This is about my recent visit (second overall) visit to the FDR Library & Museum in Hyde Park, New York — that's on the right-hand side of the Hudson River if you're heading north from Manhattan.
'Twas October 30th, the eve of Halloween Day. A moody, grim morning weather cleared to a magnificent azure sky. Constant wind blew colorful leaves all over the place.
I never gave the Roosevelts much thought — those people are in black & white, aren't they? — except for appreciating the New Deal and the WPA. But the PBS miniseries got me so hooked. Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor are fascinating AF. In their lives of enormous privilege they also experienced enormous hardship, both physical and emotional. The drama was good enough for TV: Asthma, polio, alcoholism, neglect, affairs, running away to the West, great loves, sudden death, ambition.
Ah, but Eleanor was the most wonderful of them all. Like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, she overcame the frustrating, humiliating forces of sexism and patriarchy that were against her. Her leadership was bold and visionary. And she had a special building just for herself and her pants-wearing lesbian crew to hang out, no dudes allowed. In black & white.
Anyhow, watch the miniseries! It's seriously as good as anything on Netflix! (And at the moment it's available on DVD through Netflix.)
The place was gorgeous this day, and the first thing I wanted to do was to pay my respects. Late afternoon light cutting a streak across the lawn and striking the marble monument of their gravesite, bold red roses popping against a background of dying bushes.
Small birds sang, there was a strong rustle of wind in the old pines, chestnuts, and oaks, and a bunny investigated the grass between some hedges.
Not far from the gravesite was the Springwood house, the home the library & museum are built on, its zippy green shutters flattered by the reddening ivy. I had missed the last tour, but I could look in at the enclosed porch and sit on the benches stationed at FDR's favorite vista of the river valley.
In FDR's study, the original, preserved room, I gazed at his comfy blue reading chair beside the painted tile fireplace. I wondered what it must have been like to sit there and contemplate your next move against Hitler. To feel the pain of polio and feel that you must keep it hidden from the nation you serve.
In a special exhibit in the museum, though, one confronts the mystery of how a man so deeply intelligent could have been so wrongheaded when he signed Executive Order 9066, which led to the internment of 80,000 American citizens and 120,000 total of Japanese descent. (Eleanor strongly opposed this move and told him so.)
Incredibly, the exhibit is full of stunning photographs taken by the likes of Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, who were actually hired by the War Relocation Authority.
I could feel the cognitive dissonance and pain emanating from these pictures. A photo of two small boys, hugging, not caring that their ancestors came from different continents, yet about to be torn apart. Businesses closing and holding clearance sales, putting up signs like "I Am An American." People in camps participating in Girl Scouts or dressing up as Uncle Sam in stars and stripes, participating in the culture of the only country many of them ever knew, in spite of that country rejecting and persecuting them.
I am glad now that even in today's climate of fear, there are businesses and homes putting up signs of welcome, unity, and community in their windows. But there is a very uncomfortable echo between the photographs from the 1940s and today.