Hyde Park in Mid-Winter
Richard J. Garfunkel
January 30, 2007
Last year on this exact date I drove up the Taconic and across Rte 55 through Poughkeepsie and made my way up the Route 9 to Springwood, FDR’s home in Hyde Park. As I recall, it was a bit colder today, than a year ago and there is a damp rawness in the air. Today, of course like last year, was the anniversary of FDR’s birth. Now, 125 years have past since the only child of Sara Delano Roosevelt and James Roosevelt was born. His father James, who was born in 1828, had been married to his cousin Rebecca Howland in 1853, and she had given birth to FDR’s half-brother James Roosevelt “Rosy” Roosevelt in 1854. After Rebecca died in 1876, his father, James, met and married the young and vivacious 23-year old Sara Delano in 1880. His only son “Rosy” was already married for five years to Helen Schermerhorn Astor when young Franklin was born.
It wasn’t an easy birth. According to his mother’s diary, because of an excessive dose of chloroform administered to Sara, he was almost smothered. Nevertheless he was a healthy 10 pounds at birth. He was breast fed for almost a year and being raised on a large country estate, without other children, was not exposed to the usual childhood illnesses. He was therefore vulnerable to infectious diseases in his later life, and plagued by the common cold from infancy until age eighteen.
His mother read aloud to him when he was quite young and besides his fame of being an avid hobbyist (especially stamps) he became a voracious reader. He had an early interest in his seafaring maternal Delano ancestors, and also developed an early hero worship of his cousin Theodore Roosevelt. (All through his life he stated that Theodore Roosevelt was the greatest man he had ever known. Unfortunately TR’s sons never appreciated that fact, but his cousin Alice seemed secretly enamored with him.) In his teens he had acquired a remarkable amount of information about geography (again from his stamp collection, originally left him by his Uncle Frederic Delano), naval, military, political and natural history. He had relatively little interest in fiction or poetry. He enjoyed Francis Parkman’s Montcalm and Wolfe, Alfred Thayer Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power Upon History, and Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval War of 1812 and Winning of the West.
FDR loved books and he was quoted extensively in an anti-Nazi posters, “Books cannot be killed by fire (an answer to Hitler’s public book burnings).
People die, but books never die. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and force can take from the world the books that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny. In this war, we know books are weapons.”
So today, like that warm day in April of the last year of the Second World War, a West Point honor guard stood silently at attention beside his grave. It was almost 62 years ago. How fast time passes. There was a large elderly crowd of mostly neighbors from Hyde Park and nearby Poughkeepsie. Chris Roosevelt, one of FDR’s many grandsons, spoke at the graveside along with the newly elected Lt. Governor David Patterson. Patterson, who is legally blind, felt and stated that FDR’s “inspiration had guided me personally.” He concluded, with humor, that he had “wished that he had met him and that his birthday was on May 30th.” The frigid crowd almost all nodded in approval. They both spoke movingly of FDR’s incredible legacy and drew attention to his undying belief in the democratic process.
At the Henry A. Wallace Visitor’s Center is an exhibition called FDR at 125, His Vision: Freedom Still Alive. Amongst the many guests was Margaret Marquez, at age 89, the Hyde Park Town Historian. Ms. Marquez, whose father Gilbert Logan worked on the Roosevelt estate in the early years of the 20th Century, was always impressed and surprised that FDR knew whom every one, was. She shared his love and appreciation for history.
Many years before the poet Wordsworth said about Horatio Nelson the following lines:
“But who if be called upon to face some awful moment to which heaven has joined. Great issues, good or bad, for humankind! Is happy as a lover, and attired with a brightness like a man inspired “.
It was from that same Wordsworth that FDR had borrowed the term ”Happy Warrior” to first describe Al Smith at the 1924 Democratic Convention. But it was in reality, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was that valiant “Happy Warrior,” who governed. With all of his leadership skills and his magnificent accomplishments, most who knew of him recall his charm and boundless spirit and enthusiasm, the real personification of the “Happy Warrior!”