Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hyde Park and West Point, New York

Not all travel adventures need to entail long journeys to far away places.  As I recently discovered, sometimes there are interesting places nearby that we discover accidentally or through casual reading.

Such was the case when I read a recent travel article about the lower Hudson River Valley.  In the past few years, I've read a few biographies of past presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson) and started visiting Presidential libraries in my travels.  Having enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "No Ordinary Time", I was pleased to learn that the FDR Presidential Library and Museum along with FDR's home was in nearby Hyde Park, NY.  Looking at a map, I learned that Hyde Park is also home to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site and the Culinary Institute of America.  Another 20 miles down the road from Hyde Park is the US Military Academy at West Point.  If you're passing in or out of New England via I-84 over the Newburgh bridge, Hyde Park is about 25 miles north of Newburgh.

All of this was just 3 hours away.  That was sufficient to spark a spur of the moment 2 day road trip.  It was easy to pack the Roadtrek for this short trip and my son Cavin was eager to join me. 
The FDR Presidential Library and Museum and FDR's Home sits on 265 acres over looking the Hudson River.  Its now managed by the National Park Service.  FDR's father, James, acquired the site in 1867.  What started out as a small farm grew to over 800 acres and became an estate called Springwood.  The original farm house was enlarged over several years to become a small mansion.  It included carriage house and horse stable with much of the land being used for farming and grazing.

FDR was born at Springwood and it was his life long home.  His mother, Sara, inherited the estate upon her husband's dead in 1900 and she continued to live there until her death on 1941.  In 1945, FDR donated it to the Department of Interior but retained rights for the family to live there.  It is now maintained by the National Park Service.

The FDR Presidential Library and Museum is on this site as well as the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center.  It costs $7 to visit the library/museum and another $7 to take a 1 hour guided tour of the home (free for Annual, Senior, or Access Pass holders).

Main Living Room

FDR's Bedroom


Cavin and I spent 3 hours taking the tour and going thru the museum.  Even though I had learned a lot reading the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, I learned a few new things about FDR.

  • He was home schooled at Springwood until he was 14 when he was sent to attend Groton Academy on Massachusetts.
  • He attended Columbia Law School upon graduating from Harvard but dropped out due to boredom.  He ended up studying the law on his own and passing the NY Bar Exam.
  • He became paralyzed due to polio at age 39 and was initially paralyzed from the chest down.  With rehab work he regained the use of his upper body but was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
  • He continued to believe he could regain the use of his legs and continually walked with crutches dragging his legs up and down the long driveway at Springwood.  
  • He served two terms as governor of NY and the public never new that he was paralyzed and couldn't walk.
  • He would get to his second floor bedroom at Springwood using a manual luggage lift (a large dumb waiter) and pull the ropes to lift himself up to the second floor.
  • Eleanor hated living at Springwood.  After finding out about his affair with Lucy Mercer (her former social secretary), she soon moved out to her own cottage in Hyde Park called Val Kill. During FDR's presidential years she kept an apartment in New York city.
  • FDR suffered from high blood pressure, angina, coronary artery disease, and congestive heart failure yet he continued to smoke up until he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 63.  His last words were "I have a massive pain in my head".
Most of us are still benefiting from his many legislative accomplishments that include;
  • Federal Minimum Wage Law
  • FDIC Insurance
  • Social Security
  • National Labor Relations Board
  • Soil Conservation Service
  • Repeal of Prohibition (21st Amendment)
Cavin and I really enjoyed our visit.  The park service does a great job with the tour and facts of FDR's life.

Cavin with Eleanor and FDR
There is a state park nearby that offers camping.  The Mills Norrie State Park is about 5 miles away and sits on the Hudson River north of Hyde Park.  There are 55 campsites with no hook-ups but it does have showers, restrooms and a dump station.  The camping fee is $15/night.

The Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Park is 2 miles north from the FDR home.  Its also run by the National Park Service and offers tours of the home and grounds.  Cavin and I ran out of time and were not able to visit this site.

