Jul 2, 2013

Visiting the Roosevelts of Hyde Park, New York

It had been years since we visited Franklin Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park.  Since then the Henry A.It is estimated that nearly half of American children during the Great Depression did not have adequate food, shelter, or medical care. Many suffered rickets. Roosevelt promised to offer the American people a “New Deal” that focused on the “Three Rs” – relief, recovery and reform. He created a plethora of “Alphabet Agencies” such as the CCC, WPA, FHA and many other entities that created jobs and made life easier for the poor. They even employed artists and many prized artworks can be found in many public buildings. His goal was “The Four Freedoms” – freedom of expression, religion and freedom from want and fear.
Wallace Visitor and Education Center has opened where they have a twenty-minute film, “Rendezvous with History.” The film is a wonderful overview of the Roosevelt years and brought to mind how he changed the fabric of American society. We often have trouble putting current problems in an historic perspective.  When FDR took office in 1933 unemployment was at 25 percent and there were no government agencies to help the people. It’s hard to image but 20,000 schools closed and others shortened the school terms.  Over three million children left school and 200,000 were riding the rails or living in Hoovervilles. 

I found Roosevelt’s loved home, Springwood, lovely, comfortable but not overly ostentatious like some of the Robber Baron mansions that are not far away. As we now know, polio had left him unable to stand or walk unassisted, and the press helped to keep the secret by agreeing not to photograph him in his wheelchair. I can’t imagine that happening today. Guides share fun tidbits about life at Springwood including the fact that Roosevelt would roll his wheelchair into the large dumbwaiter and using a pulley system navigate from floor to floor. The presidential flag over the front entrance has four stars representing Roosevelt’s four terms something that will probably remain unique to Roosevelt. 

I find it interesting that presidents who were born with “a golden spoon in their mouth,” like Roosevelt and Kennedy, ended up working for the poor and disadvantaged.  According to the guide, FDR’s wife, Eleanor, had to run an errand to a settlement house in New York City and Franklin Roosevelt tagged along.  It was an eye-opener for him. He had no idea that people lived in such poor conditions. It seems to have made a lasting impression but of course Mrs. Roosevelt never missed a chance to bring social needs to his attention. Not far away is Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, Val-Kill. Mrs. Roosevelt’s home is tucked in the woods overlooking a pond and stream.  It is very modest considering she was called, “First Lady of the World.” She had a tremendous impact on her husband’s presidency.  She said that, “…sometimes I acted as a spur even though the spur was not always wanted.”  

The National Park Service operates the free “Roosevelt Ride,” a shuttle service from the train station in Poughkeepsie to the Roosevelt sites and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Train buffs or visitors who don’t want to drive should consider taking the train and spend the night at the newly renovated Rhinecliff Inn next to the Rhinecliff stop and then take the short train ride to Poughkeepsie. The view of the Hudson from our balcony was wonderful.