FDR Lecture 2002


The Teaching of History through collecting

by Richard J. Garfunkel

January 28, 2003



My name is Richard J. Garfunkel; I now live in Tarrytown after living the past 33 years, in White Plains where we are currently meeting. I am originally from Mount Vernon, where my parents lived from 1945 thru 1966 and I graduated from Boston University with a Liberal Arts Degree in American History


My interest in history, FDR, and his times especially the 1930’s, 1940’s and World War II came in a very special, but probably not unique way. At the end of WWII my father purchased a 4 volume Time-Life pictorial history of WWII.  These volumes depicted the war in the most graphic way. As a young boy I was fascinated by the pictures of war and all the human tragedy that it evoked. The old saying that a “picture is like a thousand words” was never truer than in my experience.


Of all the thousand pages in these 4 volumes, there is only one full faced picture that is of FDR on April 12, 1945. That of course is the day he died. I remember clearly bringing the book to my mother, even before I could read and asking “who is this”. She replied with answer that has always been burned on my memory “The War Leader”. I believe that from that day, almost 50 years ago I had developed an abiding interest in FDR.


As an introduction to my talk today, which is focused around the teaching and learning of history through symbols, quite often acquired by collecting, Samuel Elliot Morrison the famous American and naval historian, said of Franklin Roosevelt, that “if he had never been President, he would have become famous as a collector”.


FDR grew up in Hyde Park, New York, an only son of a young beautiful mother Sara Delano and a very rich elderly father James Roosevelt. Their home was called Springwood; it was actually the second edifice built on that spot.


A.    There are various books describing Springwood, or Hyde Park, and or visits to Hyde Park, and the people who worked in and around the mansion. Located there, is the first Presidential Library- FDR had a very close relationship with a distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, who lived up the Hudson a few in a home called Wilderstein. Her story is in the Geoffrey Ward book “Closest Companion” Daisy as she was known, lived to the age of 99 and helped run the library in its early years, was a close and intimate friend FDR and kept a remarkable diary and a collection of letters. She was at Warm Springs when FDR died. (Laura Delano, known as Aunt Polly, was another constant companion of FDR; Eleanor called the two unmarried relatives of FDR, his handmaidens!)

B.    Ward’s two books- Before the Trumpet and A First Class Temperament.


As it is well known FDR was a lonely, but lively child, who started his life long interest in collecting. As a youngster he was able to chronicle every tree and plant on his parent’s vast property. He became an active taxidermist, and was able to hunt and stuff all the various examples of birds that flew in and around Hyde Park and he became an accomplished photographer. Two of his interests that evolved in that era was his love of the sea and his love of stamps. He was given a stamp collection from his uncle, Frederick Delano and became life-long collector of stamps, and he started to collect naval prints.


His parents took him to Europe many times, of course by sea, he acquired a love for the sea, started his love for the navy, and he went on to accumulated the largest collection of naval prints and became an accomplished sailor. He would eventually sail his boats in the cold waters of the Bay of Fundy, near Campobello Island, in the Canadian maritime-provinces. It was there while swimming in those cold waters, he weakened him self sufficiently enough to catch Infantile Paralysis, or Polio, that was rampant in those days (1920) while he was visiting a boys camp.


 Later on as President he took the wheel of the USS Augusta, through these same challenging waters, on his way to the historic meeting with Winston Churchill where the famous Atlantic Charter was crafted. Of course in that famous Charter, FDR reiterated in article six, points that he made in the State of the Union, also known as the Four Freedoms Speech, of January 6,1941. It declared, “that after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace that will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries. And it will afford assurance that all men, in all the lands, may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want. And what is the connection? Of course, Roosevelt had declared in his first inaugural the immortal line, “…that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” Later on, FDR would refer to these four famous freedoms: from want, from fear, the freedom of speech and the freedom of worship in the context of the phrase “all over the world.” In other words for the first time in history FDR was staking out new territory. He was the first statesmen to state that people had a right to these “freedoms” all over the world. The impact of these words continues to echo. Norman Rockwell’s famous depiction of the “Four Freedoms” became one of the most popular posters of World War II. And of course the next connection came with Eleanor Roosevelt’s heroic and historic championing of the “Universal Rights of Man” that was incorporated into the UN Charter. In a sense the “Four Freedoms” finally put a stake in the heart of totalitarianism.


A.    Warm Springs Story,  A Perfect Deception

B.    naval prints

C.    stamps, covers-


Of course long before his attack of polio, FDR, went to Groton, a famous prep school. He was profoundly influenced by the Reverend Endicott Peabody, who was the longtime headmaster. Later on Mr. Peabody’s daughter and grandson became quite famous. Of course those names are very old New England names, going back to Plymouth Rock. The grandson Endicott Peabody was a Governor of Massachusetts while I was a student at

Boston University. It was said of him, that he was the only man in America that had three towns he was named after; Endicott, Peabody, and Marblehead. I hope you picked that up. Governor Peabody’s mother, was a famous anti-Vietnam War protester who very early on in the 1960s was arrested while protesting our involvement in SE Asia.


