Brothers in the Empire State, part 1.

I have two younger brothers, and we all grew up together in Wisconsin before going our separate ways, as siblings almost always do. I stayed in the Badger State, with a brief sojourn to Montana at the start of my radio career, while my brothers Alan and Brian joined our parents in their move to Arizona in 1984. Alan had just finished his undergrad days at UW-Platteville, while Brian was halfway through his at UW-River Falls. Once down in the desert, Alan got his master’s degree from Arizona State and then moved to Spokane, Washington, where he earned a law degree from Gonzaga and eventually set up his own practice in Richland, one of the Tri-Cities in the south-central part of the state. Brian stayed in Arizona, finished his studies at ASU and embarked on a teaching career. He’s an instructor in U.S. history at a Phoenix high school. Each of us boys produced two grandchildren for our parents, a total of four boys, two girls. But we had never been on trips together as adults, so we decided to rectify that situation.

In 2011, Brian and I met in Billings, Montana, and spent a week touring the Old West. Our travels took us from Montana into Wyoming, then to South Dakota, up to North Dakota and eventually back to Billings. It was a great trip; we got to see some important historical sites and natural wonders, rode horses and had a wonderful time. You can read about that trip on my wife Sue’s travel blog, Your Next Journey: On the Trail of History.

 

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Brian and I got in touch with our inner Rough Rider on our Old West trip in 2011.

 

Alan wasn’t able to join us on that trip, so he and I began tossing around some ideas for a journey of our own. He had never been to New York, while I had visited the Big Apple twice, so we eventually put together our itinerary. We would go to New York, and not just to the city. We would see as much of the Empire State and its great historical sites as we could in a week’s time. With the help of Sue, we formulated a workable plan and on July 13th, we took to the air.

 

Monday, July 13 — Big Apple, here we come.

The original plan was to land at LaGuardia on Monday evening, spend the night at a hotel in nearby Garden City, and then tour Theodore Roosevelt’s home, Sagamore Hill. But the site had just finished a long renovation and would be closed on Tuesday, so we decided to spend our first day in Manhattan. It was late at night by the time we pulled into our hotel in our rented Toyota Camry. Alan’s internal clock was three hours behind Eastern time, but he’d also had a long day in the air: Pasco to Seattle to Dallas to New York. My flight, fortunately, was direct from Minneapolis. But we got a good night’s sleep and the next morning headed into the biggest city in the country.

 

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Lady Liberty and the Big Apple were waiting for us.

 

Tuesday, July 14 — The Tindell brothers take Manhattan.

One thing we’d decided to do on this trip was to plan our days carefully well in advance. Sometimes it’s okay to be spontaneous, but when you’re traveling you can only get away with that for so long before things start getting fouled up. And we definitely didn’t want to get fouled up in the Big Apple, so one thing we did was to reserve a parking space. Parking is at a premium in Manhattan, which is home to over 1.6 million people. Surprisingly, it is not the most heavily populated of New York City’s five boroughs; Brooklyn and Queens have more people, but the density is greatest on Manhattan. I’d done some research and found a reasonably-priced parking garage for us to use during the day, through this site: www.nyc.bestparking.com. We made our way into the city and found our reserved spot just west of Central Park. The weather was beautiful and we headed out on our big Manhattan adventure.

Our first stop was the Dakota building, just a couple blocks from our parking garage. The Dakota is perhaps New York’s most famous apartment building. It was built in the early 1880s by the Singer Sewing Machine founder, Edward Clark. Today the Dakota’s apartments sell for up to $30 million. It’s at the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West, and in the late 19th century this part of the city was sparsely populated, like the Old West, hence the name. It’s a cooperative, meaning the board that runs the building has the right to reject any application for tenancy. Among those who haven’t made the cut are singers Billy Joel and Carly Simon and rocker Gene Simmons of KISS. But the list of famous people who have lived there is much longer: actors like Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, Boris Karloff and Jack Palance; media personalities Connie Chung and her husband Maury Povich; former football star Joe Namath and coach John Madden. But we were there because of the Dakota’s most famous resident, former Beatle John Lennon. Alan and I are big Beatles fans, and we wanted to see the spot were Lennon was slain in 1980. The building is undergoing a renovation, so we weren’t able to photograph it in its true glory, but here’s a shot from its Wikipedia entry. Below that is the location of Lennon’s murder, as we saw it this day.

