Hyde Park on a Beautiful Afternoon
Richard J. Garfunkel
June 5, 2006
Hello from sunny Tarrytown. Spent a few interesting hours yesterday up in the beautiful rolling hills of Dutchess County, while visiting Hyde Park, the home of the late President. I was invited to the reception for the new CEO and President of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI), Mr. John Vincent Boyer. Mr. Boyer, who was the director of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Ct., for the past 16 years, was trained as an architectural historian at University of California and Princeton. With FDR’s interest in architecture, and his support for classic Dutch-style stone edifices in Hyde Park, Mr. Boyer should fit right in quite comfortably.
The trip was quite smooth and uneventful, as I started out around 4:15 pm on the Saw Mill River Parkway, and merged onto the rolling hills of the Taconic Parkway. Eventually one goes north past the Mohansic Golf Course and the FDR State Park and reaches the Route 55 exit. It’s another 6 or 7 miles on 55 West from La Grange to Poughkeepsie and the Hudson River. Once through that old river town and past Vassar College, I turned north on Route 9 and drove past Marist College and the Culinary Institute into the Village of Hyde Park. Nowadays Route 9 is pretty built up and even the old entrance to the Presidential grounds has been changed to accommodate the added traffic. In the last few years they built the terrific Henry A. Wallace Center, in the same style as the Library and it is much easier driving in and finding parking. Henry A. Wallace, the late Vice-President of the United States (1941-5) was a very popular and exceptional Secretary of Agriculture (1933-40) and after being forced off the Presidential ticket in 1944, served as Secretary of Commerce (1945-6). He was a world famous agronomist and he was the creator of hybrid corn amongst many other agricultural patents. Those patents made his heirs quite well off and their money helped build the Wallace Visitor Center. Though he later served as editor of The New Republic and ran unsuccessfully for President in 1948, he was criticized as being too gullible, too liberal and to a degree a captive of mystics. But, be that as it may, the Wallace Center is a beautiful edifice, and not so long ago, when I came up for the dedication, I met his son who seemed quite normal to me.
The grounds, of course, look the same as they had been since FDR’s day. I was up there in the mid 1950’s and Linda and I made a trip in the summer of 1969 I believe. Of course, since then, I have been there many times and I am always enamored by the charm and beauty of the mid-Hudson River Valley. The grounds are well kept by the National Park Service and the Library is run by Cynthia Koch, an extremely dedicated and capable person, and her very able staff. Linda and I saw her, and the other directors of the Presidential libraries at a symposium sponsored by the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, when we were out there for the opening of the Clinton Library.
After a few glasses of wine, and many tasty canapés I got to talk to the Mr. Boyer, Chris Breiseth, the outgoing President of FERI and some of the journalists in attendance. I would like to see the Library and the Roosevelt Institute sponsor a Roosevelt book exchange program. As part of that effort, I would like to see a comprehensive list developed of all the books on Roosevelt, his family, friends, associates and his era. I would also like to see people contribute their old books on FDR, and that era, to the library to be the nucleus of a book exchange for students. Students and others could exchange one Roosevelt book for another. I believe that this would encourage more reading and scholarship. Today there are too many books being thrown out and lost forever. If this effort succeeds, the FDR Library could become the repository of many books on FDR that they may not have, and many more they could share with others.
Aside from all of that, Jonathan Alter will be up in Hyde Park talking about his new book, The Defining Moment, The First Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, on Saturday, June 24th. I suggest that all of you that live within reasonable distance of that great place go spend a day up there and meet Jonathan Alter and get his book. I hope some of you will join me up there.