About three miles south of the FDR Home is the Culinary Institute of America.  This has been called the Harvard of culinary colleges.  You can visit the college campus and there are four restaurants that are open to the public and staffed by the students.  We chose to just get an afternoon snack and drink at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe. I can attest that the chocolate mouse was very good.

West Point Museum

On our second day we drove down the Newburgh, crossed the river and proceeded about 17 miles south to West Point.  At the entrance to the Military Academy, there is a Visitor Center and the West Point Museum which are free and open to the public.  The Visitor Center highlights the Academy and Cadet life.  The Museum houses collections on historical warfare, US military history, US wars, firearms, and the Military Academy.  Bus tours of the academy are available for $13.  These are the only method of public access to the Academy grounds.  We spent 2 hours going through the Visitor Center and Museum, but skipped the bus tour.

Some interesting thing I learned and saw at the museum;
  • Geronimo's rifle that he gave up when he surrendered
  • Herman Goering's pistol and baton that Hitler gave him when he promoted him to Reichmarshall.
  • Patton's Thompson Machine Gun that he kept in his jeep during WWII.
  • Eisenhower's small .38 caliber pistol he kept in his jacket.
  • A copy of the Japanese Surrender document signed on the USS Missouri.
  • Robert E. Lee was Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1852 to 1855.  
  • Douglas MacArthur was also Superintendent of the West Point Military Academy from 1919 to 1922.  He was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times and was awarded it for his defense of the Philippines
Here are some more pictures from our trip.

Cavin with Churchill

At the Library Museum Entrance

FDR's Oval Office Desk (he kept Hoover's)
Roosevelt's edits to his famous speech on Dec 7, 1941

Friday, September 20, 2013

Long Island East End Adventure

My wife and I took a few days in the Roadtrek to do a road trip to the east end of Long Island, NY.   The East End comprises the North Fork and South Fork and includes Shelter Island, the Hampton's, and Montauk.  It's an easy two hour drive south thru Connecticut for us to reach New London, CT and take the Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point on the North Fork.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rhythm and Roots Music & Dance Festival

One New Years Eve (I think it was 1998), I was watching a couple dance to a group called the ZydeCats.  The group was a Zydeco band and the couple was doing a dance that sort of looked like a stationary version of the 2-step.  The only other people dancing were me and my wife.  We had just learned to dance and every so often the group would play a song that we could Swing to.  At the band's break, we walked over to the couple and asked them what type of dance they were doing.  They said they were doing the Zydeco.  That didn't register much with me.  But the woman added the following comment; "If you want to learn how to do this dance and dance to this music, then you need to go to the Rhythm and Roots Festival in Charlestown, Rhode Island."

Festival Food Vendors

Well, its 15 years later, and I just returned from attending the festival for my 14th consecutive year!  This is an annual music and dance festival held for 3 days over Labor Day Weekend.  It focuses on roots music with a big tilt towards dance music from Louisiana.  The promoters import several bands and music artists from Louisiana, with many returning year after year.  This year there were four performance stages and two large dance pavillions.  Its held at a large municipal park in Charlestown, RI which accommodates about 1,500 campers and twice that many day visitors.  Its a popular festival with people coming from all over the country to listen and dance to Cajun and Zydeco music.  And its not all Cajun and Zydeco music.  There's also usually some blues artists, country, string band, and rock a billy. 

Zydeco Dancing at Rhythm and Roots
I learned how to Zydeco dance at this festival as well as learned the Cajun 2-Step and Cajun Waltz.  Zydeco dancing is like doing a 2-step "in a bucket".  Its a partnered dance that is led in a closed ballroom position but also has an open freestyle position.  Its a lot of fun and can be infectious. I know because once I learned it, we started going to monthly Zydeco dances in Rhode Island. That led to going on two Zydeco dance cruises to the Caribbean.  Then there was the week long Cajun / Zydeco music themed bicycle tour thru the Cajun country in Louisiana.   And we started attending an annual Cajun / Zydeco dance festival in Connecticut. 

