Did you know that the land in front of the FDR Library is active farm land? President Roosevelt used the large hayfield between the Library and Route 9 (the road at the edge of the property) for farming, and he often expressed the hope that the practice would continue after his death. We continue to honor FDR’s wishes.

Every year the fields are used by a local farmer and in the late summer visitors to the Library are able to see hay bales on the front lawn.

It was FDR’s belief that the field had been farmed by the Native Americans long before it was taken over by the Dutch and English colonists. As proof, he pointed to the several large oaks in the field, some of which still exist. Their spreading lower branches, he said, could have developed only in open spaces, and the only open spaces in Dutchess County before the colonial period were the Native American cornfields.

Political commentator and historian Jonathan Alter signs copies of his book "The Defining Moment" at the 2006 Reading Festival.

Political commentator and historian Jonathan Alter signs copies of his book “The Defining Moment” at the 2006 Reading Festival.

This year is a year of anniversaries for the Roosevelt Library. The recent rededication of the Library building itself on June 30, 2013 marked the 72nd anniversary of the dedication of America’s first presidential library — a milestone in an ongoing effort most people refer to as “open government” today. President Roosevelt left some 17 million papers here so the American people could “learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.”

But 2013 is also the 10th anniversary of the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Home. We’ve greeted nearly 1.5 million visitors there. Our community has gathered in its meeting rooms year after year. We’ve held many special programs and events there. One such event is a unique program that was designed specifically for its versatile spaces. It is a program that could have never occurred in the limited programming areas of 1941 Library building. It is the Roosevelt Reading Festival — a free public program — and it too is in its tenth year.

Roosevelt grandson Curtis Roosevelt speaks about his book "Too Close to the Sun" to a standing room only audience at the 2009 Roosevelt Reading Festival.

Roosevelt grandson Curtis Roosevelt speaks about his book “Too Close to the Sun” to a standing room only audience at the 2009 Roosevelt Reading Festival.

In six concurrent sessions throughout the day, as many as fifteen authors of works that draw upon the Roosevelt Library archives speak about their research, their areas of expertise, and their books. Attendees can choose from many lectures throughout the day — starting on the top of each hour — and create their own experience learning about the Roosevelt era.

That the Roosevelt Library has hosted over a dozen authors of new works on the Roosevelt era each year is no small thing. It is a testament to FDR’s vision that America will continue to learn from the past so long as institutions like the Roosevelt Library are accessible to its citizens.

The 10th annual Roosevelt Reading Festival is this Saturday, July 27, 2013. The twelve featured authors this year include Joseph E. Persico, author of ROOSEVELT’S CENTURIONS: FDR AND THE COMMANDERS HE LED TO VICTORY IN WORLD WAR II and Eleanor Roosevelt historian Allida M. Black speaking on Eleanor Roosevelt’s 1963 work TOMORROW IS NOW which Dr. Black republished in 2012. Copies of all of the authors’ books will be available for sale in the New Deal Store. The program begins at 9:45 a.m. with coffee and refreshments. Attendees can visit the Library’s new permanent exhibition with free admission throughout the day. CLICK HERE for the complete list of authors and the agenda.

Historians Michael Beschloss, James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn discuss the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt at the 2011 Reading Festival.

Historians Michael Beschloss, James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn discuss the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt at the 2011 Reading Festival.

by Lynn Bassanese

Most days at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum are really good; some could even be classified as great. But every once in a while a day becomes exceptional. Last Thursday, July 11th was one of those exceptional days.

We were hosting 120 school counselors and college and university professionals who were attending the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC) conference on the Marist College campus from July 9-11. Marist College is just down the road from the Library and a terrific partner; hosting our website and working with us on digitization projects. Marist arranged for several regional excursions on the last evening of the conference and the Library was very pleased to host part of the group.

Library01

Their visit started in our auditorium seeing the engaging orientation video and then Education Specialist Jeff Urbin welcomed them with the story of King George and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Hyde Park in 1939. We hoped to make our visitors feel as special as the Roosevelts had made the British monarchs feel. Yes, hot dogs were on the picnic menu that Marist was providing later in the evening.

Next we sent them over to our new permanent museum exhibits and set them loose. During their time in the exhibits they had the opportunity to visit our Dutchess County conference room to see some of our most famous original documents. I walked through the exhibits as they visited, answering questions and encouraging them to see everything.

IMG_0808At six o’clock the group gathered in our Visitor Center for a delicious picnic supper. During my welcome at dinner I explained to them what a presidential library was and how important access was to our Library and to our agency, the National Archives and Records Administration. And I reminded them that it was FDR’s vision that people could learn from the past to better create their own future that was the driving force behind all the Library did.

