New Views

A very quick post here to show you two major developments. The desk and draperies have arrived!

As have some of the textiles, like the mantle-piece cover:

I’ll be taking some more photos of the spectacular draperies soon – they are proving very hard to photograph against the windows without specially lighting the room for photography, but we’ll see what we can do. Notice too the new 1904 Harvard banner, a duplicate of one we saw in the Harvard Archives records, as well as the menus and other pieces of ephemera we acquired from EBay, now mounted above FDR’s desk.

Thanks again to the family of Richard Mayer’ 56 and an anonymous donor for the desk restoration.

As for the draperies, we’ve still a ways to go paying for those! Ahem! Ahem! to those of you who need to renew your membership! 🙂

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.

Restoring FDR’s Harvard, One Pixel at a Time

A number of our readers have been curious as to how we’ve found all the framed art that hangs on our walls. Well, let me tell you –  it’s been quite a process. First of all, we’ve been extremely lucky: discovering Lathrop’s descendants and their generous sharing of the Brown family archives; acquiring rare finds from the internet such as the Hertzog scrapbook I wrote about last week; benefiting from wonderful scholarship and support from the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. But even with all this, sometimes it’s not enough to fulfill our mission. You see, unlike a house museum where the present is held in stasis, our goal is to create a living environment that actually transports you to 1904. If all the materials look old and faded, the illusion is compromised. Think about it: In 1904, everything would be new, or newish; colors bright, fabrics fresh, pages crisp. Which is why, for instance, we had craftsman Lary Shaffer create two “new-old” Morris chairs, and why we’ve sent “FDR’s desk” out for a complete renovation. Unlike the folks on the Antiques Roadshow, we don’t want too much patina of age.

This is especially true of paper goods. Take for instance this fascinating piece which came as part of the EBay find last week:

Now while it doesn’t look like much in its current state, this is really something special. It’s a 13″ x 19″ map of Harvard, drawn by the Harvard School of Engineering, centered on University Hall, and showing the extent of the College in 1901-1902, FDR’s sophomore year. Not only does the key list principle buildings of the University along with dates of construction, but it also shows the addresses of most of the principal professors at the College. (Can you imagine that in this day and age!) Unfortunately for us, the condition is pretty bleak: besides having a huge bite out of the right hand margin, the map had been folded and left in a very acidic scrapbook for almost a century – you can see the acid marks clearly. Now as an antique, this piece could conceivably be mounted and hung in the Suite, and we could call it a day. But its very condition reminds us all too readily that 110 years have passed. It’s 2010, not 1904, looking at this map. How much better would be a fresh copy, say, like this…

And in fact, we now have just that, ready for framing. This minor miracle is achieved using a program called Photoshop, which allows an operator to manipulate digital images. The process goes like this: the original document is first scanned into the computer, and then, in a series of steps, the effects of aging are removed one by one. This is possible because the computer sees the image not as a picture, but as millions of tiny dots called pixels, each with an assigned range of characteristics. I can ask the computer to group and isolate these pixels in a variety of ways – taking say, all the pixels of a certain color tone (such as faded tan) and changing them to white. I can have the computer sharpen lines by telling it to group all pixels within a certain color range more tightly and eliminate outliers. I can also remove or reinforce any element, eliminating a tear here, or darkening a capital there. (In actual period photographs, the process is much more dynamic and difficult, but the result is the same. We can often return a damaged century-old photo to brand-new condition.) The correction process is very much trial and error, and relies entirely on the skill level of the operator. Fortunately, after ten years in the media biz, I’ve gotten to be an old hand at such digital manipulation. (Need to lose 10 pounds and those wrinkles on your published photo, give me a buzz! lol) Still, it takes a tremendous amount of time. The map above required a good three hours to fix, but I think you’ll agree the result is fairly spectacular. Below’s a larger version. Just click on it to maximize your view. (It’s a very large file, so depending on your download speed, it may take a bit of time. Then, once you see the map appear, you may enlarge the image further through your browser and poke around the Cambridge of 1901.)