This year, attending the festival was somewhat uncertain for me.  I had been feeling poorly most of the year due to my IBDs getting worse and being anemic.  I'd lost another 10 lbs and hadn't done any dancing for almost a year.  I bought a festival ticket early in the year out of habit, but wasn't sure I'd have the energy for any dancing or be able to stay on my feet for any duration.  But in mid August, I started to get some energy back and started feeling better.  At Labor Day approached, I was apprehensive and undecided. It would be easy to just stay home, but then again I could try to go for maybe a day or two, follow a slow pace, try to stay off my feet, rest when I needed, and head home early if my energy waned.

But the music was a big pull.  This year, there was a great line of top Louisiana bands which included Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie, The Red Stick Ramblers, Preston Frank, and Corey Ledet and his Zydeco Band.  They also had some great artists I hadn't seen (Albert Lee, Carolyn Wonderland, Amy Helm) and some other blues artists (Steve Earle, Bill Kirchen, Jason D. Williams, Marcia Ball) that I hadn't seen in a few years.

Seeing my friends was also a big pull. Going year after year, I've gotten to know several people who love this music and like me, return each year.  They've become an extended network of friends who I look forward to seeing each year.

My wife had to work part of the week-end and with my uncertainty, she decided to pass on attending.  So, after vacillating a bit more, I decided to go solo.  I took my Roadtrek van (equipped with its own bathroom), took a bike so I wouldn't have to walk so much, packed some healthy food, took plenty of toilet paper, two bags full of medications, extra clothes, a cowboy hat, a pair of dancing boots, and headed for Rhode Island.

Festival Campsite on an old tarmac
Camping the first night before the festival started, my colitis flared up and I wasn't sure I'd make it to the start.  Perhaps I would just head home before things got worse. But I took it hour by hour, toughed it out, and told myself I'd feel better once I heard some music, saw some friends, and got couple of dances under my belt.

It was a prescription that worked.  The next day, I got a good nights sleep, ate all the right foods, and things quieted down.  I had some butterfly's in my stomach on my first foray onto the dance floor.  But after a couple slow Cajun Waltz's my confidence spiked. I hadn't got winded or light headed and didn't have to run to the bathroom.  A good feeling set in that kept improving over the week-end.  The dance steps all came back, friends hugs and warm greetings lifted my spirits, my bowels stayed quiet, my energy was fine, and the music was great. I took is slow but was able to Zydeco, Waltz, Swing dance, and Two Step through out the week-end.

Carolyn Wonderland

The best music is always the stuff I haven't heard before.  For me, the best were blues guitar player Carolyn Wonderland jamming with Bill Kirchen at the workshop stage.  I was amazed at these two artists trading lead breaks with each other on songs that they just picked out the blue having never rehearsed or played together. There was lightning fast finger picking guitarist Albert Lee, who has played with Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, and Bill Wyman, playing rockabilly tunes.

Albert Lee

There was country singer Yvette Landry's soulful singing.  I really liked the new songs that Steve Earle sang along with some of his older material.  And then there was the honkytonk manic piano player Jason D. Williams driving the audience crazy with his antics.  New Cajun bands The Revelers and Feufollet played some great dance tunes.

Jason D. Williams

Thank you Elizabeth, Jane, Jeni, Shelly, Syd, Tricia, and Vicki for the greetings, hugs, conversations, and dances.  I'm so glad I went and got to see / dance with most of you again. Also, it was nice to see friends Peter, Janine, Whitey, and Jim again.

Several years ago when I had a temporary bout with depression, a therapist told me I needed to force myself to do the things I like doing.  He told me it would be hard but assured me that if it got back doing those things, it would help me feel better.  It worked back then and although the circumstances where different, it worked again this time.

 I'm so glad I made in back to Rhythm and Roots again.