Kykuit, Springwood, and the Clinton Wedding 7-31-10

Kykuit, Springwood, and the Clinton Wedding in Rhinebeck


Richard J. Garfunkel


This Saturday we spent the afternoon with Marc Soucy and Nancy Jenkinson from Boston. They were down in Westchester on a serendipitous trip to see some of the sights. Linda had suggested Kykuit, the Westchester home of the Rockefeller Clan which is situated right on Route 9 in the Village of Sleepy Hollow, which previously had been known as North Tarrytown. Kykuit was built by John D. Rockefeller in 1902, and has been the home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Kykuit means “high point” in Dutch and has breathtaking views of the Hudson River. Kykuit is home to beautiful furniture, paintings and sculptures. The grounds contain wonderful terraces, fountains, gardens, and a large collection of 20th century sculpture. Kykuit also has a large collection of antique cars and horse drawn vehicles.


Meanwhile, Sleepy Hollow is a village in the Town of Mount Pleasant, which originally was named North Tarrytown which was a product of the merger of the neighborhoods of  Beekmantown and Sleepy Hollow in the 19th Century. It is located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River, about 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan  and just north of Tarrytown, which is the Town of Greenburgh. The village decided to change its name in 1996 when residents voted to have it changed to honor the Washington Irving story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.


After our usual tennis games in Armonk, our trip back to our home in Watch Hill, our showers and change of clothes, we headed over to Kikuyu to meet the Marc and Nancy and led them (in their car) to the Hyde Park, and Springwood, the ancestral home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The trip usually takes one hour and the Taconic Parkway was smooth sailing until the exit for Route 55 West. After reaching Poughkeepsie, it’s only another four miles up Route 9 to Hyde Park and the Roosevelt homestead and library.


We toured the Henry A. Wallace Center, the Rose Garden and the graves of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, walked around the mansion, named Springwood, and looked down the valley towards the Hudson, which was blocked from view because of the trees near the banks of the river.

The estate, which also comprised about one square mile of land at the time, was bought in this condition by Franklin D. Roosevelt's father, James Roosevelt, in 1866 for a price of $40,000. At this time, a stable and a horse track had been built already, which was important to James Roosevelt since he took a great interest in horse breeding. From right after the purchase until his death 34 years later, James Roosevelt had many improvements of the house carried out. He enlarged the servants' wing of the building and added two rooms. He also had a spacious carriage house built in the vicinity.

In 1915, Franklin D. Roosevelt together with his mother Sara undertook a final major enlargement and remodeling of the home. Franklin D. Roosevelt contributed many ideas for the new design, but since the building work was paid for by his mother Sara, she had to find compromises which also took the financial aspect into account. She commissioned the design work the firm of Hoppin and Koen from New York City. The size of the house was more than doubled by adding two large fieldstone wings (designed by Franklin D. Roosevelt), a tower, and a third story with a flat roof. The clapboard exterior of the house was replaced with stucco and most of the porch was replaced with a fieldstone terrace with a balustrade and a small columned portico around the entrance. These alterations gave the exterior of the house the look of a mansion in Colonial Revival Style. The interior retained much of the layout of the old family home and was designed primarily with housing Franklin D. Roosevelt's growing collections of books, paintings, stamps, and coins. The remodeling work was finished within one year in 1916. Franklin Roosevelt also changed the appearance of the surrounding land by extensive planting of trees. Between 1911, when the large scale planting started and Roosevelt's death in 1945, more than 400,000 trees were planted on the estate.
After eating lunch at the Nesbitt Café, which was ironically named after the White House’s director of “cuisine,” Henrietta Nesbitt, whose food never really agreed with the President, we headed over to the FDR Library.
By the way, Henrietta and her husband, Henry F. Nesbitt, had been neighbors of the Roosevelts in Hyde Park, New York. Eleanor Roosevelt and Nesbitt met through the formation of a local chapter of the League of Women Voters. Mrs. Roosevelt, heavily involved in her husband’s campaign for governor of New York, asked Nesbitt to make baked goods for the Roosevelt’s growing social functions at Hyde Park. When Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the White House in 1932, Mrs. Roosevelt asked both Nesbitts to work for them in the White House. Henry Nesbitt tracked the household accounts as chief steward. Two sets of books had to be kept as the government only paid for state dinners and receptions; all other meals were charged to the Roosevelts. After Henry Nesbitt’s death in 1938, Mrs. Nesbitt took over these duties with the help of an assistant.