As the folks were getting back on the buses to leave so many people stopped to tell me how much they enjoyed their visit and the new exhibits. So far, I was thinking this was going into the great day category because what Library director does not get a special feeling when people appreciate and love what we have presented. But then an older woman came up to me and took my hand and said she wanted to thank me. She said she was from Venezuela and with tears rolling down her cheeks she squeezed my hand and told me how much this visit meant to her.

“This is what democracy looks like,” she said with the most beautiful smile. And all of a sudden July 11, 2013 became one of the Library’s exceptional days.

These days much of our time is spent on reports and audits, and we must spend so much time looking for ways to cut our budgets and doing more with less. But we should never forget that at National Archives facilities all over the country; at our presidential libraries, at our regional centers, at Archives I and II; we are what democracy looks like. I will always remember the lovely woman from Venezuela who reminded me of that. And how could there be any more important and rewarding job than that!

IMG_7483aby Lynn Bassanese, Director of the FDR Library

I think FDR would have been pleased with the way we rededicated his Library this past week.  It was a gathering of friends and neighbors; short speeches spoken from the heart; and a masterful storyteller, Geoffrey Ward, delighting the crowd with the story of how President Roosevelt planned and built the simple fieldstone building which houses his papers and all of his wonderful things.  We let everyone in free on opening day following the example FDR set on June 30, 1941 when he opened the museum for the very first time.

By all reports, our new museum has been very well received although a common complaint has emerged – there is just not enough time to see everything!!!  So when you plan your visit make sure you leave lots of time to see our amazing new exhibits.  Hope to see you soon.

“It seems to me that the dedication of a library is in itself
an act of faith.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hyde Park, June 30, 1941

On Sunday June 30th, the FDR Library was rededicated after the completion of a three year renovation of the library building. The rededication weekend included the unveiling of new museum exhibits.

David Woolner  Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian The Roosevelt Institute

David Woolner

by David B. Woolner, Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian, The Roosevelt Institute

In the summer of 2000, a group of historians gathered at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum to examine the question of how the permanent exhibit at the FDR Library might be reconfigured for a new generation. The group, which included some of America’s most well-respected historians, was led by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who at the close the two-day session, drew up a report based on the proceeding that was issued to the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

At the core of the discussion and the report that followed was the question of how best to interpret or re-interpret the tumultuous events of the Roosevelt era? How could we help a generation that was born long after Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had gone understand what it was like to live through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the birth of the United Nations or the early years of the civil rights movement?

What topics and issues should be included? How should such controversial issues as the internment of Japanese-Americans or America’s response to the Holocaust be treated? Should we represent Eleanor Roosevelt’s career as separate from FDR’s in the exhibit or should her impact on his life and presidency be intertwined throughout?

Given the enormous historical scope of the Roosevelt era, which—when one includes the influence that Theodore Roosevelt had on Franklin and Eleanor—includes much of the twentieth century, it is not surprising that this initial report did not try to answer all of these questions. Instead it offered a framework from which a smaller historians committee and the staffs of the Roosevelt Institute and FDR Library might draw guidance as they set about the colossal task of trying to develop a new exhibit that would bring one of the most dramatic periods in American history to life for a new generation.

Over the next several years, the historians committee, working closely with the staff and the design team of Gallagher and Associates, would grapple with both the history of the period and how best to present it to the public. With respect to the question of Eleanor Roosevelt, it soon became apparent that her life and influence were so intertwined with Franklin’s that the most meaningful and realistic way to present her in the exhibit was to incorporate her activities with his. The committee also quickly concluded that it was important to remind the visitors that the Great Depression was not confined to the United States but was part of a larger world economic crisis that helped give rise to fascism in Europe and militarism in Asia.

In the same spirit, the committee also came to the conclusion that FDR’s decades-long struggle with polio deserved far more treatment than it had had in the past. While, at the same time, after much discussion and consideration, it was decided that the best way to treat such difficult topics as Japanese internment and the Holocaust was not to take a position, but to present the public with a variety of documents, evidence and different historical interpretations so that they might have the opportunity to make up their own minds about why these tragic events occurred.

Most important of all, the committee thought it was critical to point out the myriad of ways that the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt continue to touch our own, through the transformative programs of the New Deal, which forever changed the relationship between the American people and their government, to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which since its ratification at the United Nations in 1948 has become the “Magna Charta of humanity.”

