For those of you who enjoy time travel stories, one of the very best is Time and Again (1970) by Jack Finney. I won’t bore you with a detailed synopsis; suffice it to say that the Federal Government discovers it’s possible to travel in time by simply willing yourself back through history. The trick is that to achieve this temporal separation, you truly have to believe yourself back in time – no mechanics are involved, simply a type of self-hypnosis. So the Government sets up several experiments in places that haven’t changed much through history – one in Paris right around Notre Dame for the Middle Ages; one in a now deserted Vermont farming village returned to its 1920s bustle; and one in the Dakota, the famous apartment building in New York City for the 1890s – all in an attempt to steep the participants in the past. The various would-be time travelers experience the life and language of the age; dress the part, eat the food – in essence they do everything in their power to make themselves believe they are inhabitants of another time. I remember reading this book when I was a child, utterly fascinated.  (It’s also an illustrated novel, which helps when a kid.) One of the passages I remember most vividly is when the main character, Simon Morley, visits the Smithsonian to view the costumes of the 1880s. The curators remove one of the ladies’ dresses from the collection, and show it to him. The material is dark brown, slightly frayed, smelling of age; he touches it, the fabric crumbles. Then suddenly, he is presented with a new version of the same dress on a mannikin:   “Martin snapped the covering from the next figure, and there stood – I won’t call it a dress but a gown of bright wine-red velvet, the nap fresh and unworn, the material magnificently draped in thick multiple folds front and back. The bead trim caught the light, glittering a clear deep red, shimmering as though the garment were moving… It was spectacular…

“Can you see an actual breathing woman Si, a girl, wearing this and looking absolutely great?” And I said: “Hell, yes: I can see her dancing!”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’re almost ready to dance ourselves, in the Suite. The last of the draperies arrived today: (You can click any of these photos for a larger, clearer view.)

It’s amazing the impact the fabric has had on the space: where there were formally white walls and bare doors, now riots of color compete and play – surprisingly successfully –  providing a first real sense of the opulence these rooms once possessed. The portieres (the fabric in the door frames) add a lot of character; originally used to close off the rooms for additional warmth, by FDR’s time they were entirely Victorian vestigal bits of decoration. Sara had insisted… and FDR acquiesced, though he often wished they’d been set just a bit taller for his tall frame… Just behind can be glimpsed the new drapes in FDR’s bedroom; a future president can now sleep soundly in richly muffled darkness.

Lathrop’s desk too has come alive, gleaming with brass. Can’t you just see young Lapes, his handsome brow bent over a sheet of heavy cream writing paper, answering one of his many house party invitations, as a dance card on the wall, souvenir of some now forgotten ball at the Somerset, pirouettes slowly at his elbow? The lamp on the table, by the way, originally oil, is one of the famous “Harvard Lamps,” providing “superlative light for scholars” according to an ad from a local newspaper. Lapes never cared much about that, but he has to admit it has come in quite handy for all his social correspondence.

And just behind, FDR’s desk, piled high with the loves of his life: Eleanor at left, as she looks this warm May of 1904. Less pleasant memories are next: dear, dear Alice Sohier, who’d unexspectedly spurned him. (He’d better put that picture away now…) The Half Moon II at full sail, at Campobello,with FDR at the helm, and on the wall, his father, James, shortly before his death, mounted on one of his favorite trotters. And Sara too, as always, is present; the butterfly collection she sent him smiles from the wall; plus,  an unanswered letter awaiting his reply sits tucked in one of the roll-top cubbyholes.

For a moment, here, now, you can almost feel 1904.

Do you think, perhaps, if I just concentrated hard enough…

Some people just read history. Others help make it.
Come make a little history. Support the FDR Suite Foundation!

January Updates

Paul Riedl applying the antique glaze to the top of FDR's desk.

Happy New Year, Everyone.