Mrs. Nesbitt proved to be an indefatigable worker and her position involved not only care of the house, but oversight of the servants, meal planning, and the purchase of supplies from her command post on the ground floor of the historic residence. The Roosevelts were socially active and entertained over 10,000 persons during the 1937 season at the White House.
Nesbitt became a minor celebrity through her position and gave newspaper interviews about her menus. She also appeared on a radio program with other White House staffers to discuss the running of the presidential mansion. Her plain home-style meals were never widely appreciated at the White House and both President Roosevelt and visitors complained about the quality and variety of foods that were served. A 1937 New York Times article stated “any man might rebel against being served salt fish for luncheon four days in a row.” Roosevelt had a food rebellion the prior week and said that the “kitchen had better not send him any more liver for a while and he is also getting pretty tired of string beans.”  
After our lunch we headed over to the FDR Library and Museum which was conceived and built under President Roosevelt's direction during 1939-40 on 16 acres of land in Hyde Park, New York, donated by the President and his mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt. The library resulted from the President's decision that a separate facility was needed to house the vast quantity of historical papers, books, and memorabilia he had accumulated during a lifetime of public service and private. Prior to Roosevelt's Presidency, the final disposition of Presidential papers was left to chance. Although a valued part of the nation's heritage, the papers of chief executives were private property which they took with them upon leaving office. Some were sold or destroyed and thus either scattered or los t to the nation forever. Others remained with families, but inaccessible to scholars for long periods of time. The fortunate collections found their way into the Library of Congress and private repositories.
After we toured the museum portion of the library, which is in the midst of not only putting together an new exhibit on the 75th anniversary of the passing of the Social Security Act in 1935, but a long-awaited renovation, we all decided to head north to Rhinebeck and the site of the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding.
Rhinebeck, the home of a bit over 2000 residents, is only 10 miles north on Route 9. It is a wonderful, small town, artsy community, which is the home of the Beekman Arms Hotel. The village originally started as a European settlement which dated to 1686, when a group of Dutch crossed the river from Kingston and bought 2,200 acres of land from the local Iroquois tribes. Later, Henry Beekman obtained a patent for the land, and saw a need for development to begin. He brought into the area Casper Landsman, a miller, and William Traphagen, a builder. In 1703 the New York colonial assembly approved money for the construction of the King's Highway, later known as the Albany Post Road and today most of Route 9. The oldest building in the village is the Beekman Arms, built in 1700 and is reported to be the oldest inn in America.
The oldest house in the village is the Benner House, built in 1739.Rhinebeck was finally incorporated in 1834, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, himself a native of nearby Hyde Park would play a role in the town's history during the later years of the Great Depression when he oversaw the design process for the new post office. He had long promoted Dutch-style fieldstone as a material for public buildings in the area, and told the architects to use Henry Beekman's house (burned in a 1910 fire) as their model and some of its remaining stones for the post office. He spoke at the dedication ceremony and helped lay the cornerstone.
It wasn’t easy finding a parking place in Rhinebeck, but eventually we found a open space in one of the municipal lots off Market Street, We strolled around, stopped into some of the shops, talked to the storekeepers, who were quite excited about the Clinton-Mezvinsky Wedding. This wedding put Rhinebeck on the map, and thousands of visitors in the streets, eating at their restaurants, and buying local trinkets. We even stopped by at Gigi’s Trattoria, which hosted former President Clinton the day before. When it was heard that the president was having lunch there, over 1000 folks had gathered in front of the restaurant. When he finally appeared, a great roar of welcome came from the group of admirers and the president signed autographs and greeted all he could.
By the time we left, there were still hundreds of locals, tourists, reporters (Rehema Ellis of NBC was strolling around when I met her) and media hanging around the Beekman Arms and the adjoining area. Everyone was eager to see a celebrity or two. But, all who were invited were already ensconced at the Astor Estate and probably sitting down to dinner.
It was a long day, which started with tennis up in Armonk, so by 6:00 pm we decided to go to dinner back in Hyde Park, at the art-deco Eveready Diner. Which has been featured on the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show: .We all had a great meal. I can only remember that I had a cup of matzo ball soup and a strip steak, but every one was quite happy and satiated. It was now close to 8:00 pm and we headed back to Tarrytown, and our friends made their way down to the Mid-Hudson Rover Bridge and their accommodations in Newburgh. By 9:00 pm we were back in Tarrytown, and ready for a well-deserved rest.