Just for fun, I’ve added three red numerals to this version of map, to point out to you how valuable pieces like this are to understanding FDR’s Harvard. At 1, you’ll see Soldiers’ Field as FDR first knew it, with wooden football bleachers and no Harvard Stadium. No Biz school either; that’s another 25 years off.

In FDR’s time, athletics were still grouped north of the yard, near numeral 2, which explains the odd location of the College’s Hemenway Gymnasium. (It’s also where the first football game was played, from my previous post.) This area was rapidly becoming built up though, and soon (1903) the Stadium would rise and athletics would move permanently across the River.

And finally, take a look at 3, the area south of Mt. Auburn:

Notice how the Charles still has watery fingers pushing towards the Square (remnants of now long-contained streams running from the north) and how the area along the still-tidal banks is almost industrial. (You can clearly see the College coal wharf.) No Memorial Drive for another few years, and no Harvard Houses either. Where Eliot sits there is a coal-tar plant, Leverett and Winthrop are swamps, and Mather’s site is occupied by a long-vanished boat house. And see the grouping of buildings along Mt. Auburn, including  our beloved Westmorly (or half of it, with A-Entry yet to be built), and how there’s almost nothing to the south worth mentioning? At last, the term “Gold Coast” begins to have some meaning… Oh, and how about that! Something I never noticed before: a Catholic church on Mt. Auburn, too, just west of Claverly where Holyoke Center now stands. Perhaps the predecessor to the later St. Paul’s we now know so well?

All in all a very different Harvard, this, and one we’re able to restore – one pixel at a time – thanks to support from people like 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 a  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 rely on your help to continue our efforts!

EBay, FDR and the Fall River Line

I have another circular tale for your consideration:

During our recent open house over the Harvard-Yale weekend, many of you wanted to know how we found period items for the Suite.

Well, basically it works like this: Three years ago, during our early research, we created a list of objects – furniture, textiles, art, memorabilia, etc. – that were documented from FDR’s letters & other historical records as having been in the Suite, or were presumed from similar rooms pictured in the Harvard Archives.  After that, the process essentially became one large treasure hunt, played across three continents. Whenever my day job permits a bit of down time, I don my Restoration cap, and go out hunting. Sometimes the trips are physical – days spent at antique fairs, or journeys to out-of-the-way dealers – but more often than not, I close the door to my office, and disappear into the Internet. I’ve become a modern day FDR sleuth in my spare time, tracking down bits of early 20th century Harvard from all over the globe. This is especially true when it comes to all the ephemera that once filled the FDR Suite, and which one day, Deo volente, will again. Unfortunately, acquiring this material is not at all straightforward. What was a matter of simple retention for Lathrop and Franklin – a saved theater program here, a football ticket there – becomes hugely involved a hundred years later. Most of the time, when these kinds of items appear, they are offered singly, from single sources, and at great cost.

But not always…

An example: I was delighted to receive a notification last week that a collection of Harvard memorabilia from the estate of Walter S. Hertzog ’05 was going to be sold on Ebay. (For those of you wondering how I learned this, you can program the EBay site to notify you when objects within a certain parameter appear for auction.) While the years weren’t quite what we normally look for, (FDR and Lathrop were ’04), the match was close enough to interest me if the price were right.

Here’s what the collection looked like when I first saw it online. (This is but one view of the original eight.)



“Good lord!” you may be thinking to yourself. “What IS all that stuff? Looks like old scrap paper!” Well, to some extent it is, and before I started researching the FDR project, I might have expressed the same, but now, having seen an odd dozen of these Victorian student collections in the Harvard Archives, certain elements jump right out. For example, that little piece with the string?  It’s is a dance card, worn about the wrist; one lovely lady per dance, still signed up a century later. The postcards with stamps? Those are grade or class notifications: the penny post was the email of the day, and a letter mailed from the College in the morning had a very good chance of arriving that afternoon, in one of the three daily-mail services. You see these cards all over the period photos, if you look closely, tucked into pictures here, there and everywhere. For example, this is the desk I showed you in the last posting:


