Friday, May 25, 2012

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!

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