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June 25, 2010 / howardmestas


Springwood Estate


America’s Greatest Dysfunctional Family    

I remember as a kid my late Aunt used to say that, “Franklin Roosevelt in a wheelchair was greater than Reagan in a chariot.”  I guess you could say my upbringing was tainted toward the Democratic Party, and I’m proud of it.  Besides how could you not like FDR?  Unlike most born into a life of wealth and privilege, he betrayed his aristocratic    

Eleanor and Franklin in Happier Times


 affiliations for the needs of the working class.  He was a man who overcame his own physical disabilities to help America stand on her feet again and to unfalteringly guide us through the two biggest threats in the 20th Century in the Great Depression and World War II.  And so I was pleased that the first day of our New York excursion was to Hyde Park where his life was shaped, and where he rests in peace.  But even in heroes you admire and respect you cannot ignore frailties and shortcomings, and the Roosevelt’s of Hyde Park are no exception.  Our first stop for the day was Springwood, the family  

After Polio Struck, FDR in Crutches Would Walk to the End of the lane and Back to Strengthen his Upper Body


 home where Franklin was born to Sara, the matriarch of the family and whose apron strings would tie her son’s   



personal life until her death in 1941.  Our tour guide explained to us that Sara insisted on an   

Eleanor and Franklin (flag) Rest in Peace in Front of Monument. Beloved Dog Fala Lies Beneath Sundial.


Eleanor and Winston Churchill Pay Respects at FDR Internment


obsessive control of her son’s affairs throughout his youth and was an affliction to the personal life of her son and his wonderful wife Eleanor; always using the loss of his inheritance as a means of control.  In 1933 FDR decided to design and build a retreat called Top Cottage near the family home to help relieve the pressures of the Presidency.  One has to wonder if he needed relief from his mother more than from the stresses of his office.  This home was the third stop on our tour and our guide filled us up with details of the historical value of the residence with incredible views of the Hudson Valley.  It was here in 1939 that FDR entertained the King and Queen of England, in hopes of gaining American support for the beleaguered British in the struggle to hold off the NAZIS.  Some of the   

Top Cottage FDR Retreat


View of Hudson Valley From Top Cottage


Paul Overlooking His Estate at Top Cottage


guests of the publicity stunt were Native Americans who performed traditional dances for the movie reels.  In a break from Royal protocol the monarchs were served hot dogs, and while the Queen refused the “undignified” treat the King was reaching for seconds.  Later in the war, it was the strategic meeting place where Roosevelt and Winston Churchill discussed the creation of the Atomic Bomb and what would be done with it. 

Val Kill Cottage, Eleanor's Retreat


Earlier in the day we paid a visit to Val Kill which was yet another retreat, this one for Eleanor, where she could gain respite from her husband and her overbearing mother-in-law.  Originally it was a cottage industry developed by the Roosevelts to help farming families supplement their income by learning to make furniture.  Because of the Depression it was closed down in 1936 and remodeled into a private residence for Eleanor.  This modest resort, and the only property Eleanor ever owned, was not only a getaway from Sara, but a place where she developed as an individual and where she spent most of her life after her husband’s death and until her own death in 1962.  Inside we watched a 20 minute video of Eleanor and how she developed into the most dominant woman in America in her day.  I did not know that the KKK had a $40,000 reward for her death, yet she never hired a body guard.  The more I learn about this woman the more I love her.  From here she wrote a syndicated column six day a week called “My Day,” read by millions.  Here she developed her own political ideas and broke the traditional role of a first lady to become the “eyes, ears, and legs” of FDR and the New Deal.  Sadly it was at Val Kill that she learned that her husband had died while in the company of his mistress, her former personal secretary Lucy Mercer.  Later in her life she hosted many dignitaries at the home including John F. Kennedy who paid her a visit to gain her endorsement for the presidency in 1959.    

Fala, America's First Dog and FDR's Closest Friend


FDR With His Most Trusted Friend


FDR's Wheelchair, Proof That Disabilities are Not Limitations


Eastern Mockingbird on Cliff Overlooking Hudson River


Together, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt accomplished more good for the American people than any other couple in our history.  They are buried side by side at the Springwood home, in Sara Roosevelt’s rose garden.  Even dysfunctional families come together in the end.

The Mighty Hudson From Cliffs Below the Culinary Institute of America



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