Of Arms and a Man, and a Foundation

The family crest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; FDR modified the design from TR's, changing the rose bush of the former to three cut roses.

The family crest of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the three ostrich feathers are very similiar to those born by the English heir-apparent.

For over a year now, we been searching for some sort of logo for the Foundation. We’ve thought of many different options, only to discard them one by one: too impractical, too difficult to reproduce, to expensive to commission… etc. etc. Then, the other day, I came across a mention of  a Roosevelt family crest, which I  hadn’t even known existed. It seems my ignorance of Rooseveltian heraldry was not for lack of trying on FDR’s part: our 32nd President was hugely proud of his family heritage, and it turns out he took every opportunity of plastering the Roosevelt arms everywhere he could: escutcheons over the fireplaces in the library at Hyde Park, on personal bookplates, on the White House china, on official presents to visitors (including the Queen of England) even on the very first gift he ever gave to Eleanor: a ring, with family crest, when they were engaged. I became intrigued. What did this mysterious crest look like? A bit of research pulled it up, thanks to the American Heraldry Society. You see it here on the left in all its gaudy glory.

These rather regal arms are descended from a much simpler set, those of FDR’s presumed Dutch burgher descendants, the Van Rosevelts, of Oud-Vossemeer, Netherlands, which originally featured three heraldic roses in a field of green, over a rampant lion in brilliant crimson. (There is some on-going debate as to whether or not this particular coat of arms rightly belonged to the American branch of the Roosevelt clan. See the next link, below.)

The original Van Rosevelt crest

The original Van Rosevelt crest, which may, or may not, have actually belonged to FDR's line. It was in any case adopted by the Roosevelts in New Amsterdam.

In any event, once arrived in the colony of New Amsterdam, the Roosevelts proudly assumed heraldic arms, and somewhere along the line, this symbology was modified: the lion disappeared, and the three roses became a rose bush in a greensward. In addition, the Latin motto, “He who has planted will preserve” was adopted. (The translation is a little awkward, but makes sense in the original. The word curare has a general meaning of “to save for the future” in Latin, and combines elements of both our English “cure” (as in sausage or paint) “cure” (as in heal the patient) and preserve (as in protect.) The crest is what’s known is a canting, or visual pun: the name van Rosevelt means “from the rose field” in Dutch. This crest with the rose bush is the one Theodore Roosevelt and his family used, and FDR could have done the same. Unlike the English, who insist the second and subsequent sons of the family make small changes to their personal crests to acknowledge primacy of the eldest’s line, the Dutch allow male lineal descendants to adopt the same crest without alteration.  But no: always interested in setting himself apart, FDR modified his family arms to show three cut roses instead of the pattern TR had used.

(You can see both crests side-by-side, as well as the complete article on the Roosevelt family arms, by clicking HERE.)

This fascinating foray into heraldry got me to thinking. As our famous president-resident was so fond of his arms, perhaps, I thought, something similar might be appropriate for the Foundation…

Foundation crest version 6Hmmm. A bit of playing around with various designs, and two days of holiday time and about 40 iterations later, may I introduce to you the new FDR Suite Foundation crest!

The  design (which eliminates the more, shall we say, ostentatious elements of Roosevelt’s arms  – I thought we might get laughed off the block if I tried to include those royal feathers) takes its divisions from the original van Rosevelt family crest, and combines the three red roses from FDR’s arms (flowers here have symbolic thorns to replace stems), along with the famous acorn and oak leaf of Adams House (itself derived from John Adams’ seal ring.) The gold recalls our Gold Coast history, and the Crimson, Harvard’s. The brown chevron is another canting, reminding us of the other half of the FDR Suite equation: Lathrop Brown, FDR’s roommate at Groton and Harvard & lifelong friend.  In heraldic language, the description reads: (if I got this right) –  party per fess or and gules a chevron brunatre between three roses proper barbed of the field above an acorn and oak leaf of the first, which hopefully means “a blazon divided into upper and low halves, gold on top, crimson on bottom, separated  with three roses in their natural color (proper) separated by a brown chevron above, and a golden oak leaf and acorn below.” Whew!

Finally (and here as a classics major I am on much more solid ground) the Latin motto has been changed slightly to reflect our mission. It now reads: He who has restored, preserves.

There are still a few tweaks & refinements to be made to the design, but I’m thinking this is going to work out just fine: a fascinating blend of Roosevelt and Harvard history, crafted and reshaped to benefit the future of both.

