1904 Meets the Internet Age

The new FDR Suite Foundation Tee Shirt

Finally, we’re thrilled to announce that you can now donate to the Foundation online. We’ve had many requests from folks looking for a quick and easy way support us while gaining card rewards or frequent flier miles at the same time. Now, through the good offices of Paypal (the same service used by EBay and other major corporations) you can do just that. Paypal accounts and all major credit cards are accepted. Just click the donate button at the bottom of of this post. The Donate section on the main FDR Site has also been updated to accommodate online payments.

A quick note on our capital campaign. As of today, we’ve raised $4250 of our $50K goal. We definitely need your help!

Also, just in time for summer, we have our new FDR Suite Foundation tee-shirts! Rest assured, these aren’t your grandpa’s tees! Sporting our own custom designed crest (a very cool combination of Adams House and Roosevelt Family heraldry – for more on that, click HERE) these super-soft shirts, super lightweight shirts are perfect for almost any casual occasion. Made of extra-fine 100% cotton, these shirts are pre-shrunk and run true to size. Available in M, L, XL, and XL. $20.00, plus 4.95 shipping. (US only.) These too can now be ordered on-line by clicking the picture above.

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


The New Fireside Chats, Vol. I, No. 1: John Gunther Dean

Everyone at Adams House and the FDR Suite Foundation is truly proud to announce the inaugural edition of The New Fireside Chats.

My guest for the premier episode is John Gunther Dean, Adams House ’47.

To summarize Mr Dean’s life in a paragraph is to conjure a passage from some James Bond novel. Born in the last days of the Weimar Republic to a wealthy Jewish family, Dean fled to the US from Germany after Kristalnacht. Growing up in Kansas City, he entered Harvard, became involved with a top secret intelligence operation during WWII, returned, took his diploma (plus several more, including a law degree from the Sorbonne) and then entered the US foreign service. His 30-year career including journeying into far Togo to establish the first US Mission there; brokering the peace in Laos (and preventing a coup); getting shot down in Vietnam; carrying out the flag at the fall of Phnom Penh (left, from the cover of Newsweek); surviving two assassination attempts as Ambassador to Lebanon; rescuing the Chum Museum ( a world heritage site) and speaking his mind about Israeli involvement in Pakistan, which ultimately cost him his career in the US Diplomatic Corps.

We caught up with Mr. Dean a few weeks ago, when he visited Harvard for his 65th reunion. In all honestly, I was prepared to meet an elderly man, retired and retiring, dotting on memories. There was very little of that. Mostly there was a remarkably vital, often feisty, always entertaining old soul who has known (and who has a distinct opinion of) most of the major players on the world stage since the 50s. Our interview, originally scheduled for a half-hour, stretched to an hour and a half. It’s been edited here for cohesion into three largely chronological 20-minute segments. The first covers Dean’s youth and arrival in the US, including his Harvard years and War II experience. The second picks up the first years of his diplomatic career and posting to Southeast Asia; the third discusses the later (and often far too eventful) parts of Mr. Dean’s career, as well as his reflections on the world political stage, and the value, even after 65 years, of his Harvard education.

For those interested, Mr. Dean’s full bio is available here. His book is available here.

A word or two on this first episode. The most remarkable thing about my last four years at the FDR Suite has been the fascinating host of new people, places and technologies I’ve been exposed to. The Chats project is no exception. Creating this series included moving from in front of the camera (never easy) to in front and in back of the camera (remarkably frustrating, and full of hidden shoals, not to mention a post-production staff of…. one. Where’s my latte! Get it yourself, fool!) This first episode bears witness to my newness at this game, and has shown the way for many future improvements, including some annoying sound issues here and there. Still, I think that considering this was our first time out, we pulled off a remarkably professional interview. The “we” here, by the way, is cameraman Joe Brancale, ’13; our own Adams Drama Tutor Aubry Threlkeld (whom we gratefully drafted as cameraman when our film students had all departed for summer); Annie Douglas, ’12, who pitched in to help with logistics; and our inimitable Tim Smith, ’08, recently Timothy John Smith, Esq., (congrats) who will be hanging out with us one more year (thank god for that!). Plus, our ever patient Masters, Judy and Sean Palfrey, who appeared in loco clientis during our first video trial runs, and who believed enough in this project to shepherd it through. Bravo to all.

