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.
Just when I thought there was no more Harvard Class of 1904 memorabilia to be found anywhere, one of our supporters discovered this remarkable tankard on E-Bay and donated it to the Foundation, where it will join our fireplace collection. The original owner was one E.C.Kerans, a classmate of FDR. The tankard however is a bit of a mystery. The top of pewter cup carries a large copper DELTA with an almost illegible inscription DIKAI ****THEKE – which doesn’t exactly ring a bell… It’s obviously a club or organization motto; we’ll just have to track it down.
But while we ponder this little mystery, I want to remind you that the FIFTH Annual FDR Memorial Lecture and Dinner is this coming Saturday. There are only 10 dinner tickets left, and we would love to sell them out, so please consider joining us for a fun and informative evening. If you’re unable to attend, we would happily accept your donation of the ticket price to help us cover the event cost by sponsoring one of the twenty-five free student places we’ve set aside. Both can be done online, HERE.
It’s been said you can tell an age by its advertising, and to the extent we possess the records, the adage seems to be true: ancient graffiti on the walls in Pompeii bring 2000-year-old elections alive like no tract from Cicero ever could; miniature manikins – dressed in the latest crinoline and lace and sent from Paris to the Colonies as ads for the newest fashions – reveal more about 18th century costume than a whole page of pallid text.
Fortunately for us, the world of FDR’s Harvard is ripe with similar examples that give tone and timbre to the age – if you know where to look. To that end, we’ve been acquiring actual periodicals from January to June 1904 for the Suite (including, too, a spectacular bound copy of the Crimson for 1900-1901) so that a visitor might casually pick up Harpers Magazine or Colliers, and flick through the pages just as if they had popped in for a few hours in May of 04.
I wanted to show you a few of my favorites pieces from this collection, which to my mind at least, make you realize how much the world has truly changed.
This first one is a classic.
What else can I say? Papa told me so!
We tend to forget too that personal hygiene has been revolutionized in the last century. Imagine a time with no deodorants?
And, as we are blistering through another baking summer, how about a world of binding clothes and no air conditioning?
Beyond the name, which I thought totally cool for a cigarette (Egyptian Deities was the model for an upstart American knock-off, Camels) there was the fact that many of these ads simply proclaimed “Egyptian Deities” without a single word of explanatory byline – the brand was so famous at Harvard to need no further introduction.
(Just like another ad I found again and again in the Crimson: Harvard University Training Tables: 15 Bow Street. YOU ALL KNOW YOUNG! “No I don’t know Young,” I’m grumbling to myself, frustrated, “tell me who he is!”).
In this case however, a thought occurred: Lapes and Frank both smoked. Surely there would have been cigarettes in the Suite. Could some of these Deities cigarettes have possibly survived from that time? If so, what a coup to track some down!
Well, a quasi-coup, as it turned out…
Sans cigarettes, but an actual 1900 Deities tin nonetheless, procured on EBay for $15, now destined for the Suite!
How’s that for divine intervention?
Or perhaps, more aptly, ad inspiration?
All brought about by folks like you.
Some People Read History. Others Make It.
Come make a little history: support the FDR Suite Foundation!
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.
Some people just read history. Others help make it.
Come make a little history. Support the FDR Suite Foundation!
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.