FDR’s Secret Code

How’s this for an elliptical tale: I was sitting last evening in FDR Suite, attending a small get-together hosted by Claire Mays, ’81, who’s our first guest since the Suite was sufficiently completed to lose its air of camping. There were nine of us, and we were sitting around in an odd allotment of chairs – our comfy Morris chairs, of course, plus the new settee, but also a clustering of small wooden period chairs to accommodate the extra company, It struck me as I looked from smiling face to face that this is very much how the room must have appeared when Lathrop and Frank had a few friends over to sit around the fire sharing a couple of beers. (We on the other hand were sipping a rye-based period cocktail that Claire had discovered somewhere and kindly attempted to resurrect. If the general reaction of my fellow drinkers was any indication, this is one revival that probably won’t gain steam any time soon. No matter; it’s the thought that counts.) But to return to my story: there we were with the gaslights aglow, cozily ensconced against the wind and wet of a rare August Nor-easter, when one of the guests asked me if any of the items in the room actually belonged to FDR. The answer, I replied, was no – while every item in the Suite is either attested from documentation, or presumed from similar period rooms, the sad fact is that we don’t have anything from FDR himself. We come close – personal items from his classmates, publications from the period, etc, but nothing we know that FDR actually possessed. In fact, there’s remarkably little surviving from that period that can be absolutely known to have been in the Suite: letters home certainly, but not much else, except one very interesting book: FDR’s line-a-day diary.

This intriguing item, now at the FDR Presidential Museum in Hyde Park, was kept intermittently by FDR for years. It’s a handy little system, really – you just dotted down a note or two each day in a pocket-sized book, and soon you could look back and see what had been going on in your life that same date, one, two three, four years back. The interesting thing about FDR’s volume is that several of the pages were written in a private code, as you can see for the entry of 1903:


The text reads: “To Groton at 9 & get there just in time for Church. Lunch with Aunt K’s [Aunt Kassie, Mrs Price Collier] party.” Then comes the code, followed by: “Supper with all relatives at Whitney’s. Chapel in the evening” and then another coded sentence. The coded parts were not deciphered until the 1970s, when a researcher at the Archives, Nona Ferndon, first noticed them. It was eventually discovered that the code that FDR used substituted numbers for the first five vowels (1 for a; 2 for e; 3 for i, 4 for o, 5 for u, and distinctive portions of consonant letters for the the letter itself ( ¬ for T, – for H, etc.). The sentences can now be read as: “After lunch I have a never to be forgotten walk with my darling.” & “And I am going to New York next Sunday.”

So why all the mystery? La romance, toujours la romance: this was the day that FDR proposed to Eleanor at Groton,  and surely expecting maternal opposition, our president-resident decided for the moment to keep his thoughts secret. (Does this imply FDR feared Mama reading his diary? We know not, but Sara was not told until the week following, and made her opposition perfectly plain when informed.) The other, earlier coded entries also deal with a love interest; this time though, it was directed at Alice Sohier, who had turned down FDR the year previous, and who in sailing off to Europe, eventually sailed into the arms of another beau as his first lady, albeit of a far less famous kind.

OK Michael, I hear you say, all this cyclic narrative is most engaging, but what’s this got to do with the Suite? How are you so sure that this particular book was there? Well, look at the first entry for 1901. You may think that’s some kind of code as well, but what you’re really seeing is bleed-through from the next page. Flip the paper, and it says: “Sat. November 23 1901. HARVARD 22 – YALE 0. Wonderful game. Wonderful day for Harvard. Wonderful evening.”

Can’t you just picture our sophomore FDR at his desk in the Suite, penning that little note?

Well, I can assure you it’s certainly much easier now, with the renovations 3/4 completed, sitting around the hearth with a few new friends…

Yes, a wonderful day for Harvard indeed – and a wonderful evening.

All the King’s Horses…

Who said you couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty back together again? Several day’s worth  of hard work later, the Suite has emerged with its new coat of paper, remarkably transformed, looking for the first time in over a century very nearly like a Victorian room:

The study looking south

The study looking south

Our piano, festooned with period tunes. That's Johnny the bobcat, by the way, our mascot; beneath his sharp claws poor old Eli is down for the count

Our piano, festooned with period tunes. That's Johnny the bobcat, by the way, our mascot; beneath his sharp claws poor old Eli the quail is down for the count

The study looking north; FDR's bedroom on the left, Lathrop's center. You can just glimpse "George" Lathrop's 8 point buck through the door frame

The study looking north; FDR's bedroom on the left, Lathrop's center. You can just glimpse "George," Lathrop's eight-point buck through the door, named by Judith Palfrey, our master, after our Foundation's dear Father George. "The white collar says it all." Amen to that.

FDR slept here...

FDR slept here...

Lest we forgot: the Suite this past February, and this afternoon, August 6, 2010.