 

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“The Dakota May 2005” by Makemake at the German language Wikipedia.

 

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Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, were coming home from a recording studio on the night of December 8, 1980, when he was shot four times by Mark Chapman, a security guard from Honolulu who had gotten Lennon’s autograph at the same spot just a few hours earlier. Lennon was pronounced dead at Roosevelt Hospital. Alan and I both heard the news, as did millions of other Americans, while watching Monday Night Football, when Howard Cosell relayed the bulletin.

We made our way into Central Park, becoming two more among the 35 million visitors the park receives each year. First constructed in 1858, the park today is over 800 acres in size, a half-mile wide and two and a half miles long. Despite its natural appearance, the park is entirely landscaped. Ten years ago a property appraisal firm estimated the real estate value of Central Park at over half a trillion dollars.

 

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Alan at the Strawberry Fields memorial for John Lennon.

 

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Conservatory Water, one of the park’s many artificial ponds and lakes.

 

We exited the park on the east side and headed south. The weather was warm but not unpleasant; I’d warned Alan that when it gets hot and muggy in Manhattan it’s really hot and muggy, but today it was just right. Our intention today was to check out some places and then hit the road for our evening destination around 4pm, beating rush-hour traffic. Our itinerary would have us back in the city just four days later, so we would save some sights for that day.

 

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On 5th Avenue, Alan stops to take a photo of the office building built by the man who might be president just over a year from now.

 

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At the intersection where 5th Avenue meets Broadway is the famous Flatiron Building, built in 1902. The New York Times called it “a monstrosity,” but it’s since become a beloved NYC icon.

 

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We took our first cab ride down to 20th St. to check out the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Museum, a reproduction of the brownstone where TR was born in 1858. Alas, it was closed.

 

Another cab ride took us back north. There are over 16,000 full-service restaurants in Manhattan, but for our first lunch of the trip we’d chosen one that was on Alan’s bucket list: PJ Clarke’s on 3rd Avenue, one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite hangouts. Check out the bar’s website here: PJ Clarke’s on 3rd. Inside, it was everything we’d hoped: cozy, historic, and best of all, not yet very busy, so we were able to get seats at Sinatra’s favorite table, across the room from the table where Buddy Holly had proposed to his wife.

 

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Alan at the bar of one of the Big Apple’s most famous watering holes, built in 1884.

 

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From our first table, the Holly proposal table would be on the wall at the right.

 

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Our server was happy to give us the use of Sinatra’s table for what turned out to be a splendid meal.

 

Since I’d visited New York City a couple times before and had seen the major sights already, I’d told Alan that he was in charge of our days here. So, where to next? The Museum of Modern Art, which would be the first museum we’d see on the trip, but definitely not the last.

The MoMA, as it’s known, opened in 1929 and today is regarded as one of the world’s finest. On 53rd Street between 5th and 6th avenues, the museum houses some 150,000 pieces of art, along with about 22,000 films and over 4 million film stills. The feature exhibit today was by Yoko Ono, which was only appropriate, since we’d started our city tour at the building where she still lives, 35 years after her husband’s death. We headed up to the top floor, which housed the exhibit. It was, to say the least, unique.

 

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The first piece in the Ono exhibit is this apple. It’s a real one, and over the span of days it does what apples do, which is ripen and then decay. Much of Ono’s art is constantly changing. Into what, we were not always sure.

