Inspiration abounds around Hyde Park. The first thing you see when you walk into this once and future home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (once and future, as he, the former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the former first dogs, Fala and Chief, are all interred under the Rose Garden, their dybukks waiting for kindred spirits). Walk into the Visitor's center where you view the enlarged visage of an ebullient FDR, with a phrase from his second inaugural address staring over at you: "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."
How did this man of elite education and bounty come to such a pass? How did such a man come into a presidency where he "saved capitalism from its own excesses?"
Cherchez le femme who cherchez le enfermidad?
Eleanor R barely gets her due, this meek, fearful young girl who, after she made her societal debut, travelled out of her comfort zone into the lives of the tenement poor of the Lower East Side, sometimes bringing her then "friend" Franklin with her, to see how the other half lives.
True, even then, "slumming," or "poverty tourism" was a kick back then Just like the stunts DiBlasio used to pull in the days leading up to his first term, where he would stay overnight in NYCHA apartments. It's a stunt to show solidarity, as it seems that there is little his administration has done to "add more to the abundance" of those who have too little!
Typically, for those who go slumming, you are supposed to be there but not hear. It's something to put on your Instagram feed. Maybe get a little thrill--look at how they live like animals. Look at how delightfully low they are. Look at those Lombroso brows! That is DiBlasio. The Roosevelts, like Horton with the Whos, not only were there, but could hear the Who. You can't control what people think after they are there. Especially if they are driven to communicate with people--not sound bites, like most politicians offer. Sound bites, doled out until the election is over. Then, neatly packed away until the next election cycle. The Roosevelts, like Horton, however, were faithful 100%.
Franklin and Eleanor wished to communicate. This wish to communicate intensified after he contracted polio. Back then--paralyzed legs meant paralyzed brain. A man who couldn't walk had no future as a politician. No future as anything. He had to be ingenious. He could never give up. He went to his therapy with the others, swimming with them in the warm springs. He didn't hear No, let alone accept it. He had aides attach 14 pound braces to his legs, stand him up, and he would grasp his son James' arm and take a few steps. He had his car modified with hand controls. He worked his core, so that his upper body was a powerhouse. No one would be confronted by the sight of his withered lower half, dangling uselessly.
And his fearful little wife, dowdy Eleanor went everywhere. Into the mines of Appalachia and the war zones. Into the hearts of all Americans, with her daily column of what she saw--"My Day." The title so simple, like a first grade essay. Like the first grade exercises of my class: "Our news. Today is Friday." Followed by what the class did. She wanted to pull down the wall and communicate: our government works for you. Although she probably cared about her appearance, the work was so important. No spending her time on plastic surgery or dental implants. She smiled with her gummy overbite and no one cared about her unfashionable clothes or her spinster aunt hats. She had a beautiful soul that took over all doubters. Not what I grew up on--government gives to the rich so that the excess will trickle down to the less so. And, my favorite--tax student loans. Thank you Ronald Reagan, our first known senile president. Thank you for shifting us into a nation of Javerts. No, with FDR, it was all bottom's up. Guaranteed old age pensions. Guaranteed savings banks. Let the rich have their conniptions: the poor have dignity.
The first thing to do is to go to the Visitor Center and watch the highlight reel of the life of FDR. Meanwhile, take in the serenity of Hyde Park. Surrounded by the tall firs and other trees which I cannot name. The Rose Garden. The vegetable gardens.
Yes, I will never forget that this is the same man who condemned the Frank's and armies of others to death. But, by gosh, his infectious charm, his can do attitude just sweep you away from the onset. A president for the people. Not of the people, evidently, but for them. Who strove to communicate with all. Fireside chats. A wife who shared "her day." Not "her struggle."
The charm, the charisma of the ambience just carries you away, and you have to communicate as well, though the man be dead 74 years. His struggle--his kampf--he never mentioned. What were his struggles compared to the third of American's ill-housed, ill-fed? Obviously, the exhibits are a bit of a hagiography and downplay his negatives--the probable affairs and Eleanor's possible lesbianism. Who cares--such great souls. Such great attempts, not all of which succeeded. Such great blighting oversights--why didn't you bomb the German railroads? What we see is FDR the mensch--the supportive husband, parent, grandparent. Never looking down or dowdy. Always looking like he was having the time of his life.
And his car: 1936 Ford Phaeton. Royal blue. Top down. Cracked maroon leather seats. Oh, how elegant the cars were back then, and less safe. No seat belts. No distractions--no radios. No bucket seats with compartments for coffee and drinks. No automatic windshield wipers. Even with the top down, there were no side windows. The only air-conditioning was real air conditioning. No heat either then. You weren't sealed away from nature--the dust, the rain, the bugs. Hello there.
But what art--the back seat, wide enough for Abe Lincoln's lanky long legs.
And, when the exhibits closed, the beauty of the grounds as we wait for the cab back to Poughkeepsie. Sitting on the veranda. You can actually hear the sounds of silence: cicadas chirping, birds actually tweeting (not on social media, but communing with each other, hearing and being heard). the sun splayed against the foliage and trimmed grass.
So far I havent mentioned the actual reality of the manse itself. Though it is well-kept up, still is is moldy, musty, and uninspiring. Not exactly the Hohenzollern palaces. Ordinary, middle-brow tastes. I've seen more sumptuously appointed Motel 6's. We saw the bedroom given to George VI on that visit. And they grilled hot dogs for them! Even the Motel 6 would do better.
Interesting enough, the canteen serves many things, none of them hot dogs. The only inspiration from the WWII era would be the signage font and the WWII replica posters. The menu itself is pure 21th Century: farro and kale soup, mixed green salad with berries and nuts, turkey wraps, paninis. The only thing a time traveling GI would recognize would be the breakfasts--eggs, omelets. Breakfast hasn't changed over the American decades, I suppose.
But the library--oh, how well those exhibits are done. And once is not enough. Mental fatigue--after the first 100 days, I couldn't keep up. I just started going into each term with the films. But by the end of the third term, I couldn't take in any more info, though the last film was narrated by Bill Clinton. Yes, that one.
So I will return. To learn more about FDR's, later years and meander through his Rose Garden Crypt. To see the various "cottages."
The Roosevelt's had class. You can purchase mansions and fill them with gold. Class is achieved, not for sale at any price.