The Ghost of Lathrop Brown?

As the Cambridge air has turned cool, we’ve begun to notice that strange things are afoot in the Suite. Haunting melodies of ragtime are floating in the air, and occasionally our 1899 upright starts playing by itself, spirit fingers at the keyboard!!!  Could it be the ghost of Lathrop Brown? You be the judge:

 

Whoever it is, it’s certainly not FDR, as he never had a ragtime hand like that! (Or four, actually.)

Kidding aside: it’s clear that our former “unspirited” and underused piano now plays magically by itself, thanks to a technological mini-miracle that allows old uprights like ours to be sent out and returned as part of the 21st century. I’m not sure what portion of this transformation amazes me more: the fact that the piano is controlled from a smart phone; that  no physical alterations to the historic case or mechanism were required; that it plays 5000 songs; or, even better, it records actual performances! We’ve already engaged a phenomenal pianist at Quincy House, Chase Morrin, to come and preserve for us songs from our extensive period sheet music collection. Think of it! Soon the Suite will echo once again to the 1904 tunes of “Cindy, Your My Dream” or “Hello Central? Get Me Heaven” – songs that haven’t been heard within these walls for over a century. (What many people forget is that this music was originally recorded live, embedded on paper player rolls, which have now been transcribed. These are the actual performances of 100 year ago, by major talents of the day.) Most importantly, this transformation allows us to share for the first time this wonderful period of music with our students and guests.

Ghosts, it seems, have an infinite repertoire, unencumbered by availability.

Needless to say, this modernization wasn’t cheap – $6500 – but we’ve had a pledge from an anonymous donor for half the amount, and we’re hoping that there are one or more of you who’d like to give the gift of music of the last century to an entirely new generation of listeners.




The World: Its Cities and Peoples

I’ve commented often in this newsletter about how, occasionally, things just seem to fall into place by themselves, almost as if they were destined to be.

Well, it’s happened again, most remarkably.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my favorite used book seller was going out of business. The owner, a charming lady “d’une certaine age” had decided to retire and spend more time with her children in California. All books 70% off. Titles under $10 –  $2.

I grabbed the Foundation checkbook and headed right over.

(You’ll remember of course that FDR was an avid bibliophile, and I’ve been complaining in past articles how difficult it was to obtain the quality of books we know would have been in the Suite for anything close to a reasonable price these days.)

Let’s just say this time I hit the mother load.

I won’t bore you with a complete list – I acquired a dozen or so leather bound titles for under $250 – but I do want to share with you the most remarkable: The World: Its Cities and Peoples.

This 10 volume set was published by Cassell sometime around 1882, the year of FDR’s birth. It’s undated, but from the references in the text it’s obviously early 1880’s. It was published by subscription only – probably globebecause of its high cost – and is perhaps the most comprehensively illustrated set of Victorian volumes I have ever seen. Almost every other page is covered with the most exquisitely detailed engravings, which by their portait-like nature almost certainly were done from photographs. There are literally a thousand pictures over the 1800 odd pages, perfect snap shots of a time before mass travel had homogenized cultures across the globe. And speaking of globes, you may remember our almost miraculous acquisition of an 1882 globe a few years back…. Now you can spin our globe, drop a random finger, from Timbuktu to Toledo, and have a good chance of finding a picture in our new volumes showing you exactly what life was like at that point in time and space.

What do you suppose the chances of that are? If I were a betting man, I certainly wouldn’t take that wager.

At any rate, I’d like to take you on a little whirlwind tour across the world of 1882, first to Greenland (which still had some ice) to see the Eskimos: (Click on any image to enlarge.)

Greenland Eskimo

Next we’re off to Amsterdam before the hordes of tulip-seeking tourists ever dreamed of garden travels, where we witness a riotous local street scene: (Note the vegetable vendor actually wearing wooden shoes.)