Now if you look very, very carefully, in the hunting scene above the desk, you’ll see the postcards tucked into the frame. This appears again and again in the period room views we possess, and now, at last, we’ll have some of these exact cards for the Suite:


Then too, on closer inspection, in the cubbyholes of the desk you can make out class exams, grade sheets, tuition bills, all the flotsom and jetsom of student life in 1900 Harvard. This is exactly mirrored in the EBay collection. While some of this material, especially the programs for the 1905 Class Exercises won’t be of use to us, much will, added to the Suite to fill out the picture of everyday living in 1904.  But among all this, here are two items I found particularly interesting:


Now the Fall River Line may not ring any bells to you, having disappeared in 1937, but if you were a wealthy New Yorker in Boston at the turn of the century, you would most certainly recognize the name, as the Line, which ran a train service from Boston to Fall River, and then a steamship service to New York, was one of the easiest and most luxurious ways to travel to and from New England in 1900.


You see, before the days of direct express service, you generally needed to transfer trains multiple  times from Boston to New York, and depending on what Road you used, you might even need to disembark in New Jersey and take a ferry into Manhattan at the end of your journey. (No tunnels at that time!) So instead of this tiresome rail trek, many people in-the-know took the luxurious steamers of the Fall River Line, like the Commonwealth, to New York. commonwealth-hallNow this was no run-of-the-mill boat: first class passengers had their own cabins for the eight hour voyage, and the public spaces, as you can see from the picture to the left, were highly luxurious, featuring a library, smoking room, and a dining room that served a full dinner service, hence the menus we found on EBay.

So what you may ask, has this to do with our hero, FDR?

Here’s a bit from his letter to Sara dated October 8, 1902

Today Alice Sohier left for Europe, and I saw her off on the “Commonwealth.”

Alice Sohier, for those of you wondering, was a strikingly beautiful Boston debutante who had infatuated FDR. As the story goes, he proposed,  she declined, and went off to Europe, departing, as the first stage of her trip, on the Commonwealth to New York. So, do you suppose the couple had one last meal together from this exact menu before the steamer departed, and did FDR once more plead his case? And, had Alice accepted, would young Frank ever become the FDR we now know? We’ll never be sure.

A year later, Franklin proposed to Eleanor, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For our purposes, however, the EBay find presents a wonderful chance to expand and amply the Suite’s narrative, so we’re going to add these menus to the period wire hanger above FDR’s desk, along with an elaborately framed photo of Alice destined for the desk top, as an almost forgotten memento of a farewell lunch that might – given a different response – have changed American history.

All well and good you say. All well and good. But did you finally acquire the items, and at what cost? It must be stupendous!

Nope. A total of $137.50, all brought about by supporters like you.

Oh, and a final postscript: In an ever so appropriate twist, Dr. Walter S. Hertzog ’05 would later become, of all things,  the Director of American Historical Research for the Los Angeles City School Department. The items he so carefully preserved will finally return to Harvard next week, after a century of almost unimaginable journeys.  Those pieces not used in the Suite will be donated to the Harvard Archives.

You see, as I promised: a circular tale, indeed.

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 a  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 rely on your help to continue our efforts!


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!

Why We Fight

why we fight

In 1942, in the first full, dark year of the War, famous Hollywood director Frank Capra had a problem. Commissioned by the Government to make a series of films to demonstrate why America should actively support the war effort, he had the daunting task of convincing a recently non-interventionist population of the need to become involved across the globe. Taking Germany’s own propaganda films, most notably Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will,  and twisting their message back on the source,  Capra managed to create what is today widely credited as one of the most effective documentary-style series of all time. Originally intended solely for the Armed Forces, it was immediately released by FDR to the general public. By 1945, 54 million people had seen Why We Fight.