Lest we forget: the Suite this past February, and the same view this afternoon, August 6, 2010.

What’s next? Window treatments, and – hopefully – more generous contributions from our friends and supporters, as our coffers are again growing bare…

Wallpaper At Last!

An epic campaign ended today as the first rolls of  historic wallpaper were applied to the walls of the FDR Suite study. You may remember all the trials and tribulations we had in piecing together the pattern from fragments I discovered last summer behind the large radiator. Then Kari Pei, Head of Design at Wolf-Gordon in NYC (and wife to Li-Chung Pei. Adams, ’72) who had generously offered to recreate the paper, began an almost year-long process of back and forth design and redesign, trying to replicate a period look and feel using the latest digital techniques. A thousand problems along the way – wrong color palettes, wiggly lines, fuzzy digitals – were eventually overcome, and today, thanks to the Peis’ marvelous generosity in donating both the design labor plus the cost of the paper, we at last have a good estimation of the pattern that graced the walls during FDR’s tenure at Westmorly Court.

Here are two very quick progress shots, taken this afternoon as the workman prepared paste and paper. (Keep in mind these are snaps, taken with flash, and the actual colors are considerably deeper in real life.) The first shows all the furniture crowded into the center of the room, and the newly papered walls. The effect of the narrow pattern is surprisingly cloth-like, and quite masculine in feel. Note too how the ornate period radiator (recently restored) and new light fixtures suddenly come to life against the patterned  background.


And here’s another shot, showing a section of wall we had temporarily painted, and the newly papered wall in comparison. It’s amazing how much richer the papered surface appears than the flat paint. We’re finally getting the feel of a real Victorian room!


Now all we have to do is put everything back in place! Updated higher quality photos to follow…

Once again, we at the Foundation and everyone at Adams House would like to express our heartiest thanks to the Pei’s for the extremely generous donation of time, effort and funds to complete this project!

Boodle & Co.

Dearest Mama,
I have jumped into a den of wild animals on my return, beginning with a dinner at the Club last Saturday, two private performances of the Pudding show & a crowd of 1903 men here for Herbert Burgess’ ushers’ dinner… FDR to Sara,
May 3rd, 1904:

Just so that you don’t think we’re concentrating on Euterpe at the expense of Thalia, I thought you might be interested in seeing one of our recent acquisitions for the Suite:

Boodle Poster corrected1This wonderful image comes to us courtesy of the descendants of Chester Robinson ’04; Chester’s grandson Dave found this fantastic poster among the memorabilia Chester had saved from his Harvard years. Dave was kind enough to have the original scanned for us,  and after a bit of digital restoration work, it once again looks just as it did when FDR first saw it. A copy will hang on the door of FDR’s bedroom.

But what of the production itself? I was curious, especially after I saw other pictures from Chester’s collection showing the merry crew:


A bit more digging, and this article from the Crimson, Saturday, April 02, 1904:

Rehearsals of the Hasty Pudding Club’s comic opera “Boodle and Co.,” have been held regularly for the past four weeks, and the production promises not to fall below the standard set by former Pudding plays. Mr. J. W. Parks and Mr. M. B. Gilbert, who have been connected with past Cadet shows, are coaching the principals and the chorus respectively. The twenty-four musical numbers, by J. H. Densmore ’04, and the book, by H. Otis ’04, are bright and catchy and display considerable versatility.

The prologue introduces Simeon Boodle, an Idaho rancher, who, upon announcing his purpose of becoming rich and influential, promptly falls asleep in front of his ranch-house and dreams the events set forth in the two acts. The scene of these is laid at White Isle, a fashionable summer resort, where Boodle, now an opulent United States senator, takes his family for the summer. Here he gradually loses most of his money, but gains control of his hitherto ruling half, and sees his daughter finally married to the man who really loves her. After many amusing complications and minor love affairs, he wakes up in the epilogue, happy to find that he has only been dreaming.

The cast, in order of appearance, is as follows: Simeon Boodle, rancher, hopeful but tired,  J. P. Bowditch ’05; Mrs. Boodle, Simeon’s better and ruling half,  R. Lane ’04; David Plumb, rancher, with tragic inclinations,  C. A. Shea ’04; Elizabeth Boodle, daughter of Simeon,  G. Lawton ’04; Roger Fairfax, the pride of Bonanza,  S. A. Welldon ’04; Mr. Moppet, proprietor and manager of White Isle Lodge,  G. F. Tyler ’05; Minnie Moppet, his daughter,  W. P. Sanger ’05;  Augustus Grenville of London,  G. O. Winston ’05;  Duchess Marietta Chinolla, of Italy,  M. Tilden ’05; Fritz. David’s unhappy companion,  H. Otis ’04; Captain Trump, of U. S. Cruiser “Alaska.”  A. V. Baird ’04; Cowboy clerks, French school-maids middies on the “Alaska,”  White Isle guests, summer girls, waiters, etc.