Johnny's and Mount Vernon Memories 7-29-10

Johnny’s and Mount Vernon Memories

Richard J. Garfunkel

July 29, 2010


It was a hot sunny day this past Wednesday. Every Wednesday is a bit special because I broadcast my show, The Advocates from the WVOX studios in New Rochelle. On this day, I had, as my guest, Amy Bach, the award-winning author of Ordinary Injustice, a powerful expose of the fouled up nature of our legal-jurisprudence system. She had been on my show seven months ago, but it was the right time to re-visit with her and her book. Last December, I had as my guest panelist my good buddy and tennis rival Michael Shapiro, a top-notch criminal defense lawyer, out of City College and NYU School of Law, who now hangs his shingle with the prestigious law firm, Carter, Ledyard, & Milburn, where the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt first practiced law. Michael originally started out as a prosecutor in NYC DA Robert Morgenthau’s office and cut his teeth on nursing home abuse and Bernard Barker.


This time around, my guest panelist was my old Mount Vernon buddy, Guy Fairstein, who after Williams College and the University of Virginia Law School, spent forty years in high end civil litigation. Now he does volunteer (pro bono) work for Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. Guy and I used to traipse the public links of Westchester back in the early 1960’s, and he grew up on a leafy street off Devonia Avenue, on the other end of our home town.


As usual, the show commenced at 12:07 PM and the next 53 minutes flew by in its typical fashion. Amy Bach fulfilled her role, Guy Fairstein asked her the right questions and the show passed into the broadcasting past. Each show takes a bit of planning and preparation, along with the cooperation of all who join me in the broadcast, but it ends as suddenly as it begins, and once it is over, all of us go right back to the normality of life.
Guy and I headed out into the bright sunlight of a late July hot afternoon. We had decided to make a pilgrimage to Johnny’s, the famous pizzeria on West Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon. We drove down Fifth Avenue to North Avenue in New Rochelle, made a left turn and a right at Lincoln Avenue and headed into Mount Vernon. We reached Johnny’s, found a space nearby to park, made our way to a table on the wall, which like all the others is festooned with NY Yankee memorabilia, sat down and ordered  a large half-sausage and half plain pie. What can I say? Johnny’s always makes the best pizza and we were not disappointed. Its thin crust is unique and the taste is great. One thing for sure is that Johnny’s pizza is never filling and always gastronomically rewarding.
Before we headed back up to White Plains, where Guy lives, we took a nostalgic tour around Mount Vernon. There are still some beautiful neighborhoods around what was once called the “City of Homes.”  We made our way down Gramatan Avenue towards Bronxville and turned right up Edgewood into the hills of Douglas and circled around back to Gramatan and then we made our way over to Locust Lane and Hunt Woods Park. I hadn’t been around there in a number of years. It was great fun talking about all the ghosts, from our time, who are all that is left in those old homes. Many of those houses were built in the 1920s and they still look quite well put together today. So we finally had worn ourselves out. Who knows when we’ll be able to do this again? As Thomas Wolfe wrote, in his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, and he wasn’t far off the mark in its meaning.