 

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This is a photo of an actual film that was being displayed on the wall. It consists entirely of various people’s naked buttocks, filmed as the person was walking, presumably on a treadmill.

 

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Toward the end of the exhibit was this empty bag. It is for performance art; visitors are encouraged to get inside the bag, disrobe, then put their clothes back on and emerge. The experience is supposed to have a profound effect on the participants. No more than two at a time, please. Alan and I declined.

 

There was, of course, much much more to see in the MoMA. Some of it was familiar, by familiar names. Much of it was completely new to us. Hey, you don’t often see a lot of artwork in northwest Wisconsin, or south-central Washington, for that matter.

 

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The works of Picasso were prominently displayed at MoMA. “Girl Before a Mirror” (1932)

 

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One of Van Gogh’s most famous works, “The Starry Night” (1889) drew a lot of interest.

 

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Gauguin’s “The Seed of the Areol” (1892). My wife and I had visited Tahiti in late 2013 and sailed on a ship named for the famous French painter.

 

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There were many pieces that were somewhat, well, different. Like this one, by American artist Lawrence Weiner (1942). There actually is not a bullet hole in the wall; like all of Weiner’s sculpture, the work can be displayed as written language or the physical manifestation of the described action. In this case, the curators chose the words.

 

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Andy Warhol brought 1960s celebrities to vivid artistic life, like one of his favorite subjects, Marilyn Monroe.

 

By the time we exited the MoMA, it was getting on toward our scheduled departure time, so we walked around a little while longer and then cabbed it back to our parking garage. Traffic was already starting to build up; in actual fact, of course, Manhattan traffic never really lets up, except perhaps in the wee hours. I was at the wheel and Alan was the navigator, with his trusty GPS display on his phone. We set out to our next destination on Highway 9A, along the eastern shore of the island, past Harlem and Washington Heights. The highest point on Manhattan, the Heights are the site of the November 1776 Battle of Fort Washington, in which British troops and their German allies pushed George Washington’s colonials off the island to New Jersey. Washington and his men had to row across the Hudson River, but we took the bridge named after the first president. Nicknamed the GW, it is the busiest motor vehicle bridge in the world, carrying more than 100 million vehicles per year. It is the world’s only 14-lane suspension bridge, and the main span is 3,500 feet long. For six years after its dedication in 1931 it was the longest main span bridge on the planet, but the GW yielded that honor to the Golden Gate Bridge when it was opened in 1937.

We reached the town of Kingston a couple hours later and checked into our lodgings for the evening, the Hampton Inn, and then headed downtown to find a restaurant for dinner. One of our goals on the trip was to seek out unique dining spots. We’d already scored big with our lunch at PJ Clarke’s, and we found another gem down at the waterfront, Mariner’s Harbor. Check out their site here: Mariner’s Harbor.

 

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Kingston’s waterfront is on Rondout Creek, which empties into the Hudson not too far away. A great spot in which to end our first full day in New York.

 

After a fine meal we headed back to our hotel. The next day we would head further north, through the Catskills to Cooperstown, and the site of a place we’d wanted to visit since we were kids: the Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

Wednesday, July 15 — Cooperstown.

I’ve been a baseball fan since my dad took me to my first big league game. This will date me, but it was in the summer of 1963, I think, which would be between my kindergarten and first grade school years. We were living in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis, and we went to see the Milwaukee Braves play. I think the opponent was either the Chicago Cubs or the St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves had moved to Milwaukee from Boston ten years earlier and electrified the entire state, setting attendance records at County Stadium and winning two National League pennants and one World Series in the late fifties. By the time we went to that game the Braves were starting to fade as pennant contenders, although they never had a losing season in their 13 years in town. The biggest factor in the team’s attendance decline was its purchase in 1962 by a Chicago group headed by Bill Bartholomay, who made no bones about wanting to move the club to a larger TV market. The Braves would leave for Atlanta after the ’65 season, but until they did, they were my team. We left St. Francis in ’64 but I still wore my Braves jacket and cap proudly until my heroes left for Dixie.

