Here’s a Health to King Charles

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-05 at 12.00.14 PMThroughout  the course of the the Restoration, I’ve been continually surprised and delighted to find little gateways back in time. Here’s another one. Last year, my dear friend Abbot Peterson ’58 died. Recently, his widow – another dear friend – Barbara, was cleaning out some files and came across an old 78. Labelled “Alvin V Laird sings to the class of 1904”, it had been mailed in 1950 to Abbot’s father, Abbot Peterson II, a member of FDR’s class. (As was Mr. Laird.)

The 78 contained two songs: “A Health to King Charles”  and “Dolores.” I haven’t been able to gather much information on “Dolores,” but “King Charles” was a very widely sung drinking ditty which would have been immediately recognized by FDR and Lathrop. The song is based on a poem by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) and perfectly embodies the Victorian romantic longing for causes lost:

BRING the bowl which you boast
Fill it up to the brim;
’Tis to him we love most,
And to all who love him.
Brave gallants, stand up,
And avaunt ye, base carles!

Were there death in the cup,
Here’s a health to King Charles.

Though he wanders through dangers,
Unaided, unknown,
Dependent on strangers,
Estranged from his own;
Though ’tis under our breath,
Amidst forfeits and perils,
Here’s to honor and faith,
And a health to King Charles!

Let such honors abound
As the time can afford,
The knee on the ground,
And the hand on the sword;
But the time shall come round
When, ’mid Lords, Dukes, and Earls,
The loud trumpet shall sound,
Here’s a health to King Charles!

So here, after tracking down someone who still had the means to play and digitize a 78 (!!!), for the first time in over a century, may I present to you: “Here’s a Health to King Charles”

Click the bar below to listen

This song, by the way, is part of an ongoing process to make a CD of “The Music of FDR’s Harvard” that will contain many of these wonderful old melodies well overdue for a come back. As always, your help in making this and our other work possible is greatly appreciated




The Real Gentleman’s C

If you google the term “gentleman’s C,” chances are you’ll come up with some version of: “a grade given by certain schools (often Ivy League) to the children of wealthy or influential families in lieu of a failing grade” — that’s certainly what I always thought the term meant. But in FDR’s day, the meaning of a “gentleman’s C” was entirely different. A “C” was the grade a gentleman aspired to, so as not to seem too interested in studies and be considered a “grind.”

A 1909 verse by Robert Grant, ’73, LL.B. 1879, explains this neatly:

The able-bodied C man! He sails swimmingly along.
His philosophy is rosy as a skylark’s matin song.
The light of his ambition is respectably to pass,
And to hold a firm position in the middle of his class.

Should you try to hard, you became the stuff of parody, as the “The Grind’s Song” from the 1902 Hasty Pudding Show HI.KA.YA reveals:

I’m a typical College grind,
I look it, you’ll admit, you’ll admit, you’ll admit

You’ve heard it’s a grind to be a grind
Not a bit, not a bit, not a bit!
Just the opposite!
Don’t let my words belie my looks
My happiness is in my books

I love to work, I hate to play
For me life’s simply the other way
Don’t enlist your sympathy, I’m as happy as can be,
For to read my Latin Grammar is life in Arcadie!

To document how much things have changed, I thought you might be interested in seeing the study cards of FDR and Lathrop, president and congressman of the United States, respectively. We’ve recently received copies from the Archives, and will reproduce them for viewing in the Suite.  The upper right hand corner reveals their entrance examination results, and year by year grades proceed from left to right across the bottom.

Click on each to view them full scale.

 

UAIII_15_75_10_F_Box_7_Brown_Lathrop UAIII_15_75_10_F_Box_7_Roosevelt_Franklin

As you can see, both FDR and Lathrop (especially Lathrop!) eschewed any possibility of being viewed as a grind! I find this fascinating, not only because it reveals a student ethos so foreign to the current one, but also because it shows the level of grade inflation since the Vietnam War when most universities across the country, including Harvard, felt the pressure of keeping students from falling below a B average and thereby opening them up to the draft. The result was a rapid escalation of grades, to the point where the average grade at Harvard is now -A. (One of our undergraduates recently made the suggestion during a Suite tour that there hadn’t been grade inflation at all, rather that the current students were just smarter, which left me and several of my peers a moment to wonder at the folly of youth.)

On an entirely different subject, today is the last day of the fiscal year, and our coffers are looking uncomfortably bare, given the roster of programming we have planned for the next academic year. I’d like to urge any of you who have been thinking about making a contribution to the numerous activities of the Foundation, that now is time to so! It’s quick, secure and takes only a few seconds online.