Henry Littlefield and John Irving 7-11-10

Henry Littlefield and John Irving

July 11, 2010

Richard J. Garfunkel



Henry Littlefield died 10 years ago, and in a sense it was just like yesterday. Today I was looking over author John Irving’s memoir “Trying to Save Piggy Sneed,” to look at the description of Henry on page 118.


I was teaching at Mount Holyoke  – an all women’s college in South Hadley, Massachusetts – and I was working out in the wrestling room at Amherst College. Henry Littlefield was the coach at Amherst then; Henry was a heavyweight – everything about him was grand. He was more expansive, he was eloquent; he was very rare, a kind of Renaissance man among wrestling coaches, and the atmosphere in the Amherst wrestling room was, to Henry’s credit, both aggressive and good-natured – a difficult combination to achieve.”




A Sentimental Journey of Closure


Richard J. Garfunkel



Not long ago I ventured westward for the first time in my life. Though into middle age and decently secure with my own sophistication, I had never crossed the continent, no less the Appalachians except for one round trip flight thirty years ago to Saint Louis. At that time, I was young, feckless and working as a junior analyst for Bache & Co., a long absorbed brokerage house, now an unknown part of the Prudential Empire. Part of my responsibilities, of that long ago forgotten mission, was to visit General Steel Industries, a company devoted to the manufacture of railroad cars. Not long after lunch, and without much of a hurried glance at the famous Arch on the bank of the Mississippi, I was back on a silver bird destined for LaGuardia and Wall Street.


Strangely, I had meticulously planned to visit our left coast sometime this coming summer. It would be a long delayed visit to see my friend, mentor and loyal correspondent of 37 years. Henry M. Littlefield, a towering physical and intellectual specimen, had spent the last 24 years administrating and teaching young minds on the Monterey Peninsular. Somehow my inner vision of Monterey reminded me of the drawings that illustrated an old Modern Library edition of a Steinbeck novel, probably about the sardine industry of Cannery Row. But, the fates being the way they are, strange un-chartered winds blow across the careful plans we mortals conceive. Old, big, and reliable Henry, a towering 6’ 5” 250+ pounder, was in the midst of a three-year struggle against the ravages of colon cancer. Even though we had a guarded view of his long-term future, we never expected such a quick and negative turn in his prognosis. Within a short period of time, his health went from bad to worse. This precipitated a call from wife Madeline, and before very long the valiant struggle was over. There is never real honor in death, but though inevitable to us all, I later learned Henry did it his way.


So those fates again came into play, and I made arrangements, via the computer, for two tickets to San Francisco. My traveling companion was a colleague and protégé of Henry’s, one Randy Forrest, a legendary black man who is five years my senior and from New Rochelle, a neighboring town to my home of Mount Vernon. In his own way, Randy was as remarkable a story as Henry, or anyone else mind you. The fact that these two accomplished men, from my youth, still were part of my life in middle age remains a story to itself. After decades apart, except for a few isolated, but happy occasions, Randy and I found ourselves linked together on a journey we never imagined, to a place where nothing would have attracted us, except our common love and respect for a friend. Randy is a very wide and muscular fellow. He reminds one of a shorter, more chiseled, version of Harry Carson, the NY Giant football Hall of Famer. But Randy, reacting like any other mortal, beneath that bronze armor that masqueraded as skin, was just as leery of flying as yours truly. I just faked it better. So here we were, the Mutt and Jeff of Eastern mourners. And as we made our journey from one venue to the next, our visage caught stares of quixotic curiosity. Both of us being outgoing personages, we told all who could hear, and patient enough to listen, that we were going on a 3000 mile condolence call. Our fleeting public’s sense of sadness and respect seemed to make us feel better.