 

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My dad’s favorite Brave, and therefore mine, was third baseman Eddie Mathews, who hit 512 home runs in his long career and made the Hall of Fame. Despite a logo that would today be considered horrifyingly politically incorrect, the Braves were huge hits in Wisconsin during most of their 13 seasons in the state.

 

The Braves were replaced in Milwaukee by the Brewers in 1970 and my love affair with baseball resumed (after brief flirtations with the Chicago Cubs and White Sox in the intervening years). Like every other baseball fan, one of my dreams was to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and today we would finally get there.

Before leaving Kingston, though, we visited a cemetery, the first of several we would see on this trip. Alan is a grave hunter, which is someone who searches for the burial sites of famous persons. We weren’t sure who might have been in the cemetery that surrounded the Old Dutch Church, but many of the headstones were from the colonial era. Several were the graves of Revolutionary War veterans, like the one with the flag in this photo:

 

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Officially known as the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Kingston, the church is one of the oldest continuing congregations in America, dating back to 1659. The current building, erected in 1852, is the congregation’s fifth. Inside is a handwritten note from George Washington, who visited the congregation in 1782 to thank them for their support of the colonial cause. In the cemetery are some 300 headstones, the oldest having been dated to 1710, the most recent in 1832. The biggest marker, for the cemetery’s most famous resident, is this one:

 

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The headstone of George Clinton (1739-1812), the 4th Vice President of the U.S.

 

Nobody really remembers George Clinton today, but he was one of many important men in the early decades of our nation. He was commissioned a brigadier general in the Continental Army in 1777 and continued his military career while serving as Governor of New York, the first in state history, from that same year until 1795. He served another term from 1801-04 and then was elected the fourth vice president of the U.S. in 1804. He served two terms under two different presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The only other man to be VP in two administrations was John C. Calhoun (under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson from 1825-32). Clinton suffered a fatal heart attack late in 1812 and thus became the first VP to die in office. He is, as far as we know, no relation to another Clinton who would be elected president 180 years after his death.

It was about two hours to Cooperstown, according to Alan’s GPS, so we set out after our exploration of the cemetery. We discovered that there was no real direct route to the town, so we wound our way through the Catskills. This region is about 6,000 square miles of forest and lakes, dotted with small towns along with resorts that for decades have served as summer getaways for New York City residents and also as the training grounds for legions of famous comics, such as Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield. The movie Dirty Dancing was set at a Catskills resort in the summer of 1963. Long before the resorts were built, the Catskills were explored and settled by Dutch and English immigrants in the 17th century. The writer Washington Irving set many of his stories here, including “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Before the Europeans came, the Catskills were sparsely populated by Native Americans, including the Mohicans, and before this day was out I would encounter a connection between those early peoples and my own life.

None of our photos could do the Catskills justice, so here’s one from Wikipedia:

 

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It was gorgeous country to be sure, and eventually we found ourselves entering Cooperstown. Some casual baseball fans might wonder why the game’s Hall of Fame is located in a hard-to-find village of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants in upstate New York. Well, it’s because this is where the game, according to legend, was born. This is the man credited with inventing the national pastime:

 

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Abner Doubleday (1819-93), Civil War general, lawyer, author, and the man once credited with inventing baseball.

 

Abner Doubleday was born into a military family in 1819, in the eastern New York village of Ballston Spa. Both of his grandfathers served in the Revolutionary War; one of them was Washington’s messenger.  His father had fought in the War of 1812. Doubleday was sent to Cooperstown to live with his uncle during his high school years and entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1838. After graduation he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army and would serve for 31 years, rising to the rank of major general. He fought against the Mexicans and later the Seminoles. April 1861 found him second in command of the garrison at Fort Sumter, and he is credited with firing the first shot in defense of the fort after the Confederates began their bombardment. Later in the war he fought at Gettysburg and then served in Washington D.C., where he became friends with President Lincoln, accompanying the president on the train to Gettysburg to deliver his address later in 1863.