Thus, may I present to you, from the (almost) restored FDR Suite, The New Fireside Chats, Episode 1: (Note: If you’re having trouble clearly viewing the video on the FDR site, you may also watch the Chats directly on the vimeo site, here. You will need a fast internet connection, and updated computer, in either case.)

The New Fireside Chats, Vol. 1, No. 1, Part 1: John Gunther Dean from FDR Suite Foundation, Inc on Vimeo.

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he New Fireside Chats, Vol. 1, No. 1, Part 2: John Gunther Dean from FDR Suite Foundation, Inc on Vimeo.

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The New Fireside Chats, Vol. 1, No. 1, Part 3: John Gunther Dean from FDR Suite Foundation, Inc on Vimeo.

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


FDR Suite Video Tour

I put together this short tour from several hours of footage we shot this week while testing the cameras and lighting for the New Fireside Chats. There’s many a photographic gaffe here as we are still learning how to use this new equipment (not to mention how to hold these new ultra-sensitive cameras steady) but despite our first efforts, I think this still gives you a much better idea of what things look like now than mere photos, so I thought you might enjoy a private, members-only sneak peek.

PS: As of today we have raised 2K of the $50,000 goal in our 2011 capital campaign. Remember, we receive no direct support from the College, and all this progress flows entirely from your contributions.

FDR Suite Video Tour from FDR Suite Foundation, Inc on Vimeo.

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


Brimfield Bounty

So I’ve just returned from three delightful afternoons wandering the Brimfield Antiques Fair. For those of you not familiar with this thrice-annual event, Brimfield is the nation’s largest antiques fair, spread across two miles of fields on either side of Route 20 in historic Brimfield Massachusetts, about an hour west of Boston in the rolling Worcester Hills. Antiquers come from all over the United States to hawk their wares, and it’s one of the best places on the globe to track down hard-to-find items. There a vendors selling just about anything you can think of, from bits of old buildings to fine furniture to radio tubes for that 1935 RCA tabletop you’ve been trying to repair. It’s all here: the trick is finding what you want when you want it. I’ve long since given up trying to acquire any one particular item on any one visit; I simply go with a goal in mind, and see where the spirits send me.

This year I went with an eye open for three things: a spinning Victorian bookcase for the study; a wall shelf for FDR’s bedroom, and some new/old quilts for the beds. What I brought home is pictured above, on my dining room table (itself another Brimfield discovery from a decade or so ago.) You see I found the quilt!! (no. 4) hanging at the rear of the picture above.

(But just the quilt… lol. You can click on the photo to expand it greatly.)

Actually, the quilt comes with an interesting back story. We know FDR had one, because he writes Sara very early in his freshman year “”The delightful rug & quilt came today & are too pretty, the rug is already down & looks so well.  I am using my old quilt to cover my trunk and rooms is [sic] perfect now.” Over the years, I’ve seen many vintage quilts at the Fair, but I’ve been hesitant to buy old, fragile items for actual use, especially bedding, which is particularly subject to a host of potential woes. Then just as I was leaving on my last day,  I ran into a very pleasant lady named Jennifer Pate. I immediately spied the quilt above, and inquired: “Is this your best price?” (Standard practice at a fair where everything is negotiable.) She looked at me and said: “You look familiar!” So, a quick explanation and detour into my Victory Garden hosting days. (Being on PBS is funny; people often recognize you, but they can’t quite figure out from where. My favorite was a woman a few years back who exclaimed: “A yes, the Victory Garden, I’ve watched that show every week for 30 years. What do you do?”)

After we got the TV introductions over, Jennifer said to me: “Michael, let me tell you. I used to teach home economics until our school system decided that children didn’t need to know practical things anymore and that Home Ec. was not a career path. I found that I could either go sell fabrics at my local craft store at minimum wage, or try to do what I always wanted to do, and be an artist. Look at this quilt. I make each one myself. Every one of these squares is handcut & sewn, all from shirt fabric, just like they used to be. The backs are dyed with tea leaves to replicate antique dyes. Some of these quilts take several days to complete. Does $240 not seem a good price, especially for something that should last a lifetime?”

Point taken. Quilt sold. (I bought one for my bed too.) This one is going to FDR’s bed, which pleased Jennifer no end.

So what else did I acquire? Well…

1) A late Victorian wood and silver traveling box for bath and shaving items, with a fold up mirror, for Lathrop’s bedroom. In the drawer: a ca. 1900 silver, glass and leather flask (handy at those chilly football games) and a pair of opera glasses, for those theater evenings when orchestra seats aren’t available.

