info down your gullet, and then demand you regurgitate it. Because, normal though such an approach is in high school and undergrad classes (and especially in the States), that’s a crap way to learn history. The real goal is that you join me in standing in awe at how complicated the past and its people can be.
Oh, but I should warn you: Prepare for a bit of a shock.
Return To Hyde Park
For the second day running, Hoosen drove us through the middle of the long string of a village that is Hyde Park, New York. It’s a route the Roosevelts knew so well. If they’d been with us, two tall people crammed into the back of the Honda while us two shorties sat up front, they might have been surprised by the liberal use of FDR’s name and silhouette— cigarette holder clenched in teeth—on signs, including the one welcoming us to town. I can imagine FDR pointing out that sign to Eleanor, waving his cigarette holder at the sign as we approach, and her leaning in to see it. I, meanwhile, tut loudly, lower the windows, and politely but pointedly remind the President to please stop smoking in the damn car.
We didn’t need the Roosevelts to direct us this day. Nor did we need Emily, our phone navigator, because we had already visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site the day before, and it was a straight shot from our lodgings. Yesterday, we had toured the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, Even I, a fan more than a historian of the period, had gotten pretty much Roosevelted out. I skipped almost all of the WWII exhibit, which tells you a lot right there.
Today, we were back to have a jaunt around FDR’s home, at the invitation of the ghostly Roosevelts in the back seat, who apologized that they couldn’t invite us to stay for lunch, since, unfortunately, the cook has been dead for decades. As, alas, have President and Mrs. Roosevelt, pictured here, in what used to be FDR’s Mum’s rose garden:
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