Nearly three quarters of a century ago, in the midst of the most terrible war in human history,  Franklin D. Roosevelt opened this historic library in the hope that by doing so he might encourage a generation of Americans “so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.” It is the sincere hope of all of the historians who took part in the creation of this new exhibit that the work we have carried out here will build on the profound legacy established by these two extraordinary Americans, so that a new generation may discover, as FDR advised all those years ago, how to build a better future from the past.

The distinguished members of the historians committee were Allida Black, Alan Brinkley, William Leuchtenburg, Edward Linenthal, William J. vanden Heuvel, Geoffrey Ward, and David Woolner.  The Roosevelt Library is grateful to the committee for its hard work, collegiality, and enthusiasm.  The new permanent exhibit project simply could not have been done without this incredible community of Roosevelt scholars.

FiresideEdit

The new museum galleries will feature two immersive Fireside Chat Environments. Each of these environments will have a radio and period furnishings, inviting visitors to sit and listen. After the Chat audio concludes, visitors can hear readings of actual letters — representing a variety of opinions — giving the visitor a chance to hear how Americans felt about the president’s leadership during the Depression and World War II.

1930′s Kitchen
Fireside Chat – Banking
Fireside Chat – Banking Responses

1940′s Living Room
Fireside Chat – “Take Out Your Map”
Fireside Chat – “Take Out Your Map” Responses

Controversial issues are part of every presidency.  As a four term president Franklin D. Roosevelt had his share and as our exhibit design team and historians committee planned our new permanent museum exhibits we talked at great length about how to deal with them.  Our decision was to address these issues head on.  “Confront the Issue” are ten interactive touch screens strategically located throughout the exhibition that offer visitors the opportunity to explore digital “flipbooks” that contain documents, photographs, and excerpts from historians — with multiple viewpoints — related to controversial issues during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Topics include “Japanese American Internment,” “FDR and the Holocaust,” “FDR’s Health,” and “Did the New Deal Really Work?”

The Confront the Issue interactives allow visitors to more deeply explore documentation from the Library’s archival collections and to read excerpts from all sides of the historical debate about these difficult subjects.  Rather than telling the visitor what to think, the Confront the Issue interactives allow them to draw their own conclusions and to gain a deeper understanding of the historical and political context in which FDR did or did not make decisions or took or failed to take action.  There are no easy answers to these questions. Our hope is that after exploring the Confront the Issue interactives is that the visitor will walk away from them with greater understanding and a desire to learn more about it.

by Lynn Bassanese, FDR Library Director
 
The improvised sound booth used to record the narration.

The improvised sound booth used to record the narration.

Putting together a brand new 12,000 square foot museum exhibit has been quite an adventure.  There are countless components that go into the design and fabrication of an exhibit.  Currently, we are working with a design company, an interactive contractor, a fabrication company and an audiovisual production company.

One of the highlights of the experience came on May 6th when museum curator Herman Eberhardt and I traveled to New York City to meet our audiovisual contractor, Monadnock Media, to record the narration for our Legacy film. There are 17 audiovisual productions in our new exhibit ranging from silent film treatments to immersive theater experiences.  But there is no more important film than the one which will be shown in the Legacy Theater, the very last thing people experience in our exhibit.  Here our visitors should understand that the world we live in today is still very much the world that Franklin Roosevelt envisioned and fought for.

Our team struggled with the script for this important theater.  Nothing seemed to hit the mark until our audiovisual producer found an essay that President Bill Clinton had written about FDR back in 2000. As soon as we read it we knew it was our script.  Clinton captured the essence of FDR and his legacy.

President Clinton and now Library Director Lynn Bassanese. February 1993.

President Clinton and now Library Director Lynn Bassanese. February 1993.

I reached out to President Clinton through his staff and my dear colleague, Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library.  I was not only asking to use Clinton’s essay but I wanted him to read it as the narration for our film.  A lot to ask one of the busiest former presidents in our country’s history.

I knew the one thing I had in my favor was that Clinton loved FDR.  He had visited the Roosevelt Library three times during his presidency and once after leaving office.  Fortunately for us he agreed to record – our last hurdle was working with his staff to find the time in his busy schedule.

We did the recording at a New York City hotel after he attended a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.  He seemed a bit tired after a very long day but he was charming and gracious and the minute I heard him reading his words I knew we were going to have an amazing experience for our museum visitors.  Our heartfelt thanks to President Clinton for his amazing generosity with his time and his words and to Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, and Elizabeth Bibi, senior communications associate for the Clinton Foundation, for their assistance in making it all happen.

The installation of the new exhibits is continuing at a very quick pace! Here are some of the latest things things to be installed.

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