There and Back Again: How FDR Shaped Thanksgiving

Moving turkeyI’ve always been particularly fond of the film “Holiday Inn” with Bing Crosby. You know the one, I’m sure: it introduced Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to the world. The gist of the movie is that Bing gives up New York showbiz (and partner Fred Astaire) to retire quietly to Connecticut where he can lie around “doing time, being laaaaazy.” He converts a massive old house he bought into an inn, which will only open on holidays. That’s where the fun starts. Needless to say things don’t go as planned, and by Thanksgiving der Bingle is sitting alone, crooning the ironic “I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For,” with his girl in the arms of his old partner and the concept for the inn sold to a  movie production company. This being 1941, each holiday is introduced by a little animation: the one for Thanksgiving pictures a turkey, obviously confused, running back and forth on a calendar from the last Thursday of the month to the second to last and back again. What’s going on here? It’s an inside joke, surely, but of what?

Well, the answer lies in what some took to derisively calling “Franksgiving.” In 1939 the general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association wrote to Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins warning that the late calendar date of Thanksgiving that year (November 30) would adversely effect  retail sales.

Remember this was still the day when it was considered bad form for retailers to display Christmas decorations or have “Christmas” sales before Thanksgiving. With the economy still in a slump, FDR issued a proclamation moving Thanksgiving up a week, to the 23rd.

The plan encountered immediate opposition, especially from Republicans, which was surprising given their pro-business stance. Alf Landon, Roosevelt’s challenger in the 1936 election, called this “another illustration of the confusion which [Roosevelt’s] impulsiveness has caused so frequently during his administration. If the change has any merit at all, more time should have been taken working it out… instead of springing it upon an unprepared country with the omnipotence of a Hitler.” Athletic associations weren’t pleased either: it wreaked havoc with their football lineups. Cities, towns, schools and universities had to alter schedules as well. Overall 62% of Americans opposed the change with 79% of Republicans in the no column. Some began to call it “Franksgiving.”

As FDR’s declaration was based on the “moral authority” of the president, it was up to the states to decide whether or not to implement it. Twenty-three states’ governments and the District of Columbia recognized the non-traditional date, twenty-two states preserved the traditional date on November 30, and the remaining three – Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas – celebrated both dates.

The proposal fared a little better in 1940 & 41, but Congress soon had enough of the confusion. By joint resolution, Congress fixed the date on the fourth Thursday, where it remains.

This little tale has  been in preparation for a slight Thanksgiving shift of our own. Last year, as I sat beside my table groaning with goodies, it occurred to me that this would be a good time for the Foundation give back something to our students. About a tenth of the College doesn’t leave campus for Thanksgiving: most of our international students, for example; and those on the West Coast, as well as some who just can’t afford the travel. Suddenly, the College is a rather lonely place for those without somewhere to go. So this year, I decided that we (the Foundation via the new FDR Global Fellowship) were going to spread the Harvard hand of cheer and give an All American Thanksgiving Eve Supper in the Suite. We’ll be moving out the Morris chairs and day bed in a few hours, and 35 students from five continents, five Houses and the Yard, will be joining us for a state-themed menu served buffet style:

• Maryland Jumbo Lump Crabcakes with Chipotle Aioli
• Louisiana Style Mini Pulled Pork Sandwiches
• Hawaiian Coconut Crusted Shrimp with Sweet Chili Sauce
• Missouri Fried Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce
California Big Sur Avocado Salad
• Maine Clam Chowder with Oyster Crackers
•Mini Alabama Pecan Pie
• Mini Florida Key Lime Pie
• New York State Apple Cider & Assorted Beverages

(Those wondering about the logistics of serving so much to so many in such a small space, fear not: we’ve actually expanded down the wide and capacious hallway outside the Suite, the site of our new FDR timeline. With luck this will all be wrapped up tonight around nine, with just enough time for me to run home and get my own preparations underway.) The moral here is simple: while we take the historic preservation aspect of our role very seriously, we’re not slaves to a particular partisan view of the past, and happy, as FDR was, to laugh at past mistakes. Franksgiving was a failure, but the spirit that informed and motivated it was not. “The only way to have a friend is to be one,” FDR once famously said, and hopefully we’ll have 35 new friends tomorrow.

(Oh, and by the way: this supper is financed entirely by the Foundation, meaning by folks like you. If any of you would like to extend the generosity of your table to ours, just click the button below.)