Amsterdam

Then, down to sunny Spain, to the heart of Madrid where a water seller sits quietly in the shade with his dog, waiting for trade. (Note the sheepskin pants! Just having been to Madrid with HAA travels, I can guarantee you this sight is long gone.)

spainaird

Now, a quick stop in the mysterious Near East, where a Bedouin greets us with his steely gaze:

bedouin of sinai

Off now across the Pacific to our western shores, for a stop in the most amazing boom town in America, San Francisco. The building in the distance is the famous Palace Hotel, the largest in the western United States,  renowned for its innovative luxuries like electric call buttons in each room, private baths, and “rising rooms” (elevators) to whisk passengers to their intended floor.

palace hotel SF

It was here Enrico Caruso was staying when all this disappeared in the 1906 earthquake. The hotel, billed as “fireproof” survived the shaking, but was destroyed along with every other building you see here in the subsequent conflagration, which, judging by the next picture of an alley in Chinatown, was just waiting to happen:

Washington Alley SF

 

Finally, a quick stop on our return to Boston, a visit with some of the last Native Americans still in their original homeland:

Pawnee indians

There are even pictures of a small New England college named Harvard, but I think that’s enough travels for one day. Next time, prewar Vienna? Or how about “Florence on the Elbe” – Dresden – before the fire bombings? Perhaps spending some time with the natives of unexplored Papua New Guinea, or the impassable Amazon jungles?  Tour the Pyramids? A trip down the Nile?

I know, tea in Ottoman Constantinople!

Wherever you wish…

Remember, these astounding coincidences are not entirely coincidental, in that their continuing occurrence depends entirely on contributions from people like you.

Help support the FDR Suite Foundation! Donations are easy though any major credit card.


 

Books & People

“Books can not be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory… In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man’s freedom.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

While many people are familiar with FDR’s philatelic fancies, few know that he was an ardent book collector from an early age. At Harvard he was the librarian of the Fly Club (a post not quite as arduous as it sounds, as presumably there was secretarial backup, but still important in the days before Harvard’s libraries carried any sort of popular reading: FDR was in charge of buying books for his fellow Club members.) He was also a member of the Union’s Library Committee, which at the time, housed Harvard’s principal undergraduate library, the equivalent of today’s Lamont. His notes and letters home are peppered with references to book purchases and in fact a principal impetus in founding his presidential library at Hyde Park (the first one in the country) was the sheer mass of material he had collected over the years, particularly on nautical matters, where his collection of manuscripts and prints was considered one of the finest in the nation.

To reflect FDR bibliophile tendencies, the Suite has slowly been collected books from the early 1800’s to 1904. This is not a quick process: not only do the books have to fall within a strict timeline, they have to represent books that FDR and Lathrop might have wished to acquire in terms of subject matter, and the quality of the volume itself. (No cheap books here.)  Additionally, we have to find books that are old, but still look reasonably new – it is after all 1904 in the Suite, and everything, with the exception of rare antique volumes, would have appeared fresh off the press, as it indeed they were.

This past winter, I and two student interns spent weeks inventorying the Suite, photographing each item, and selecting additional photographic views for the Internet museum we’re engaged in building. For the books, that mean choosing to highlight some of the internal illustrations. Today I thought I might share with you a few of the images that caught my fancy along the way. (Click on any to expand.)

The first three come from a grand leather-bound volume called Napoléon en Égypte; poëme en huit chants. (Paris 1829)

Here we have Napoléon waiting (impatiently) to disembark: (Note the barely detailed sailors on the deck below half-heartedly raising a cheer, also waiting to diseembark; reminds you of trying to get off the back of a packed 777 from coach!)

napolean

Encountering the wonders of the Egyptian desert:

desert

And perhaps my favorite of all, leading his troops past the pyramids.

pyramids

Here’s a delightful book given FDR’s Hyde Park associations: Summer Days on the Hudson (New York 1875) detailing a holiday up the Hudson, and showing the interior of Washington Irving’s study at Sunnyside. Amazingly, today’s visitor sees much the same view. (For those of you who haven’t taken the trip up the Hudson from New York to Albany (or vice versa) I highly recommend it. It’s a marvelous romp through some of the most beautiful countryside in the US and absolutely stuffed with incredible historic sites. Much maligned Albany and its wonderful museums is worth a couple days alone.) sunnyside
And how about lovely hand-tinted scene from Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau? (It makes reading Thoreau, never one of my favorites, almost entertaining.) (Boston, 1896)

cape cod thoreau

And finally, a handy little volume donated by Steve and Susan Heard, the 1842 Massachusetts Register, which details, among others, a small college in Cambridge:

register

All I can say is, thank god Commencement is no longer held in the first week of August!