Performances will be given as follows: graduates’ night, April 30: undergraduates night; May 2: public performances May 8: Boston performances in Potter Hall. New Century Building. Huntington avenue, May 5, 6, and 7, matinee May 6.

It seems the production was quite well received. Who knows, perhaps it’s time for a revival…

Time Machine

Our latest find

Our latest find

One of the things that amazes me most about this project is that every now and then, a piece of the puzzle drops mysteriously from the sky, as if by preordained writ. I noted in a previous post how a strange and unlikely attraction to a tiny spot in Big Sur led me to Lathrop Brown’s descendants in the persons of Pam and Elmer Grossman, and how since then, so many aspects of Lathrop’s life, previously almost a perfect void, have now come together, including the wonderful family photo archives Dan L’Engle Davis shared with us last month. Thanks to these folks, Lathrop’s room will be as replete with personal memorabilia as Franklin’s (there thanks to the FDR Library), just as if ol’ “Lapes” had left the Suite moments before.

Last week another fascinating bit of FDR history descended from the heavens, this time from a far more prosaic source: EBay. As is my occasional wont, I was scanning one day for period Harvard memorabilia, and I noticed a little tome entitled Harvard University Songs. It had a delightful cover, and I was intrigued. There was very little detail supplied, except that it was an illustrated songbook, and that the publication date was 1902 – right in our range. So without giving it much thought, I bid on the item, maximum price, $20, thinking it might make an interesting addition to the period music already in our collection. It was mine later that day for a grand total of $18.12, including shipping.

The book arrived today, and turned out to be a small treasure.

True to description, it was a charmingly illustrated volume, much akin to the caricature book of Harvard Personalities I discovered earlier this year (also on EBay, and the subject of a future post). Even more appropriately, the drawings were done by FDR classmate (and fellow Newell Junior Crew Member freshman year) S.A. Welldon ’04, and dedicated, interestingly, to the Harvard Union. (The Union’s appeal is hard for us to appreciate today, but in 1902, it was hugely important in Harvard student life.)  All very intriguing. But what really got me going was the short introduction:

The compiler has tried to make a collection of the songs that are actually sung at Harvard, by the Glee Club, by the crowds at football games, and by the undergraduates and graduates. Many of the songs and versions of songs have been passed down to the present classes by ear alone, and are printed here for the first time.


Think about it: what sits beside me on my desk as I write is a veritable miniature window back in time, capturing from that pre-recording age, the actual songs, and versions of songs, that FDR knew and sang at Harvard, exactly as he sang them. (And sang our president-resident did: the reason we have a piano in the Suite is that FDR and Lathrop both belonged to the Freshman Glee Club.) And these songs were sung not only by the class of 1904, but by generations of Harvardians before them. You can tell by just reading the melody and lyrics that some of these songs are truly old:


Now I can’t claim this volume as a first-ever discovery; once I had this dear little book in my hands and realized what exactly it was, I soon able to backtrack and find another copy buried away in the Harvard University archives, and later, was even able to track down a scanned version of the entire book (at UCLA Berkeley, of all places. You can, and should, view it here). But what fascinates me, and what I hope fascinates you, is the FDR Project’s unique ability to pluck otherwise dead and dry material like this thin neglected volume and place it once again in a living, breathing historical context of immense interest to scholars and historians worldwide, so that you and I and they,  – and eventually, hopefully, everyone with a computer through the virtual museum we’re planning – can hop-skip an entire century, and for a brief instant, experience what it was like to be alive at Harvard with FDR in his sophomore year. It’s one thing for me to simply tell you that FDR and Lathrop sat in Morris chairs and sang some ditty called “The Winter Song” over a glass of Piper with chums by the fire: it’s entirely another for me to give you the opportunity to sink into the soft cushions of those very same chairs, feel the heat of that same crackling fire, hand you a glass of sibilant bubbly, and teach you to sing this almost forgotten song in precisely the manner,  in precisely the same spot, on precisely the same instrument as FDR heard it eleven decades ago.

Time travel is what this is, really – rudimentary perhaps, but time travel none-the-less, and frankly, it’s enthralling.

What’s next from the heavens? I know not, but surely something. For the moment, we’ll just take our cue from another FDR contemporary, and head towards “the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning…”

Thanks to all you who’ve made this incredible journey possible. We continue to welcome, and need, your support.