Not to bore anyone with the dynamics of a hotel stay and a car rental, we arrived at night, hit the head, watched the boob tube and drifted off to sleep. The next morning, after rising and staring out at the haze, we moved out quickly, looked at a map, jumped into our car and headed south towards Monterey. We never looked back. Never saw the legendary city by the bay never saw the cable cars or Fisherman’s Wharf never saw anything! We just headed south. We just talked and talked. It wasn’t hard to talk, because we had known each other for forty years. But, ironically it was Henry who brought us together, initially in the dingy dank wrestling room of ancient Edison Tech, where our wrestling team worked out, and now for probably a last time on a journey of farewell to that same man. Its a hundred or so miles to Monterey and frankly we got a bit lost. The Californian topography along that route south was surprisingly dull. There were few trees, rolling un-pretty mowed green hills, plenty of cars and urban sprawl. It certainly did not impress me. But, we weren’t tourists with time to burn, and the memorial was at 12 noon, and our margin of error was narrow. Thankfully, with all equanimity and the familiarity of an old married couple we sort of engineered a course correction and found our way onto the peninsula. I remember seeing the welcome sight of the Pacific and a fleet of fishing boats tied up along the piers of a small town as we coasted down a long sloping grade. I knew we couldn’t be too far away then. Eventually, with out much more skill, we entered Carmel, looked for directions to Lighthouse Avenue, and remarkably found ourselves in the midst of street fair that shut off most of the town from vehicular traffic. What a mess! After traveling 3000+ miles across the continent, after a 3-hour confused and meandering trip southward from San Francisco, we found ourselves lost in Carmel, and wondering whether we would ever find Henry’s home. Wandering through and around all the food bourses and souvenir booths, one with a small imagination could easily think they were lost in a Hitchcock film, maybe the carnival scene in Strangers on a Train.  Enough furtive questions led us in the right direction, and with a turn here and there, up ahead was 765 Lighthouse. We had arrived finally in the important and aimed for part of Carmel, and this part of our journey had ended. We had more things of course to do; more people to see, more words to say, more tears to shed, but we both realized without speaking or looking at each other, that a crucial chapter in our lives was about to be closed forever.


A Trip to Carmel for the memorial service given for Dr. Henry M. Littlefield, coach, sportsman, teacher, Dean, Headmaster, writer, historian, poet, actor, mentor and friend for 40 years. There were over 1000 people at the Memorial Service, and Madeline stood, greeted and spoke to almost every one for over five hours. The great irony of it all is that only a handful of us even knew Henry was a famous wrestling coach from the East! The rest came out to honor the great man for his other locally famous virtues. 



How We Met!


Regarding my relationship with Henry, I was much more of a roughhouse type and after a rough year at Horace Mann I was a bit more dysfunctional. I related to Henry quite quickly as a friend and outsider. To a degree I was always an “outsider.” In the fall of 1961, after Vinnie Olson cut me from the BB team, (he regretted it later and told me, and Gene Ridenour the new coach the next year, in 1962-3, was my gym teacher and saw me play each day in phys-ed. He asked me to play on the varsity. I told him that I didn't want to sit as a senior, and I had tossed in my hat with HML and was totally committed to what he wanted. Gene and I remained friends for many, many years after that!


Meanwhile the year before, and right after being cut, I wandered around a bit and even though I had never met HML I decided it was time. Tony Taddey, who was a neighbor and a year younger, had joined the football team and raved about Henry. So I went up to him, told I knew Gus Petersen, the famous trainer, former star wrestler from the turn of the century and long-time coach at Columbia U, at Horace Mann and we clicked. On a long 3-hour bus ride to Cheshire Academy, in the fall of 1961, we talked about history (WWII), a common interest for both of us and we became quite close. Over the years I always worked for him and had the pleasure of running the NY State Section I Wrestling Tournament held in MV for three years in a row 1964-5-6. I came in from college for the event and did all of the coordinating. I wound up being his closest friend and acquaintance from MV. We exchanged 5000 letter, post cards, and e-mails from 1963 until his death in 2000. Randy Forrest and I went to his funeral in Monterrey, which was attended by over 1000 people! 