Doubleday’s connection to baseball came about as the result of the Mills Commission, formed in 1905 to determine the origin of the game. The commission, chaired by National League president Abraham Mills, determined that Doubleday laid out the first baseball diamond in a cow pasture owned by farmer Elihu Phinney in 1839. How Mills came to this conclusion is unknown. Doubleday never mentioned the game in any of the many papers he left after his death. His obituary in The New York Times said nothing about baseball being a part of Doubleday’s life. Mills himself had been a colleague of Doubleday’s during the war and served in the honor guard as the general lay in state in New York City, and Mills admitted he had never heard his longtime friend talk about baseball. The entire basis for the commission’s conclusion, evidently, was testimony by an elderly Denver mining engineer named Abner Graves, who claimed to have witnessed Doubleday putting together the very first game of “base ball” in Cooperstown back in 1839. Graves’s claim was never substantiated; a short time later he shot his wife to death and was committed to an insane asylum. Nevertheless, the commission was influenced more by a desire to credit the game to a purely American origin rather than as an evolution of the English game of rounders, and Mills wrote a memo in 1907 declaring the Doubleday story to be authentic. By then the general was 14 years in his grave and unable to dispute the account. Less than 30 years after the Mills report, Cooperstown was selected for the site of the Hall of Fame.  

We headed to our lodging for the evening, the Tunnicliff Inn, which fit in perfectly with our goal to stay mostly in unique, local places. Check out their website here: Tunnicliff Inn. It’s less than 500 feet from the inn to the Hall, and we took a moment to take in the quaint downtown district, which is, as you might expect, baseball-themed.

 

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Downtown Cooperstown, with the Hall ahead on the right.

 

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A sign in the window of an ice cream shop. The owner told us he’s had some applicants who didn’t bother to read the sign.

 

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We’re here! Lifelong dreams realized at last.

 

The Hall of Fame was dedicated in 1939, and today houses plaques honoring 215 former Major League players and dozens of others who played in the old Negro Leagues, along with people who served the game as executives, managers, umpires, and broadcasters. All of them are men except for Effa Manley, an African-American woman who was a co-owner of the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League.

I’d expected that visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame would be a heavenly experience, and if anything, the Hall exceeded my expectations.

 

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Every team has its own “locker,” and here’s the one for the team I’ve followed since they came to Wisconsin in 1970.

 

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The Babe Ruth exhibit includes the Babe’s last uniform.

 

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The game’s history is on display, with great teams awarded special notice, like the Braves of the late ’50s.

 

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The Baltimore Orioles won 6 American League pennants and 3 World Series from 1966-83, with some of the game’s greatest players. Our dad was offered a contract by the O’s after leaving the Army, but turned it down to attend college. There’s no doubt in my mind that if he’d played ball, his jersey would be here.

 

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Henry Aaron has a special display. The great slugger played for the Braves from 1954-74 in Milwaukee and Atlanta, finishing his career with two years back in Milwaukee for the Brewers. One of my great thrills, shared by millions, was watching the TV broadcast of Aaron’s 715th home run early in the ’74 season, breaking Ruth’s record.

 

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The Gallery, where the plaques of the game’s greatest players are on display.

 

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At the end, the plaques of the Hall’s first class, elected in 1936. Clockwise from top left: Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb in the middle.

 

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To the right of the First Class plaques are statues for two of the game’s greatest hitters, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, who combined for 1,235 home runs. Williams hit .344 in his career; Ruth’s .342 was right behind him.

 

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There’s a special wing for Baseball in the Movies, including this display from the best baseball movie ever, The Natural.

 

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In the broadcasters wing, microphones used by some of the game’s earliest voices. The NBC mic on the left was used by Graham McNamee, who worked his first World Series in 1923.