I have three quick January updates. First of all, come see a real master at work – craftsman Paul Riedl, who’s restoring the FDR desk. The old girl has been completely disassembled and reassembled with loving car, and will be ready for unveiling for our HAA Board Event on the 5th of February. Click HERE to view a step-by-step of this amazing process. It’s incredible the amount of painstaking, detailed work that goes into the renewal of such a complicated piece of furniture. I want particularly to thank two individuals who made the acquisition, moving and restoration of the desk possible. One wishes to remain anonymous -you know who you are, M, thank you. The other is the family of Richard L. Mayer, ’56, who passed away this summer. Mr. Mayer was, I believe, the second ever person to support our cause, and contributed repeatedly to our various endeavors. This project was very dear to his heart, and we’ll miss him. Thank you Mrs. Mayer for making this wonderful gift in his memory.

Secondly SAVE THE DATE: The Fourth Annual FDR Memorial Lecture will be Saturday April 30, 2011 at 4 PM. The speaker will be Dr. Cynthia Koch, Director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, talking on “New Views from Hyde Park” paralleling the multi-million dollar renovation of the exhibits currently underway at the Museum with changes in FDR Scholarship over the decades . This year, we are planning a cocktail and hors-d’oeuvre reception after the talk, and perhaps, perhaps, a small dinner limited to 25 or so. The general consensus from last year was that we should probably give the major gala dinners every other year, and in any event move them out of February. Last year’s blizzards caused a large number of last minute cancellations, with a concomitant impact on our finances. So this year, into the sunny skies of April! We hope! Stay tuned as details develop.

And finally, our study drapes are almost done, but our fundraising campaign is behind schedule. We still need to raise 4K. A contribution of any part of this amount will be most welcome, as we are rushing to complete these elements in front of the HAA event in February;  the textiles will make a dramatic and much needed “Victorianization” to the appearance of the room.

Oh, and one last thing: for the Adams alums on our list, we’ll be relaunching an internet version of the Goldcoaster, an alumni magazine just for the House. Watch for it in your in-boxes in February.


The Victorians loved words with strange and exotic origins, and here’s one of my favorites:

SALMAGUNDI (slm-gnd n. pl. sal·ma·gun·dis)

1. A salad of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions, often arranged in rows on lettuce and served with vinegar and oil.
2. Derived from the above, a mixture or assortment; a potpourri.

French salmigondis, probably from : Old French salemine, salted food (from Vulgar Latin *salamen; as in salami) + Old French condir, to season (from Latin condire; as in condiment)

Thus, our own salmagundi for your consideration:


rolltop 1

Through friend of the Restoration Joan Carter of Wiswall Antiques in New Hampshire, we found a wonderful old S-curve roll top that will become “FDR’s desk,” shown above, pre-purchase. These little beauties are very hard to find these days; roll tops fell from fashion with the advent of the typewriter, and remained that way through the age of the computer monitor, as such machinery didn’t fit into the desk when the cover closed. Thus many, especially the smaller, individual writing desks like this, were “detopped” and converted into flat desks.  As you can see, our particular desk, a single pedestal, is almost the twin of the one the next photo, pictured in the Chest of 1900 in the Harvard Archives, and will again look much like this when we are done:

26 russell 2

However, our old friend is in need of considerable surface restoration, as you can see in this photo from its original NH home:

roll top 2

Despite the nicks and bangs, the general structure is excellent, and most importantly, the interior is intact, and the roll cover, the trickiest part to restore, works like a charm, making this desk well worth preserving. The purchase price of the desk & a complete redo to return it to its 1900 appearance will run 2K. Do we have a generous donor out there that might be willing to contribute this amount? It would make a wonderful memorial or named contribution! The restoration is being undertaken by furniture expert Paul Riedl of Gallery XIV in Boston, and will be ready for an unveiling party February 3.


