Friday, March 19, 2010

FDR Presidential Library

Welcome to the FDR Presidential Library!

On a cold and blustery winter day this past December I found the occasion to visit the FDR Presidential museum and library in Hyde Park, NY. I live in Hyde Park (Chicago), IL, so this was a small adventure in seeing how the universe replicates itself in linguistic book at a time. As with many of my visitation sites, this was one of the places I'd always known about, even many times driven by, but never actually visited. So, when the chance arose, I made my way to the fine locale, and checked out the visitors' center, museum, and research library. The campus of the presidential estate is quite large. In fact, there are many different things to visit. But there was only so much time this cold afternoon. And the tickets for each venue were considerably priced, so I chose the most apropos places to visit.

Of course, the place I was most interested in was the library. But it is not what most people might think of when you think of a library, especially a presidential library, which generally gives the sense of great size and importance. I don't mean to play it down, of course, but the FDR research library is confined to an upper room--almost an attic!--of the museum, which is itself housed in an old blue-stone style building. I had purchased my tickets for the museum, which I visited with my family. But while they were meandering about looking at various exhibits, I had requested a visit to the research library upstairs. In order to gain entrance, I had to have a research question--which I didn't at the time!--but decided to ask about FDR's relationship with the Lutheran Church, as I had some minor and ancillary interest in this topic. One of the members of the research center attended to me, bringing me up to the research room, in almost Fort Knox style: locked doors, controlled elevators, filling out documents. I finally received my "users card" to the FDR library and did a search on their database, only to find maybe two occurrences of "Lutherans" in the catalogue. Apparently, FDR met with Lutherans only over a couple of issues. At least, so the catalogue said!

Back down in the museum there were a fair number of objects which I found incredibly interesting. From personal artifacts, including a family Bible, FDR's own books, Eleanor's type-writer, to more out-of-the-ordinary objects, such at FDR's baby carriage and his leg braces, the museum was rather extraordinary. Interestingly, there was one exhibit (above) which shows a group of people, presumably during the Depression, at a book-mobile, with the caption "Human Services." I thought this was a rather remarkable photo. A few other items caught my eye: one of them was this Torah Scroll, which was given to FDR by the National Council of Young Israel. Outside of the museum, near the visitors' center, one will find this interesting bronze set of FDR and the first lady--with a table and books...bronze books!--scattered in front of them! A true "Books and Biblios" moment! The center also had a fine bookstore, which sold all sorts of items related to FDR and "FDRana." Admittedly, I could have gotten a mug on this day with the face of ol' FDR embossed on it. But I simply settled for the opportunity to find another book-related tour and have a fine memory of this cold winter day. I enjoyed this little tour. I ran around the exhibits, curious at discovering yet another little element of American presidential history. After leaving that afternoon, I'd go back home and find myself ill from something I probably ate, leaving me set up on a couch for the next week. But I won't blame the library or my biblio-searching for that! Maybe I should have bought an FDR mug after all--I really could have used it for all the tea I ended up drinking that week. Well, I can always go back and get one next year.