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 




Lathrop Brown, Long After Harvard

[For this this issue we’re delighted to have Pam Canfield Grossman, Lathrop Brown’s granddaughter, as guest author. – Eds.]

lathrop family

Lathrop Brown, Helen Hooper Brown, and daughters Halla and Camilla, about 1915

Questions about my grandfather Lathrop Brown and his life after Harvard keep surfacing in these pages, most recently concerning the Tin House at Big Sur. The life stories of Lathrop and Hélène Brown could practically be told as a succession of the houses in which they lived, nearly always at the edge of the continent. First on Long Island where Lathrop raised and raced horses [now the Knox School], then near the White House in Washington while Lathrop was in Congress and, later, when he was assistant to the Secretary of Interior. Afterwards they lived in Manhattan, then Montauk Point, and Boston. 

Saddle Rock and the Cove

Saddle Rock and the Cove

In 1924 they traveled to Carmel, California in search of a secluded site at the ocean. On a horse and mule trip to the Big Sur area they found Saddle Rock Cove where a waterfall poured over the rocky bluff into the Pacific. They purchased the adjacent 1800 acre cattle ranch and began a bi-coastal life, maintaining a residence in Boston as well as Big Sur.

THE BIG SUR & PACIFIC

The Big Sur & Pacific Railroad

The old ranch house at Saddle Rock was soon replaced with a new house built using the local redwood trees.  Electrical power was supplied by a waterwheel driven by the stream. In 1939 construction began on Waterfall House. Sited halfway down the cliffs from the newly built highway above and reached by a short funicular railway, it was a beautiful contemporary building, with gardens around the house and across Saddle Rock cove.

Waterfall House from the West

Waterfall House from the West

The Tin House, which the family called the Gas Station, was built in the mid 1940s high on the hills above Saddle Rock cove. It could only be reached by a rough dirt road climbing steeply up through the ranch to a bluff overlooking the ocean.

The house was actually constructed of materials from two abandoned gas stations and, oddly, had no windows facing the spectacular view. I have no idea why my grandparents built it.

The Tin House

The Tin House

The story that it was to be some sort of vacation retreat for FDR is pure fabrication. It was a small, primitive, and nearly inaccessible place, wholly unsuited to a wheelchair bound president. It has now fallen into total disrepair.

When Lathrop died in 1959, my grandmother left Big Sur and gave the ranch and the house to the state of California as the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. She wanted the house to be used as a museum and a center for local artists, and insisted that the house be destroyed if that was not possible. When funds for that purpose could not be found the house was bulldozed into the ocean below.

Pamela Canfield Grossman, Berkeley, California.

[There was one last amazing Brown housing project: at the time of Lathrop’s death, the Browns were in the process of converting a former Mississippi paddle boat into a winter home on Sanibel Island, Florida. It was never completed. For more on Lathrop’s fascinating life, see HERE – Eds]

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Republican

Republican Club CardIt seems almost impossible, but here it is, clear as day:  F.D. Roosevelt, a member of the Harvard Republican Club!  What could have happened? Have we moved into the realm of alternate history?

The answer, as it turns out, far more mundane and consists of a mere two letters: TR.

Although FDR’s father had traditionally voted Democratic (one of the few wealthy families in his district to do so), blood bonds proved stronger than political ones, and Father James, along with his son, loyally threw their support to the man FDR had idolized since a boy when he ran with McKinley in 1900.

teddy 3

Cousin Ted, from a period button now in the Suite Collection

FDR to Sara, October 31 1900

Last night there was a grand torch-light Republican Parade of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We wore red caps and gowns and marched by classes into Boston and through all the principal streets, about 8 miles in all. The crowds to see it were huge all along the route and we were dead tired at the end!

This fascinating little bit of ephemera – most likely dating from FDR’s freshman year –  came to me via author Geoffrey Ward, who’s preparing the companion volume to the new Ken Burns film on the Roosevelts, and who’ll be our speaker next April. Geoff had written to inquire whether or not I knew anything about the mysterious “shingle” referred to on the card. I could certainly guess the context: the term “hang out one’s shingle” still has some meaning today, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it referred to in this context. Then by chance, we acquired a new book, Harvard College by an Oxonian, published in 1894. It contains the most interesting passage:

mckinley button

Another of our recently purchased TR buttons. This one FDR might have acquired at Groton when TR passed through, campaigning for McKinley in the fall of 1900. McKinley was assassinated  on September 6, 1901, and “Cousin Ted” became president.

