Sunday, May 27, 2012

Discovering Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill

"You must do the thing you think you can not do."  
"Do one thing every day that scares you."
~Eleanor Roosevelt~

Standing inches behind Eleanor Roosevelt's chair -  her "favorite chair" -  according to the tour guide, I wished to turn back time.  I wanted to sit in the opposite chair, in this simply decorated cottage, and share a  cup of tea with a woman I admire, yet know so little about. . beyond the historical.

Val-Kill was Eleanor's home for seventeen years after her husband and the country's 32nd president, Franklin Roosevelt, died. It had been a retreat for her in previous years, only two miles from Springwood, the family's main Hyde Park, New York home.

The unassuming stucco building, set among comforting trees and the stillness of pond waters, was the only home Eleanor ever personally owned.

What did she think about on a quiet evening as she sat looking out the windows?  What "one thing" had "scared" her that day, but she had done anyway?  What were the "thing(s)" she thought she could not do?

How did she become the person she was?

I've read biographical accounts of her upbringing, marriage to Franklin and his infidelity, their five children, her increased involvement in politics and societal issues following his contraction of polio, her  tireless travels and activities during World World II, her advocacy of civil rights, women's rights, and rights for all, as she chaired the United Nations' committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She was respected worldwide, and named as one of the top ten Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century by Gallup in 1999. World leaders and future leaders, such as John Kennedy, knocked on her cottage door for inspiration, endorsement, for the pleasure of her company.

I can admire her for obvious reasons, but my trip to Val-Kill expanded my curiosity about the woman whose impressive resumé provides few clues to her inner journey.  Unable to share that cup of tea with her, I must find other sources for learning what she can teach me.

Stopping at the gift shop on my way out, I asked a staff member for her recommendations of a book on Eleanor.  "The best way to learn more about her is through her own writing," she said.  "I suggest her autobiography," and she pointed to a paperback simply titled, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt.

I take a sip of tea and open to the first page.

(Val-Kill, the only National Historic Site dedicated to a First Lady, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home, Library and Museum are located in Hyde Park, New York.  Take Metro North from Grand Central Station in NYC to Poughkeepsie Station, then a National Park Service shuttle to the park. The trip takes approximately 1 1/2 hours one way.)



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vote For George!

So you never thought you'd have the opportunity to vote for George Washington?  Just a mere 223 years too late?  Now is your chance!

Thanks to 2012 Partners in Preservation Initiative in New York City, you can vote to restore the life-size  statue of George Washington and the entrance to Federal Hall.  Washington was inaugurated in the original Federal Hall building which stood on the site, now 26 Wall Street in Lower Manhattan.  The current structure serves as a memorial and museum to our country's first president.

Washington is taking this campaign seriously.  He is not to be outdone by the thirty-nine other contenders for the Preservation funds. Last weekend when I rounded the corner to Federal Hall, I was met by his personal fife and drum corps (click for video), stirring up support from the crowd assembled at the base of his statue.  National Park rangers were handing out flyers, "VOTE FOR GEORGE!"

Even John and Abigail Adams were meeting and greeting curious onlookers.  As Abigail handed me a flyer, she said, "I've been trying to convince John to support the vote for women."

President Washington is up against stiff competition, all deserving of the Partners in Preservation's three million dollars. The four projects which receive the most public votes between April 26- May 21, 2012 will have their grants fully funded.  The remainder of the money will be allocated to other sites after a review by American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and an advisory committee from New York City.

Perhaps you have your own personal favorite. . . . The New York Botanical Garden, Apollo Theater, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Coney Island B & B Carousel or one of the other historic sites, all available for you to peruse at The Partners in Preservation website.  

You don't even have to live in New York City.  You can vote from any part of the United States or overseas, once a day until May 21st.  Directions on the website are listed in four easy steps.

Which historic site will gather the most votes? As of today, the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library is leading.  A worthy institution to be sure!  So many choices and only a week left to let your votes count.  Undecided?

My latest Downtown Magazine article, "The Anne Frank Center Opens in Lower Manhattan: 'Building a World Based on Mutual Respect'"  is now online.  I invite you to check it out.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tribeca Family Festival

"New York City has tons of street fairs, but this is the best!" I overheard one man say to another as he maneuvered a stroller through the crowd. Since this was my first street fair, I didn't have anything to compare it to, but I was already having a great time!  Within five minutes of entering Greenwich Street, I had been given a free bag of pretzels and package of hummus, a free Tribeca Family Festival tote bag and  seen a quartet of very tall, mysterious ladies draped in black, writhing like snakes atop matching black pedestals.  Could it get any better than this?

I made my way down the street, open only to pedestrians, except for Spiderman who flew in
by web,

and Dot the Firedog who entered on her vintage firetruck.

By the time I had finished my hummus, bought T-shirts for grandchildren, and debated about a "Manicure in Minutes," I arrived at my ultimate destination. . .

       Booth 19, 
With two campuses located in the Financial District, it is a private, independent school for students from all over the NYC area.

My husband Drew, Léman's Headmaster, was in front of the booth eagerly meeting and greeting.

Léman students performed for passersby.


The Léman Bull practiced his poses.

And the Léman logo flourished as never before.  
(on Brylee Maxfield, Communications Manager)

Leaving the Léman booth, headed towards home, I had walked only a block when a friendly guy with a huge baseball head waved to me.

Then the Sabra hummus guy handed me three more packages of hummus.  Could it get any better than this?  I doubt it!

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