Lebron and the Media Circus 7-9-10

As a long-time Celtic fan, whose allegiance goes back to before the Bill Russell era, I have not a wit of interest in the past, present or future of the NY Knicks. I didn’t like them since they were coached by Joe Lapchick, no less Fuzzy Levane. Ever since the retirement of the great Larry Bird, I have had little interest in the thuggish profile of the NBA. As to the criminal style of the last few successful Knick teams, which featured some of the worst offenders in the persona of Anthony Mason and others, I completely ignored the sport. The recent Celtic run to the NBA finals piqued my interest and drew me to watch basketball for the first time in years. It was too bad that they were ill-served by their brain dead coach.


As for the recent media frenzy over free agency,  the former wunderkind Lebron James showed me very little in the now forgotten 2010 series against the Celts. I was unimpressed with him, and the other “Max” stars are not much different then good players of any era. The big difference is that they are insanely overpaid, and the fools who go to their games today are paying record dollars to support their ridiculous lifestyle. My assumption is that many franchises will be in financial trouble over the next few years. But, what else is new when one looks at the history of American sports. More and more excess and the rich get richer. As for Cleveland, the northern Ohio economy is approximately $180 billion, and the loss of Lebron, like the defection of Art Modell will not doom that area to extinction. By the way, former MVHS basketball star and 10-year NBA veteran Ray Williams, who earned $2 million in his career, is currently living out of his car. What does that say for sports in America? In fact, according to the NFL, 90% of their players, who have played less than three years are now bankrupt. By the way, most of these players, unlike the NBA geniuses, actually attended college for four years.


In the recent “circus maximus” that the NBA had encouraged, I really wondered whether we had entered into another chapter of “Alice in Wonderland.” As the news came over the wires of the Lebron decision, while I was watching my nightly fix of DVRed “Have Gun Will Travel,” with Richard Boone as Paladin, I started to weep crocodile tears for the Knick fans, who had been drooling over the prospect of Lebron James coming to Madison Square Garden for five years. I had alwasy wondered why he would want to come to NYC and play for the dysfunctional Dolans who control the Knicks and the Garden, and expose his human fragilities to the carnivorous, child-eating NYC press corps!


Now it is over, and we can go back to the normality of the baseball season, and worrying about our lawns. The NBA owners will continue to put their soap box opera on the hard floors and the Knicks will invest more money in losers like Stephan Marbury and the world will continue to revolve on its axis for a few more billion years.



Letter to the Journal news 7-8-10

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, and I paraphrase, “paying taxes is the price of civilization.” Our high tax levels are directly connected to the cost of living in this region and the cost of labor which performs the services. If people want lower taxes, they will have to accept the consequences of layoffs and, as in the case of Yonkers, a cutback in sanitation. If one wants less garbage pickups, less fire and police protection, and a deterioration of our infrastructure, cut back on government, plain and simple. I often ask my conservative friends, what are they willing to give up. Is it the environment; clean air, clean water? Is it our schools? Few have any answers. The “Tea Party” adherents are long on patriotism, long on complaints, and for sure, short on solutions. Why don’t they take voluntary cutbacks from their compensation, their healthcare benefits and their social security and Medicare reimbursements?


Recently there have been a spate of “know-nothing” letters to the editor One that came to my attention was, the July 8th, letter to the editor, “Political quackery was ruining our nation.”  The author’s assertion that President Obama was not elected with enough of a percentage of the 300+ million Americans is absurd. In a democracy, and especially one that cherishes free speech, every crack pot has a right to make a fool of him/herself. His claim that all the people that are running for office are, “buffoons, hacks and bottom feeders,” is patently ridiculous and inflammatory rhetoric. Who in a free country should decide other than the individual themselves to run and the people who carry petitions and support that person in a free and open primary or general election? Talk is cheap, we hear it for free every day, let’s hear some new ideas, not any more libertarian flummery.