“The rooms we visited in Hastings were on the top floor. They were pleasant and comfortable — very like the rooms in one of our Colleges, only the bedchamber was far better. There was the wide window-seat with its red cushions and out-look over the tops of the graceful American elms. Above the two doors of the sitting-room were hanging one or two printed notices, which had been appropriated or misappropriated by some means or other. It is the pride of a Freshman to have his walls adorned with signs and ” shingles ” which he has ” ragged.”  [stolen] An oblong piece of wood called a shingle takes the place in America of the brass plate on the outside door. It is not fastened to the door, but is hung near it on the wall. These shingles, and in fact all kinds of announcements and notices, the adventurous Freshman delights to carry off, surveying his room with just pride, when he sees on the walls such inscriptions as : ” Jones & Co., Civil, Sanitary, and Landscape Engineers”; “Thomas Smith, M.D., Office Hours 2-4; 7-9 ” ; ” Hair-dressing and Complexion Parlors ” ; ” Under- takers. Locker’s Casket Warehouse ” ; ” The College Dining Rooms and Ice Cream Parlors.” These trophies correspond to the door-knockers which have been known to adorn the rooms of a Christ Church undergraduate. One kind of shingles is won by easier, but, perhaps, no less glorious means, ” Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war.”  Harvard abounds in clubs, and each club has its own shingle.

teddy 2Ah ha! Mystery solved! Or, at least, the bit about the shingle. But what of the larger question: how did FDR go from Democrat to Republican and back to Democrat again? According to Ward in his monumental A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the move had little to do with political convictions: “… as early as his sophomore year at Harvard, Franklin had evidently decided to become a Democrat. His reasoning was crisp and pragmatic. The Republican Party was filled with young members of the family whose claims to the President’s mantle were more plausible than his. Only as Democrat could a Roosevelt from outside Sagamore Hill hope to rise very high – and Franklin Roosevelt would never willingly settle for less.”

Simply put: there were already too many Roosevelts on the other side (TR alone had four sons), and FDR wanted to be the biggest fish in the smaller pond.

No burning passion (except perhaps that of self-advancement), no huge sense of mission. Just cold pragmatic calculation: where best can I shine?

Some of FDR’s more altruistic friends were appalled…

Interesting to ponder the alternate history if FDR hadn‘t decided to switch back….  Just another Republican Roosevelt among the pack. Some more progressive, some less, but no standouts. A term of two in Congress perhaps. Certainly no hardened politician to propose the New Deal. No wise, steady hand at the helm during WWII. Almost as fascinating to contemplate as another little-known historical what-if: Hoover, who in 1920 had yet to declare a party affiliation after his lauded service in WWI, seriously considered running as the Democratic candidate with FDR as his running mate. Hugely popular after his successes in Europe clothing and housing refugees, Hoover might very well have won. Imagine: without the laissez-faire economics of Coolidge and Harding, there’s no run-up to the stock market crash; no crash at all in fact, just a regular recession, which FDR, now president after Hoover’s two terms, inherits. His unpopularity soars, and the Big-stick Republicans return to power in 1932, their bellicose worldview matched by the rise of fascism. We enter WWII  in 1939, before we were truly prepared to fight, with disastrous results. Germany dominates Europe, England and Russia are reduced to smoldering ashes – it’s Churchill not Hitler who dies in his bunker – and Imperial Japan dominates a newly formed Empire in the East. The US, hounded on all sides, beaten and bankrupt, surrenders, loses Alaska and Hawaii as well as all its overseas territories, and is reduced to a third-rate power…

Hmmm… all that from a tiny switch in party affiliation… Remarkable how seemingly mundane actions create a nexus in time that alters everything that comes after!

Ah well, no more time to ponder alternate histories: I must track down one of these shingles for the Suite!

 

 

 

 

Not Your Average Summer Vacay

In the movie “Legally Blonde” actress Reese Witherspoon anounces to her ditzy friends:  “Girls, I’m going to Harvard!”

“Like on Vacay?” they scream in reply. “ROAD TRIP!!!!!!”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a tale of your average “vacay,” though it does involve an extensive road trip. More than one, in fact.

I think I speak for the entire House when I say we are deeply proud to present this 8-minute film that chronicles the summer odysseys of two very remarkable young people, our inaugural Franklin Delano Roosevelt Global Fellows, Charlotte McKechnie ’15 and Ty Walker ’14.