These books and several hundred more are now part of our growing on-line collection. It’s a huge project to digitalize them all, but we persevere, counting as ever, on your support.

Please help support the FDR Suite Foundation.
We exist solely through the contributions of our supporters and your our donations are tax deductible



 

Hasty Pudding Season

On Thursday I went to the Hasty Pudding Play with some fellows and again on Friday with the Quincy’s & dined there also. Saturday afternoon after rowing I went into the Touraine & saw Muriel…. Then took the 8 PM train to Groton and am just back from there after a nice quiet Sunday…. FDR to Sara, May 1902

front cover 1

As the 2013 Hasty Pudding Show, There’s Something About Maui, comes to the end of its run, we’re pleased to have received the donation of a very rare piece of FDR ephemera: the complete score of the 1902 Hasty Pudding production Hi-Ka-Ya, the very play that Pudding member Franklin Roosevelt writes that he saw not once, but twice.

As with most Pudding affairs, the plot is predictably silly. As the 1902 Harvard Bulletin noted: Hi Kaya [sic] is a comic opera in three acts, the scene of which is laid, in the first and third acts, among the Eskimos in the arctic regions. The scene of the second act is laid at the Sheepshead Bay racetrack.

Paul Revere Hall, a man about town, Professor Lasher, a geologist, and Obediah Ham, a grind, go to the polar regions together to see Hi-Kaya, the chief of a northern tribe, and they prevail upon him to return with them to America. In the second act they are seen at the Sheepshead Bay racetrack in New York. In the third act they become involved in international complications in the polar regions. English, German, French and Austrian warships with their officers are trying to get possession of the country, but finally relinquish to the United States all their claims.

(How typically Teddy-Rooseveltian!)

Judging by reviews in the Crimson and the Harvard Illustrated Magazine, the 1902 effort was quite well received, with particular notice going to the score.

What I find fascinating about this, aside from the very fact that this score survived at all, is how many of the inside jokes we still understand, or rather, how many we understand now, after five years of Foundation research.

Take for instance, the ‘Geologist’s Song’

Perhaps you think it odd
That these many miles we plod
To learn the dip and strike of all the glaciers in the land
To make the matter plain
I’ll say once and then again;
‘Tis the little drops of water that make the little grains of sand!”

Professor Lasher, we now know, is a very thinly veiled caricature of Harvard Geology Professor Nathaniel Shaler, whose Geology 4 course FDR took his freshman year, and who was equally famous for his congenial student field trips about New England — and his notoriously easy grading.

page 34 1

Click to enlarge

Nor, five years ago, would we have known much about the subject of this little ditty:

Nice oranges, good people, buy a few.
Five cents will by you two.
I need the money, good people, more than you!

Frequent readers of this column may also remember my recent post on “Shopping for Gems and Snaps,” and recall that in FDR’s era, students who paid too much attention to their studies were called “grinds.”

Well, in Hi-Ka-Ya they receive their own song:

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!
Oh grinding I adore it!
My work is joy to me!

The score, incidentally, arrived to us intact but in pretty rough shape: cover torn, pages faded and water damaged. However, thanks to the miracles of modern digital restoration (and about a full day’s labor on our part) the entire 60 page score went from the front cover 2condition you see at left, to the crisp, shimmering original white version you see above. Hi-Ka-Ya, along with the rest of our Harvard ephemera collection, is currently being digitalized and restored, soon to be available online via our new FDR Suite Internet Museum.

