Sunday, November 21, 2010

FDR, Steve and me

My daughter takes a class on Presidential Rhetoric. As the (only) grade for the class each student picks a president, a speech and then travels to that President's library to do research. She decided to do a Presidential press secretary rather than a President and chose Steve Early who was FDR's press secretary for all four terms. He was also the first Press secretary ever and set the mold for all others. She asked if I would like to go along as her research assistant which took me all of two seconds to say yes. So early Wednesday morning we headed off to Hyde Park New York, arriving around noon at FDR's library.There we spent the next three days, arriving at our desk at 8:45am and leaving at 5pm when they closed the library.

It was pretty amazing. Early it turns out was a bit of an obsessive and a pack rat. He kept a daily diary for all four terms which Melissa poured over. He also kept scrapbooks ,huge, heavy scrapbooks, approximately two a year. They were my territory. In them he kept every newspaper clipping in which he was mentioned, which was a minimum of several a day all across the country, photos of every trip he took, menus and seating charts from any important dinner he attended, and every Christmas and birthday card he received over the four terms. He also ,of course, kept every handwritten note from FDR and Eleanor. It was overwhelming and absorbing.
What was amazing, in addition to the sheer amount of stuff, was that fact that we were allowed to handle it all. There I was holding drafts of FDR's speech to Congress with his handwritten notes all over them, personal handwritten notes from Eleanor, and letters from every famous person who passed through the administration.I found myself lost in their world,laughing at their inside jokes, worrying when Early's son was injured in the war, terribly sad when FDR passed and moved by the hundreds of condolence cards sent to Mrs. Early from every boldface name at the passing of 'Steve'.
Most everyone who worked at the library was super nice and helpful but of course there was the one archivist on a power trip. She spent every minute criticizing or correcting us on some weird issue which didn't seem to bother any of the other staff. For example, I couldn't carry papers from my desk to the copier which was about 2 feet away. She wanted me to place the paper on a cart and then wheel it to the copier. When I pointed out that the cart was larger than the space between my desk and the copier she 'compromised' by making me a cardboard tray out of a box lid on which I could carry the paper. She also freaked out every time I took my sweater off,insisting that I either had to wear it or put it in the locker. Since I was constantly taking it of and on (I got cold when sitting for hours but hot when lifting the scrapbooks) I would try and sit on it or hid it on the floor under my desk. She also objected to Melissa when she leaned over a folder or when her folder was not perfectly lined up on the desk. Won't miss her.
We didn't get to do any sightseeing. I've been in this area before and there's tons to see. I recommend a Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt: Roosevelt-Vanderbilt sites, Hyde Park, New Yorkweekend trip if you have never been. We did get out to two meals. One at a local restaurant, Twist, which was decent and the other night at the Italian restaurant in the CIA ( the Culinary Institute of America). which was awesome and so much fun. Everyone, front and back of the house is a student and are very happy to talk to you about their schooling and career plans.

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