2) A solid brass and wood cribbage board.

3) A collection of smoking implements; the silver thingie is a cigar cutter, along with two cigarette holders, and a cigar holder, for the study.

4) The aforementioned quilt.

5) A Victorian perpetual calendar for FDR’s desk. In good condition these are quite rare, as the fabric rollers are very fragile: to use, you just roll the wooden handles to advance the printed rolls. Today’s date? Why,  Saturday, May 14, 1904, of course.

6) A ca. 1900 baseball bat and ball, for the study. (FDR managed the baseball team at Groton.) Still looking for a good quality mitt.

7) A beautiful solid brass and leather telescope, in perfect working condition, part of our nautical collection for FDR. (And very handy, too, to discreetly peer at all those lovely Gibson girls strolling down Mt. Auburn Street.) Beneath are several wood and silver walking sticks for the front hall.

8 ) A charming collection of small Victorian prints, in silver frames, (one round wooden) for the study.

9)  Oh, I love this! It’s the brass horn off an early Franklin touring car. The story goes that ol’ Lapes stole it off Dean Brigg’s motor as part of his Dickey initiation. It still works, and is loud enough to wake the dead. (I know, my dog is still in hiding.) Now hanging on the wall of the study in gratefully silent testimony to that nocturnal triumph.

10) A very beautiful young lady of no known associations. I just thought she was lovely, and bought her for five bucks. I will frame her, and put her on Lathrop’s desk. He needs a girlfriend.

11) A period set of dominoes. Bone and ebony.

12) Oh, now here’s something, the subject of a future piece. These are, from an era before portable pens, gentlemens’ pencils, which when attached to one’s watch chain are perfect for writing stock orders or noting a dance card at the waltz. The smaller one is silver and tourmaline; both are ingeniously retractable.

13) A Victorian star paperweight: items placed underneath are magnified up into the globe.

The best part: the most expensive item on the table is the calendar, at $300. Everything else besides the quilt was under $100, most items well under $50.

And all these bits of Brimfield bounty – entirely thanks to supporters like you.

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




Opulence

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!





Foundation Receives $100,000 Grant To Launch New Capital Campaign

Look familiar? An illustration from the 1897 Scribner's article "Undergraduate Life at Harvard," picturing a room in Claverley, and a recent addition to the Suite's expanding collection of Harvard ephemera.

We are thrilled today to announce two $50,000 grants from the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust to help fund the Foundation’s operations for the next two years. In addition to providing the money necessary to launch The New Fireside Chats web broadcasts, the annual grants will help develop our planned FDR Suite Internet Museum, expand the Suite’s historical collections, as well as fund day-to-day operations at the Suite. (And we have considerable day-to-day expenses: insurance on the Suite alone runs close to 2K per year, and other than heat and electricity, we receive no financial support from the College…)

The structure of this award was deliberate: splitting the amount into two 50K segments to be paid this year and next was designed to act as a challenge grant, spurring folks like you to help us raise the additional 50K we need complete our annual budget and begin our educational mission of expanding FDR’s legacy into the electronic age.

So in order to put the Foundation on a firm financial footing, we launch today our 2011 capital campaign. Won’t you consider donating at one of these levels?

Member $100
Supporter $250
Donor $500
Trustee $1000
Angel $5000

(And of course, there’s always the Deity level… lol)

If everyone on this mailing list donated just $100, we’d make our goals – unfortunately only a small percentage of you do – 4%, in fact.

I know there are a thousand demands on your charitable dollars, but we’d like to think that our particular combination of Harvard History, House History and presidential history is pretty special and worth supporting.

In addition, if  we make our goal, it greatly increases the chance that these grants will be renewed in future years (and attract other monies to fund our planned scholarship programs, which are so far unfunded.)

So long story short, whatever you can contribute, please do. Just click the How to Donate Button at the top of this page. I will keep you posted on our progress.

And one final note: a number of you inquired during our hugely pleasant Fourth Annual Memorial Lecture & Reception this past Saturday whether or not these events were considered fundraisers for the Suite, and strictly, the answer is no: this lecture series is part of our educational mission, and we price the tickets each year principally to cover our costs, which means depending on attendance, we generally just break even. Hopefully however our attendees go away with a better sense of our mission and an increased inclination to support it. At least that’s the idea!

As always, we remain grateful for your interest and support.