FDR of course went on to Harvard, where his distinguished distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt, then President had attended. Though the Hyde Park Roosevelts, were Democrats (FDR was taken by his father to see President Grover Cleveland when he was 12, and it is said that the President extended only one bit of advice to FDR, “Young man if I could give you council on one thing, never aspire to become President”. It is interesting that Bill Clinton, as a young man, was able to meet Jack Kennedy at the White House, but I do not believe any advice was given. FDR supported TR for re-election in 1904, even thought TR and his Oyster Bay branch family was all Republicans


A.    Histories of the Roosevelts

B.    TR’s daughter Alice was a famous character in her own way, lived to he 90’s was a DC social critic and hated Eleanor Roosevelt

C.    It is said that FDR wore his pince-nez classes to be like TR and of course wound up marrying TR’s favorite neice.


FDR became interested in politics, quite naturally, at Harvard, and though from an aristocratic family, he was rejected at the famous and exclusive Harvard Club Porcellian, where many of the Roosevelts had belonged, including his father and TR. It is said, by some, that it was at that moment of rejection, that FDR with his Democratic Party leanings, started to become disenchanted with the upper classes and the role society played in dominating America. Later on, it is said, that he paralleled his black-balling from Porcellian by an unknown detractor, to the back room deals the powerful made in regards to the future of the country.


FDR became a lawyer, ran for office in Dutchess County, fought the Tammany bosses of the Democratic Party in NYC, and eventually was appointed to the job of Asst. Secretary of Navy in the new Wilson administration. Of course TR had been an Assistant Secretary of the Navy and eventually about five other Roosevelts will have served in that position. FDR wound up practically running the Navy Dept in the war, because, Josephus Daniels his old and crusty boss was a pacifist! (Jonathan Daniels and Lucy Mercer)

(Eleanor and Franklin by Joseph Lash, Eleanor’s good friend)

A.    a signed collectible from WWI with FDR asking for “glasses for the Navy”

B.    card of FDR and Eleanor coming back from the Versailles Peace Conference 

C.    Fore River with Joseph P. Kennedy-struggle over ships-


After the war and capitalizing on his famous name and his great work, he was nominated for Vice-President on the James Cox ticket. He campaigned relentlessly, but the GOP tide with the Harding-Coolidge ticket was irresistible. But FDR had made his own name nationally, and out of the campaign came the famous Cox/Roosevelt jugate. A very rare button, a jugate has two heads on it and is the most collectible of all presidential type buttons. Since there are only about 7 or 8 of this button it became the most expensive in history   


A.    button board-of FDR buttons

B.    Judge Joe Jacobs story $50,000, and the Macolm Forbes bidding contest

C.    Very rare any artifacts from that campaign for the average collector


Of course, soon after the campaign FDR contracted Polio, went through a long struggle to survive and recover, overcame his mother’s request that he retire, and he re-entered political. Two very important figures became more prominent in his life. Louis Howe, his old confidant and asst. from both Albany and the Navy Dept and Marguerite “Missy” LeHand his private secretary.


A.    Letter from Missy LeHand (her great influence)

B.    book on Rollin’s book “Roosevelt-Howe” (his death in 1936)

C.    Emergence of Jim Farley


FDR started his slow emergence back into politics with his famous nominating speech at the 1924 convention, where he proclaimed AL Smith, the great governor of NY, the Happy Warrior. This name would stick and Smith was eventually nominated again by FDR in 1928 and he became the 1928 Democratic candidate. In that same year, as Smith lost in the Hoover and GOP tidal wave, FDR was narrowly elected Governor of NY by 28,000 votes over Albert Ottinger. Ottinger was a conservative Republican Uncle of the former liberal Democratic congressman Richard Ottinger, whom my wife worked for and I campaigned for in 1960’s through early 1980’s.


Later on, as Smith became an embittered and jealous foe of FDR, it was thought that it was FDR, who really was the Happy Warrior.


A.    Albert Ottinger button

B.    FDR as Governor of NY

C.    Letter as governor


FDR was of course elected to his first of four terms in 1932, in the wake of the great depression.  He was 50 years old, he had matured he had tempered and he had acquired great patience. He had said, “ that one learns patience, when one has to take 6 months to learn how to move one’s big toe!”


Of course there is a mountain of collectibles on FDR that emerged during and after his Presidency. I have brought over some of the more interesting items that I have found. Most of here are more familiar with the Roosevelt Presidency, so I would like to focus about some of the collectibles and some vignettes about the man himself. Busts, clocks, covers, newspapers, photos, calendars, thermometers, coins, stamps, covers, badges, ephemera (paper and literature) all make up a political collection.


A.    cartoons- Marist College has an on line collection

B.    most photographed man in his lifetime

C.    most books written about him,over way over 400, passed Lincoln a few years ago.

D.    RR station in Greenwich, CT.

E.     ability to walk-

F.     relationships- friends- women-politicians

G.    Eleanor Roosevelt

H.    Fala

I.       Joseph P. Kennedy- Doris Kearns Goodwin

J.      Polio and the March of Dimes- Basil O’Connor

K.   Birthday Balls

L.     MacArthur & WWII

M.  Pearl Harbor

N.   excellent leadership-Marshall-Eisenhower-King-Nimitz

O.   death at Warm Spring West Point Cadets at Hyde Park



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