 

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Baseball is more than a game, as any real fan knows, and a few years ago the Hall added this special recognition of three of the game’s greatest players who epitomized the theme “Character and Courage.” From left: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente.

 

We spent several hours in the Hall, taking in as much as we could. Like any great museum, it was almost overwhelming, but well worth the time. Of course we had to stop in the bookstore to stock up on a few volumes, and the gift shop was something to see all by itself.

After exiting we strolled down the street and within a few blocks, there was Doubleday Field, which is on the spot of farmer Phinney’s pasture. First constructed in 1924, the ballpark today seats just under 10,000 and is right out of The Natural. From 1940-2007, two Major League teams would meet here in an exhibition game during the Hall’s induction weekend. Today it’s used by the local high school and American Legion teams. One would think it would be a great town for a minor league team, but the field has no lights. It’s rustic and doesn’t have much in the way of amenities, but it would be a great place to play baseball, that’s for sure.

 

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Next to the ballpark is a place where you can take some cuts in batting cages against pitching machines. Like the ballpark, it’s old-school, and cheap. Five bucks gets you ten pitches in one of four different cages, with each machine throwing a different pitch. Both of us took a turn; I went through all four. I had not faced any kind of baseball pitching, human or mechanical, in a very long time. The fastball machine blew every pitch right by me, although I fouled a couple off, but against the breaking ball machines I did pretty well. Oddly enough, as a kid I could hit fastballs pretty well but had trouble against the breaking ball, one reason I chose not to play ball in high school ( and one of several early decisions I wish I could take back).

 

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It had been a big afternoon, but it wasn’t over yet. There was a cemetery on the edge of town, and Alan wanted to take a look at it. We had to drive it because it was more of a hike than we wanted at that point, but it was worth the effort.

Lakewood Cemetery is a couple miles outside the Cooperstown village limits and overlooks Otsego Lake. Dedicated in 1857, Lakewood holds the remains of nearly 5,000 people. The most imposing monument, though, is for someone who is actually buried somewhere else.

 

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The monument to Cooperstown native James Fenimore Cooper, considered the first American novelist. His actual resting place is in Christ Churchyard in Cooperstown.

 

James Fenimore Cooper was born in New Jersey in 1789 but grew up in Cooperstown, which was founded by his father William, hence the name. James went to Yale at age 13 but was expelled three years later after blowing up a fellow student’s door, the most serious of several pranks pulled by the young man. He went to sea on a merchant ship and then joined the Navy, commissioned as a midshipman thanks to the influence of his father, a former Congressman. His naval service inspired several of his novels, and his explorations of upstate New York while serving on Lake Ontario led to his most famous work, the series known as the Leatherstocking Tales. Cooper’s first best-seller was The Spy, a story of Revolutionary War espionage published in 1821. Cooper is best known for the creation of one of American fiction’s earliest and greatest characters, Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo, who was the protagonist in the five Leatherstocking novels. Bumppo was a white man who grew up among the native Delaware tribe, and his best friend was his foster brother, the Mohican known as Chingachgook. Skilled with all weapons but especially the long rifle, Bumppo was called the “Deerslayer” and “Hawkeye.” Although, alas, I have yet to read any of Cooper’s work, his most famous novel, The Last of the Mohicans, featuring Bumppo, has been portrayed on the movie screen several times, most recently in 1992, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. It was the first movie Sue and I ever went to see together, and a better first-date movie you’ll never find, except perhaps for The Mask of Zorro.

 

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It had been a big day, but it was time to wind down. We dined in the Tunnicliff’s basement restaurant, The Pit, and retired for the evening after spending a little more time exploring the downtown. The next morning we would hit the road again, heading east to the Hudson River and the first of two presidential homes we would see on this trip.

 

 

Thursday, July 16 — Hyde Park.

