Sunday, May 27, 2012

Days 50 - 55: Hyde Park Hospitality

So we've been in Hyde Park, NY for a week.  Between visiting local mansions, we spent a great deal of time at a lesser known, but just as important, house...

John and Anna's!
Anna and John are my sister-in-law's parents.  We saw them at Pam and David's in Pennsylvania recently and they invited us to drop by when we got closer to Hyde Park.
They're great cooks... and wine lovers...

...and spoiled us with plenty of delicious home cooked meals.
We also got to meet Carolyn, who lives in their garage apartment.

John's morning ritual is to walk their three dogs, Lola, Jeffrey, and Biscuit, thru the woods that surround the house.  Kipper and I joined most days.

Although we got rained out once or twice.

John and Anna took us to Cranberries, the local coffee house, where we had a nice breakfast and got to meet the owner and his son.  Hyde Park has some extremely friendly people!

After breakfast, we took a little drive just up the road to Rhinebeck and Rhinecliff for a look around. Cool old towns.

Angie and I did a little cooking ourselves, perhaps more than we expected... 

Meanwhile, our dogs hung out.  Jeffrey and Kipper butted heads a little at first but, after a few days, were getting along fine.

Then there was what we like to call
"The Great Freezer Incident of 2012"

John and Anna have a garage freezer filled with meat. I managed to prop the door open and thaw the entire contents.
Yep, you read that right.

So what do you do with 4 whole chickens, 2 pork loins, 2 bags of shrimp, 2 legs of lamb, and various other chicken parts?

You cook it all!

Pork loin anyone?

Or perhaps you'd prefer lamb?

Yep, we cooked it all and refroze it.  Thankfully, John and Anna are very patient people and now their freezer is packed with ready cooked meals!

In between visiting mansions, cooking, and eating, we went to John and Anna's favorite local movie theater, Upstate Films, and caught a medley of documentaries from director, Sam Green.  He was present to introduce the films and had a short Q & A afterwards.  Our favorites were Esperanto, about an international language that never caught on, and Utopia, about a gigantic Chinese shopping mall outside of Guangzh that was built years ago. It's more than twice the size of the Mall of America in Minneapolis but, except for a handful of stores, is vacant.

After the movie theater, we went right across the street to Terrapin, a great restaurant in an old converted church.

 The day before we were planning to drive up to Newport, Rhode Island, I noticed a little puddle of differential fluid next to LeTigre so we took her into a local mechanic Monday morning.  He discovered that the leak was caused by the driver's side rear axle grinding into the bearing and rupturing the seal.
This photo is the inside of the differential cover.  The silver stuff is metal fragments from the worn axle stuck to a magnet that was installed inside the cover.  No bueno.  So the shop ordered an axle and estimated the van would be ready two days later, by Wednesday.

The culprit!
The axle, not Kipper, he's just providing scale.
So, fast forward a few days and the replacement axle hasn't arrived!  Wednesday had come and gone.  Thursday, the axle was discovered at the FedEx facility in nearby Newburgh. The box had been heavily damaged and all the identifying stickers had been scraped off.  Friday arrived and what was supposed to be a 2 or 3 day visit had turned into a week!  Alex, at the shop where LeTigre was resting, tracked down the FedEx truck and intercepted the driver so that he could get the axle installed before close of business for the weekend.

So, once the axle was installed and everything was sealed up, it was time to hit the road.

Anna and John were the most gracious of hosts throughout and we had a wonderful visit.  Before this, we had not had the opportunity to get to know them outside of large family gatherings so the van repairs actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

We couldn't have broken down at a nicer place!

Thanks Anna and John, we love you!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Day 49: Vanderbilt House, Hyde Park, NY

Also in Hyde Park (in fact, just a few miles up the road), is another famous home that's starkly different from the Roosevelt place...

The Vanderbilt "cottage"

Our hosts, Anna and John, live within biking distance of the Vanderbilt Estate, which is now a National Historic site.

How'd you like to mow this lawn?

Or maintain these gardens?  This is the rose garden, not yet in bloom.  The Vanderbilts had a full-time gardener residing on site.

Garden fountain and statue.

Not only did the Vanderbilts have a gardener but they had a full time staff of about 60 workers and servants.  Did I mention this is just their summer place? They were only here a few weeks out of the year.

Our Park Ranger who conducted our tour, Victor, was terrific.  Very knowledgeable about everything Vanderbilt. Like the fact that the Vanderbilts came from a town in Denmark called Bilt. So their name, reminiscent of the Roosevelts, means, "on the Bilt."

The Foyer.
The house took an army of craftsmen, many from Europe, 26 months to build.  There were two 12-hour shifts per day and the men worked 6 days a week.  The workers lived on the front lawn in a tent village.

 The house is built and decorated in the style of the Gilded Age, basically the time period between the Civil War and WWI. It's very ornate and European.

Another ornate ceiling.  They recreated the finishes of European palaces. The Vanderbilts were the richest family in America and saw themselves as American royalty. 

This ceiling and many of the furnishings were imported from Europe.

Victor giving us the skinny on the Vanderbilts.  The Vanderbilt fortune was begun by Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt who began with nothing. He borrowed $100 from his mother to buy a small boat which he used to ferry cargo and passengers from Staten Island to Manhattan.  He grew this into a shipping empire and then he moved on to railroads.  This home was built by the Commodore's grandson Frederick, who was President of the New York Central Railroad.

