Hyde Park and FDR's Birthday. A Wintry 1-30-2009

Hyde Park and FDR’s Birthday

A Wintry Day
January 30, 2009


Richard J. Garfunkel

I try to get to Hyde Park at least twice a year on January 30th, the date of the late president's birth (and my daughter Dana's also) and also on April 12th, when he passed away in Warm Springs, Georgia. Today it was bleak and there were snow flakes in the air, not much different then the day he was born in 1882 to James and Sara Delano Roosevelt. Like each year, there is a ceremony in the Rose Garden. The invocation was from the Reverend Charles Kramer, Rector, Saint James Episcopal Church in Hyde Park, where FDR worshipped and served as a vestryman. Mr. Andrew Rich the new head of FERI (Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institution) spoke, and said, “This is an important moment in our country as we welcome a new president. The Great Depression exacted more than an economic toll on the nation. The state of despair between 1929 and 1932 continued right up to FDR's inauguration. His challenge was trying to restore the economic health of the nation, but also its psychological health,”

Then wreaths were presented by various folks representing Hyde Park, the March of Dimes, Val-kill and other related FDR/ER foundations. Eventually ten wreaths were laid at the Rose Garden during the ceremony. They formed a semi-circle around the graves of the former president and his wife, Eleanor. The final wreath was from the president and was put in place by Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, dean of the academic board at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Finally, Catherine Gregory, secretary of the Hyde Park Historic Society, remarked, as she began tearing up when she thought of what FDR meant to her mother, “I was born in 1932,” she said, “and my mother would listen to the radio when Roosevelt would give talks.” Gregory said her mother depended on the president, because he represented hope. She agreed it was no small thing to instill in people the idea that all is not lost and better days lie ahead. “Hope is what keeps you going,” Gregory said.

The Honor Guard was made up of a contingent of West Point Cadets in the same way that they did during the late president's funeral, 63 years ago. There was a salutary volley by enlisted men of the US Army and taps were sounded. After the benediction and the concluding remarks, the attendees and the guests walked slowly back to the Henry A. Wallace Visitor's Center. At the center there were some added remarks which included an introduction and a welcome by Cynthia Koch the Library's Director. It was said that FDR had grand plans for this particular part of the Hudson River Valley at Crum's Elbow. The speaker stated that if FDR had lived another 20 years in retirement the local area may have been quite different. I mused to a Park Ranger, that if he had lived another 20 years the world would have been quite different, and for my money's worth, a lot better. The Ranger nodded in agreement. So another visit ended, I had bought two new books on FDR, mailed my post cards and letters, had my magazines and covers “franked” (cancelled) by my own hand, and headed out of the grounds. I can remember vividly my first visit over 50 years ago and how empty Hyde Park was in those bygone days. There was little traffic on sleepy Route 9 in the mid part of the 20th Century. So I headed south to Poughkeepsie, turned east on Route 55 towards the Town of Lagrange and the Taconic Parkway. It isn't a very long trip back and it is always wise to drive on the Taconic in daylight, especially in the winter. So I'll look forward to spring and hopefully I'll make my way up again to the aging house that overlooks the Hudson River that Franklin Roosevelt so loved.


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