We were once again blessed with terrific weather as we departed Cooperstown for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Hyde Park. We crossed the Hudson at the town of Catskill and headed south, taking in more great scenery. At a couple stops we had noticed that the State of New York’s tourism folks were extolling the virtues of their upstate, and for good reason. The countryside was beautiful, the towns and villages picturesque. By mid-morning we arrived in the town of Hyde Park and checked into our hotel, the Quality Inn, just down the road from FDR’s home.

The Roosevelt family had been prominent in New York state for generations by the time Franklin was born in 1882. The first to come to America was Claes Maartenszen van Rozenfelt, who emigrated from the Netherlands and settled on Manhattan around 1648. He bought a 48-acre farm that included the site of the future Empire State Building. His son Nicholas was the first to Anglicize the family’s surname to Roosevelt and also the first to get into politics, serving as an alderman. Nicholas’ son Johannes would sire what would become the Oyster Bay branch of the family, which produced Theodore Roosevelt, while his son Jacobus was responsible for the Hyde Park branch, from which came Franklin. Thus, the two presidents were fifth cousins. Although the Hyde Park Roosevelts were staunch Democrats and the Oyster Bay Roosevelts were Republicans, Franklin brought the two branches closer together by marrying TR’s niece. Eleanor Roosevelt was the daughter of Theodore’s younger brother Elliott, who had died when Eleanor was ten. The wedding took place at the New York City home of Eleanor’s grandmother on St. Patrick’s Day in 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt gave the bride away.

FDR’s home, Springwood, was purchased by his father James in 1866 for $40,000. This was at a time when a factory worker might earn a dollar a day. In today’s money that would be about $600,000, but one could easily imagine that a home that large (15 rooms at the time) with over 600 acres, and on the Hudson to boot, would be worth at least ten times that amount in today’s real estate market. James remodeled and enlarged the home over the next 34 years until his death in 1900, when it passed to his wife Sara, FDR’s mother. Franklin and Eleanor moved in as newlyweds and lived there with his mother, with Franklin returning often after the future president purchased a town house in the city. During his 12-year presidency FDR visited Springwood more than 200 times, considering it to be his “summer White House,” although by then he’d built Top Cottage on the property for his private use. In 1915, Franklin and his mother engaged in the final remodeling and expansion of Springwood into the form it has today. He also did extensive reforestation of the surrounding land, planting some 400,000 trees.

Springwood is separate from the FDR Library. Roosevelt was the first president to set up a library, and the only one to actually use it as a workplace while he was in office. Prior to FDR’s time, a president’s papers might eventually find their way to the Library of Congress, but probably not. Roosevelt didn’t want that to happen with his papers, and he intended it to include records from all his public life, which began when he entered the New York state senate in 1911. At the time he began construction in 1938, he did not anticipate running for an unprecedented third term. By the time he died in office in April 1945, Roosevelt had been president for just over 12 years, a record that will never be broken unless the Constitution’s 22nd amendment is repealed. By 1950 it was estimated that FDR’s library included more than 50 million items, including 16,000 books and 275 million feet of movie film.

 

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The main entrance to Springwood, looking almost exactly as it did during FDR’s presidency.

 

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The main section of FDR’s prodigious library, which also served as the living room.

 

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The wall of the library, holding just a few of FDR’s 14,000 books.

 

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The president’s sitting room, which contains an early television set, presented to him as a gift.

 

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The bed where the future president was born on January 30, 1882.

 

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FDR’s childhood bedroom.

 

Below, the bedroom FDR used while president. During World War II, a special telephone was installed on the wall next to the bed.

 

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Springwood’s garden is a beautiful collection of flowers and carefully manicured lawn. In the background of the photo at left is the stable.

 

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The burial site of the president and his wife. The marker is a block of marble equal in size to FDR’s desk. Two of his dogs, the famous Fala along with the German shepherd Chief, are buried behind the marker.