We’ve reached a third of our 6K goal for the room draperies! (For those of you who’d like to see the full drapery plans, click HERE.)  Here’s an in-progress shot of the drapes for the study as they come together in designer Michele Doiron’s studio.The panels are a rich gray-green velvet, and the picture shows the various trim options we’ll be selecting. My vote is for the red braid. What do you think? Again, we are attempting to complete this project in advance of a Harvard Alumni function featuring the Suite in February, so any financial aid you can give now would be MOST welcome. (Remember, last chance for those 2009 tax deductions!) Big thanks go out to Doug, Gil, Michael, Shawn and several others for contributing to our campaign already. You know who you are!


And finally, over the Harvard-Yale weekend, we had almost 300 alums visit us at Adams and tour the Suite. The response was overwhelming, literally – we had planned for about 100 in the LCR, and I had made a special Harvard punch in the Suite for what I expected would be several dozen interested guests. Try several hundred! Needless to say, only the lucky few early birds got to sample my punch, but it was a knockout! In the very real sense of the term! Holy smokes! Highly potent but equally potable it proved, and many of you asked for the recipe. So here it is: I found this in an old brew book from the 20s, but from the bit of research I’ve done, my guess is that the date of creation is closer to 1870 or so, when punches were at their height of popularity. (Hence the term “punching” – “invited to a punch” – for the final clubs.) For those interested, only Yale and Columbia seem to possess similarly eponymous punches. Yale’s dates from 1869 and is based around tea, of all things. Very lily-white if you ask me. Ours, as befits our superior University, is much more hearty, and would have pleased Harvard’s mascot John the Orangeman no end:

Harvard Punch:

  • 4 cups bourbon
  • 2 cups brandy
  • 2 750-ml. bottles champagne
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 sugar syrup to taste
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 cup Orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Triple Sec.
  • Orange and lemon slices

Mixing instructions:

Mix all ingredients, except champagne fruit slices, in a large container, cover and refrigerate several hours. When ready to serve, add a large cake of ice to an ample punch bowl and pour in champagne or club soda or ginger ale, stir gently, and garnish fresh orange and lemon slices, mixed into the punch. Makes about 24 servings.

I will add that initially I thought the combination extremely unappetizing, but I assure you, when it comes together, it is superb. Be careful though, it’s not for the faint of heart.
The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create the only living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and we need your help!

Home Stretch

This window treatment for a "portiere" or French door, is very similar to what's intended for the study.

This window treatment for a "portiere" or French door from Paine's 1898 catalogue, is very similar to what's intended for the study.

“They write me from Jordan and Marsh that the curtains are to be put up in your rooms today, so I hope you will be in order by tomorrow.” Sara to FDR October 6, 1900

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We’re entering the home stretch of the renovation, and we need your help. Our immediate goal is to raise 6K for the room textiles: draperies, door swags, mantel cover, etc. We know they were there, because we have both written evidence from Sara, and physical evidence in Suite itself: we can see the attachment holes! Victorian rooms aren’t complete without fabric, and this is a remarkable opportunity to recreate a real bit of history, as we actually have, thanks to the Baker Business Library Collections, a period Paine’s catalogue (the supplier of  some of FDR’s furniture) to base our designs from.

For all of you who have not contributed (and that’s about 90% of you reading this post, ahem) please consider supporting us. For those of you who already have, October is the time to renew your annual memberships. Won’t you consider an additional donation to help us meet this important milestone? I will keep you posted on progress.

BTW: our adopt an antique program still has many homeless children!

Contributions may be sent to:

The FDR Suite Foundation, Inc.
Adams House, 29 Plympton Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create the only living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and we need your help!

Bird’s-Eye View of Harvard

birdseye view of harvard1

A while back, I acquired this wonderful 1895 bird’s-eye view of Harvard for the Suite, and I thought you might enjoy seeing it.

(The original is 11 x 17;  click on the image above to expand; in most browsers, you may then click again to supersize; or, use your browser’s scaling feature (the same one that increases type size) to increase image size.)