 No expense was spared in the building of any of the Vanderbilt houses.

Louise Vanderbilt's bedroom includes a "birthing rail" around the bed.  This was a feature in European palaces.  The inner rail was for the immediate family and attendants to be during delivery, everyone else stayed outside the rail.  Louise and Frederick had no children.  The rail was merely decorative.

The servants' staircase, the home has 6 levels!

The basement level was for the servants who lived on site.

Basically a commercial kitchen for the time period.

Walk-in ice box.
The house featured a lot of technical achievements including modern plumbing and central heat.  Edison even designed a hydro-electric plant on a nearby creek that provided electricity for the house!

When Frederick Vanderbilt passed away he had no heir and left most of his fortune to his staff.  Each of his staff received a minimum of $1000, which could have bought a house at the time, and those that had worked for him longer received even more.  The manager of the estate was given $250,000 and 16-room mansion!

The Vanderbilt House was inherited by Louise's niece Margaret Van Alen in 1938 who tried to sell it but that style house had fallen out of fashion and, even though millions was invested in the property, she couldn't get the $250,000 asking price (the manager of the estate had the money, but he knew better than anyone how much it cost to keep up the house!).  Much of the land was sold off.  Franklin Roosevelt, who lived just down the street, suggested she give it to the National Parks Department to be preserved and so she did in 1940.

Day 48: Roosevelt House, Hyde Park, NY

After we left New York City, we headed north to Hyde Park, NY, to visit Anna & John, the parents of Pam, who is Greg's brother's wife. So, the in-laws of my in-laws. Who proved to be extraordinarily gracious to us....more on that later. 

 On the way to Anna & John's, we spent the night at a state park near the Hudson River. Here's LeTigre, lurking in the woods.

 We were very early arriving in Hyde Park, NY, so we stopped in at FDR's childhood home for a quick tour. FDR is one of my favorite presidents. He created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which developed many state and national parks, so we've seen lots of his influence across the country.   

 The Roosevelts came over from an area in Denmark called Velt in the 1600's and were (are?) a very well-off family.  (Roosevelt means, literally, "from the Velt.")  Franklin grew up on an estate, which is pictured in a mosaic on the floor of the visitor's center. The main house is at the top of this picture. You can see Val-Kill, Eleanor's house, near the bottom.

 Here's FDR's lil' ol' shack. He grew up here with his mom and dad. No siblings.

After Mr Roosevelt died, Sara Roosevelt ran the house. She had pretty frilly tastes, like in this sitting room, but she was perfectly capable of running the big estate, which included horses and tenement farmers. FDR and Eleanor lived here with Sara, and visited many times during his presidency. 

This is FDR's study. It is not frilly. But it's very comfortable looking. And you can see his wheelchair by the left window. Lots of important stuff happened in this room, including discussions about the New Deal and the Manhattan Project. 

 The house may be imposing from the outside, and Sara's tastes run towards flowers, but the upstairs bedrooms are utilitarian, bordering on modest. Even so, with FDR being president and all, they saw some important visitors. King George VI and Winston Churchill slept here (not at the same time)....

 ....and Queen Elizabeth slept here!

 This fancy barn was used in Franklin's father's day. He bred horses. The carriage house on the left is now the visitor's restrooms.

 FDR left specific instructions for when he died, which was quite suddenly in 1945, about 4 months before the U.S. bombed Hiroshima. The gravestone is plain marble. Franklin is buried in front of the stone, where the American flag is. Eleanor was buried next to him when she died almost 20 years late. Their little Scottish Terrier dog, Fala, is buried behind the stone, under the sun dial. 

 A few miles from the main house is Eleanor's retreat, Val-Kill. Sara was such a strong force in the main house that Eleanor never really felt at home. Here, she did. When she traveled without her husband, she stayed here, and here is where she lived after FDR's death. 

 It is about as different from the main house as you can get. Notice the lack of frilly.  She had originally built this house as a furniture factory(!) that she ran with two friends before she became First Lady. This couch was built in the factory.

 On her desk is a perfect example of the kind of woman Eleanor was. A young boy made her a name plate and was so proud to give it to her that she didn't point out her name was misspelled. And then she continued to use it! 

 She also loved to entertain and would invite near strangers to dinner (she sounds like our kind of woman!). Sometimes, dinner would be an over-crowded affair, and guests would have to sit on folding chairs pushed up against the wall and hold their plates in their laps.

Here's where the two friends who worked in the furniture factory lived. Later, it was a place of relaxation and play for the Roosevelts and their family. It's a beautiful building and you can imagine FDR, Eleanor, and their 5 kids hanging out on the patio or relaxing by the pool right outside these windows.

After learning more about the Roosevelts, I still like FDR. But I really love Eleanor. She was quite a woman (and the niece of  one of my other favorite presidents, Teddy Roosevelt, who, incidentally, walked Eleanor down the aisle when she married her distant cousin, Franklin). She was a tireless activist for peace, being the first Chairperson for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and co-authoring the International Declaration of Human Rights. She also was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement, so much so, that the KKK had a bounty on her head. She was the most powerful woman in America after FDR's death. JFK even visited her at Val-Kill to ask for her support for his candidacy. She agreed, but only after convincing him to make the Civil Right movement a priority.  

And of course she said all kinds of cool, smart stuff. My favorite? "A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water."

Next up....a completely different kind of house!