 

Our family has been a dog-loving family for generations, and so was FDR’s. Fala was the most famous of his dogs by far. A Scottish terrier who was given to President Roosevelt as a puppy in 1940, he became the president’s constant companion. FDR even issued an order saying that Fala could be fed by nobody except the president. During his 1944 campaign for an unprecedented fourth term, some of FDR’s Republican opponents circulated a story that said Fala had been left behind when the president had recently visited Alaska, and Roosevelt had sent a Navy destroyer back to get the dog, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. The story was, of course, untrue. During a speech at a dinner, FDR responded, “I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself…But I think have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog.” Fala outlived his master by six years. Eleanor said the dog often went to the front door when he heard cars pull up, thinking his beloved master had finally returned.

 

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Our next stop was the library. This was my first trip to a presidential library; Alan had visited the Reagan library in California, and our brother Brian has been to a few more. The name “library” conjures up images of row after row of books, but in the case of a presidential library it is more of a museum, although there are archives available for research.

 

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Alan strolls through the Freedom Court, erected to commemorate the vision of FDR and Winston Churchill for Allied victory in WW2 and peace in our time afterward. The sculpture in the middle is made from sections of the Berlin Wall. Titled “Break Free,” it was created by Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.

 

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Afflicted with polio at age 39 in 1921, FDR coped with his paralysis by using these leg braces, as well as engaging in vigorous physical therapy. He was rarely photographed in his wheelchair.

 

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The museum highlights the Roosevelt presidency, which began in the depths of the Depression in March 1933. In his first hundred days, FDR aggressively addressed the economic crisis that was threatening to destroy the country.

 

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FDR was the first president to utilize radio to get his message directly to the people. His “fireside chats” became famous. The museum includes this reproduction of a Depression-era kitchen, where you can listen to excerpts from his chats. This couple was listening to FDR’s talk about the start of Social Security.

 

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FDR’s library office.

 

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The draft of FDR’s speech to Congress on December 8, 1941, asking for a declaration of war against Japan.

 

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In his State of the Union speech earlier in 1941, FDR outlined his “Four Freedoms,” immortalized by the artist Norman Rockwell two years later as illustrations for a Saturday Evening Post series of essays.

 

World War II was, of course, the subject of much of the library’s displays, including the reproductions of newspaper headlines and propaganda posters shown below left. Below right, a re-creation of the White House map room, where FDR could keep track of events on all fronts. The president had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of world geography; he’d begun studying maps as a child and was a lifelong stamp collector. The National Geographic Society provided his maps and kept them updated. The Map Room, created in early 1942 in the White House basement, was off-limits to all but a select few people approved by the president. Not even the Secret Service was allowed in. The room was the forerunner of today’s Situation Room.

 

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The library was an amazing experience. Many of the displays were interactive, and the discussions of his policies, especially his economic initiatives, were rather surprisingly balanced. Eighty-three years after his election, historians are still debating FDR’s policies for both war and peace, and the library reflects that effort.

After leaving Springwood and the library, we drove back through Hyde Park to visit another mansion we’d heard about. This one was built by Frederick W. Vanderbilt (1856-1938), who’d made his fortune in railroads. Vanderbilt’s niece inherited the estate upon his death, and FDR persuaded her to donate it to the National Park Service. Some of Roosevelt’s Secret Service detail and household staff stayed here during the president’s visits to Springwood. Near the mansion are Italian-style gardens designed by Vanderbilt, who was a noted horticulturalist. The estate offers spectacular views of the Hudson River.

 

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It had been another great day, and we found yet another unique dining spot. The Eveready Diner in Hyde Park is relatively new but built in a style that evokes the fifties. And the food was really good. The first pic is from the diner’s Facebook page, but the interior shots are ours.

 

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After a fine meal we repaired back to our hotel to get some shuteye and prepare for our next day. We would be heading further south along the Hudson to yet another place that Alan and I had always wanted to visit: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

 

 

 

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