All thanks to supporters like you, of course! Donations to the Foundation are quick, easy and tax deductible using the button below. Frequent fliers: consider using your airline miles credit card to help us and help yourself at the same time!



The FDR Suite Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)3 U.S public charity dedicated to expanding the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and preserving the historic nature of Adams House, Harvard College, including the newly restored Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite in Westmorly Hall. Your contributions to the Foundation are deductible to the extent allowed by law.

The World Turned Upside Down

Tradition holds that as the defeated British soldiers retired off the field at Yorktown, their regimental band struck up an ancient march, The World Turned Upside Down:

If buttercups buzz’d after the bee
If boats were on land, churches on sea
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse
If the mamas sold their babies
To the Gypsies for half a crown
If summer were spring
And the other way ’round
Then all the world would be upside down!

I was reminded of these verses the other day, when looking through our collection of historical Harvard student room photos in preparation for a project we’re sponsoring, the Adams Room Catalog, which will allow occupants new and old to see who has lived in a particular suite before them. One of my favorite images has always been the one below. Simply put, it is precisely what you imagine when you think: Victorian room.

This particular picture has also been very important for us in terms of guiding acquisitions for the Suite. It is so clearly photographed that we can use digital enhancement to pick out the finest details. In particular, this photo led us to discover the wire carte de visite hangers we see again and again in the various period room photos. Here’s a closeup:

Eventually, after much searching we managed to find two of these extremely rare wire holders – at considerable cost. Here’s one of ours, above FDR’s desk:

But ours doesn’t look quite the same, does it? Rather bare in fact. Well, the reason is that the cards have mysteriously been dropping off the hanger. The slightly breeze or touch, and they fall like leaves off an autumn tree. There’s probably at least a good dozen on the floor behind the desk as I write. The solution however, is finally at hand: it seems I had hung the holders upside down: the Victorian hangers don’t clamp the pictures as modern refrigerator holders do, but rather support them in a wire loop from below – something you can clearly see in the period enlargement above, and which I saw, oh wise curator that I am, for the first time the other day. I wonder what other little jokes from the past await my discovery… The world turned upside down indeed.

And speaking of the future: Today’s article in the Wall Street Journal notes that with the potential change in tax laws for 2013, now is a particularly good time to consider year-end charitable giving, stating that “Under current law, donations of assets that have risen in value, such as shares of stock, often qualify for a deduction at the full market price, enabling donors to skip paying capital-gains tax on the appreciation.”

As a registered 501(c) 3 public charity, the Foundation stands more than ready to accept your charitable donation, and we can certainly use your support to fund our upcoming scholarship and educational programs.

 Some people read history, others make it. Support the FDR Suite Foundation




 

Shopping for Gems and Snaps

In years past, the course, Introduction to Congress, had a reputation as one of the easiest at Harvard College. Some of the 279 students who took it in the spring semester said that the teacher, Matthew B. Platt, an assistant professor of government, told them at the outset that he gave high grades and that neither attending his lectures nor the discussion sessions with graduate teaching fellows was mandatory. “He said, ‘I gave out 120 A’s last year, and I’ll give out 120 more,’ ” one accused student said.   New York Times, August 31 2012

As the College’s indelicate cheating scandal unfolds in unexpected directions (I would like to know: what is the purpose of an open, take-home final exam, anyway?) many have commented that today’s pressure to succeed fosters a culture of students shopping for classes with easy A’s, rather than subjects of material worth or interest. Such classes are called ‘gems’ by the current undergraduates. However, this practice of searching for the easiest route is hardly new. In FDR’s time, easy courses were called “snaps” (as in “Was it easy?”  “Sure, a snap”). Nathaniel Shaler’s immensely popular and notoriously benign Geology 4, which FDR took freshman year, was one such, and if the Lampoon is any guide, ‘snaps’ were as sought after as ‘gems’ are today:

The only difference between then and now would seem to be motivation: today’s students have an ever wary eye open to graduate and professional schools, while I’d guess FDR’s pals were more worried about finding sufficient time for  “chorus girls and lots of fizz.”

O tempora, o mores!


Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!