This is the College much as FDR would have known it. You’ll see many lost buildings: the old Appleton Chapel, torn down to make way for Memorial Church;  Gore Hall, the library building replaced by Widener; even the original hexagonal gymnasium, which stood where the Fire Station is now, across from the GSD. It’s also interesting to note how open the Yard was; notice the lack of gates and iron fences (these were just being started in 1900) as well as all the missing Yard dorms  – Straus, Lionel, Mower and Wigglesworth. These last were built, beginning in the 20’s, with the distinct idea of enclosing the Yard against increasing urban encroachment. Another difference is in the Memorial Hall tower: in 1898 it gained four clock faces, and FDR would have told the hour by their sonorous strike. No Union either, you’ll note. That arrived in 1901. Nor anything, really, east of Sever: the current Fogg is four decades away. Oh, and where Lehman Hall now stands, diagonally fronting the Square? In FDR’s time, the Greek Revival edifice you see tucked next to Matthews was the Bursar’s office; before that,  it was the first home of the Law School. In this picture, the new Austin Hall embodies the whole place. How things have changed!  O tempora, o mores!

And as a reminder, this is just one more item that is up for adoption, ladies and gentlemen! It’s going in FDR’s bedroom. The piece needs some conservation, and framing: $200 will give it a new home! Anyone interested, please email me at the following: mweishan at fas dot harvard dot edu, or leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.

The FDR Suite Restoration Project at Adams House, Harvard College is funded entirely through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation Inc, a public 501(c)3 charity set up to create the only living memorial to FDR at Harvard, as well as a museum of 19th century Harvard student life. We do not receive funds from the University to support this endeavor, and we need your help!

Lathrop’s Desk


“The rooms look as if struck by sheet lightning, the sitting-room having the chairs and tables but no curtains or carpets. The bed is in place in my room and it looks inhabitable.” FDR to Sara, 9/25/1900

“Also tell me if you have your two big rugs, blue and red and the small rugs I ordered. I have a bill from Paine for only the large red room rug, and Lathrop’s spring (without the mattress or covering). I enclose a card showing a desk which might suit Lathrop if he has not bought his.” She then goes on to correct his grammar: “*One does not say “inhabitable.” Sara to FDR 9/30/1900

For over a year, we’ve been looking for two desks: a small roll-top for FDR, and a gentleman’s desk for Lathrop. The latter, I’m delighted to say, is finally in hand. I found this wonderful piece half-forgotten in a barn in New Hampshire, and was able, by a margin of a quarter inch, to fit it into my car and get it home. Desks like these are extremely rare these days, as the demands of modern electronics generally mandate far larger surfaces. (As I write this, I sit at a desk 9.5′ long, which is almost buried under phones, monitors, scanners, printers and other paraphernalia of the electronic office.) But this little gem harks back to a gentler age. Dating to about 1895, it measures just 40″ across and is made of solid black walnut, with a black leather top. Stylistically the piece is quite interesting, sitting exactly on the cusp of two ages: the bat-wing handles on the drawers are very much Victorian, but the turned spindles of the legs, and the overall simplicity of the work  suggest the beginnings of a new design aesthetic, one that would ultimately be known as Colonial Revival. And what a location beside these glorious windows! Who wouldn’t want to pen a line or two here? On top the desk, another prize: a 12-piece solid brass desk set I found recently (also very rare, as it’s complete) along with a green-shaded Alladin desk lamp. Add a nice leather blotter, a calendar, a black walnut chair and some gentleman’s calling cards, and the desk of Mr. Lathrop Brown will soon be ready for occupancy.

FDR’s desk, however, still remains at large…

And of course, it goes without saying that these items (ahem, ahem!) are all up for adoption: the desk at $500, the lamp at $100, and the desk set at $300. More homeless antiques can be found HERE.

Also, if any of you have period volumes you might be willing to donate to help fill our book cases, we would be most grateful to accept them. FDR was quite the bibliophile, and avidly collected rare volumes. Leather or cloth bound fiction or non fiction, with decorative covers & published before 1904, would be most welcome!

As always, we thank you for your interest and support.