So, you may be wondering, what does all this have to do with the Restoration? Well, let me tell you: yesterday I was chatting with one of our alums, and I realized it’s been a while since we outlined our progress to date, and what we hope to achieve through our efforts here. So briefly, our battle plan:

The Physical Restoration of the Suite is about 75% accomplished. To date we have raised (and already spent!) a bit over $100,000, and we have approximately another $25,000 to go. I say “approximately” here because the items remaining to be acquired – textiles, rugs, a bronze, period decorative items, framed art & ephemera – vary wildly in price, and some are quite costly: we’re searching for a set of period crew oars, for instance, which will probably set us back several thousand dollars, unless some kind soul donates them. (Hint hint!) But by and large we hope to finish renovation fundraising the summer of 2011 and complete this aspect of the project by that fall.

The next item on the agenda is to develop a Virtual Tour of the Suite, so that anyone around the world can visit  FDR’s student digs and understand what it was like to be at Harvard during the Gilded Age.  To get some idea of what we are talking about, here’s something similar: a tour of 10 Downing Street. Since this tour was completed a few years ago, the graphics are a bit old-fashioned and we hope to do something much more sophisticated, where you can move through the rooms, select individual items and request the background information for each. Though it sounds easy, a project like this is surprisingly complicated, requiring a complete photographic catalog of the room, and some heavy-duty graphics programming well beyond my limited ken. We’re estimating that to get the site up and running will cost $50,000, but once completed, it will provide global access to this remarkable Harvard historical resource.

And finally, The FDR Scholarship Programs. We are seeking to fund two scholarship opportunities. The first provides undergraduates the chance to intern at Hyde Park for the summer, learning historic preservation, museum curatorial skills, participating in public affairs and educational programs, as well as permitting students to work with primary source documents relating to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his life and presidency. Here we would tap into an existing program at the FDR Library and Presidential Museum, essentially funding an extra slot. The cost is $5000 per student per summer. The students work, learn, and receive a small stipend to cover expenses.

The second scholarship program is more ambitious, and is motivated by something FDR’s Harvard roommate and life-long friend  Lathrop Brown said in an interview with filmmaker Pare Lorenz. Remarking on why FDR later became such an effective leader, Brown stated: FDR had traveled much more than most boys of his own age… He had an inquiring mind, and unlike other boys brought up like a litter of puppies in a kennel, who spent their time cuffing each other, he had plenty of time to spend on individualistic pursuits. Because of this, he was more mature in many respects than his contemporaries. His eyes opened earlier.” The key here is travel: by age 15, FDR had spent nearly half of his life abroad, spoke fluent French and German, and had seen much of Western Europe: the very land he would be charged to save 40 years later. It occurred to me, as a former language concentrator, and as someone who came to Harvard on full scholarship – and who returned home each summer to Milwaukee to earn money for the next school year – that while the College has done a magnificent job of equalizing the social and academic experience during the term, the summer break is entirely another matter. So to level the playing field a bit and provide less affluent students with study opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, we’re proposing an FDR Traveling Scholar Program, which would each year award a stipend of up to $8,000 to pay for an accredited academic program abroad, and then, once successfully completed, provide the student with a $3500 stipend to make up for lost summer wages. This program would only be available to Harvard students below a certain economic threshold, and would be awarded to those wishing to pursue clearly delineated goals that foster cultural communication and global understanding in the international spirit of FDR’s fourth inaugural address:

“Today, in this year of war, 1945, we have learned lessons—at a fearful cost—and we shall profit by them.
We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other Nations, far away…  We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community. We have learned the simple truth, as Emerson said, that, ‘The only way to have a friend is to be one.'”

The cost of these two programs would be  $16,000 per annum. At the beginning, these grants will be awarded as funds become available, but over the course of the next five years, we hope to build up a $500,000 endowment to fund these programs annually from investment earnings, as well as to finance expansion of the Suite’s educational mission. This last is critical, as while the College maintains the physical shell of Westmorly Hall, once through the door of B-17, it’s all up to us: the preservation of the interiors and the maintenance of the entire FDR Suite collection is the sole fiscal responsibility of the Foundation. We receive no funds from the College.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is WHY WE FIGHT.

Care to join the battle?  We welcome, and need, your support.

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!