On The Trail

Homeschool Hiking

Maddie & Baldwin Visit FDR & Eleanor

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After Maddie spent a day with the Rangers at The Saratoga Battlefield she wanted to go to another National Park. Brian and I gave her a list of close by National Historic Sites and Parks, told Maddie to pick one and research how much it would cost to get in, how much the gas would cost (Brian helped her out!), find a close by campsite and print out directions. Her eyes lit up and she was off to work!! She decided she would like to visit the home of FDR and Val-Kill the home of Eleanor Roosevelt.
She found a New York Campsite nearby called Mills-Norrie Campground. So we were off on Friday night for the adventure!

Unfortunately we do not have much good to say about the Mills-Norrie campground. There was a lot of 20-somethings creating a loud ruckus until well into Saturday morning without any supervision or oversight by the rangers/DEC staff like there has been in other campsites we’ve stayed. In fact it was so bad that we packed up Saturday when we got up and left the campsite. However Maddie and Baldwin had a good time for a while in the morning playing around with the camera and other things.

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Brian had made a coffee run and saw some deer on his way out of the campsite. So when we left we did try to check out the Environmental Center where we saw some cool things like a snapping turtle in the window! The bird on a log is a cormorant. I honestly do not know what those plants were growing out of the mud but they were very cool. Don’t they look like something dinosaurs would eat?
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Maddie’s photos!!
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Then Brian drove the road a bit hoping to see the deer again and we were rewarded! First we saw the momma deer eating along the right side of the road. We were so concentrated on watching her we never looked left.
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Maddie’s photos (from the backseat, through the windshield….)
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We thought Momma was going to cross the road but instead she was calling her baby over! Imagine our surprise when suddenly a little baby was running across the road to get a drink of milk from Momma!!

Photos by Maddie…she got better shots than me!
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photo by Momma this time…
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Then it was on to the Home of FDR and his presidential library. This was interesting because it was the first presidential library ever created. FDR was born in this house and lived here until his death. He passed away while in office so much of what is in the home relates in some way to the presidency.
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We took the tour of the house led by a National Park Ranger then did the self led tour of the library. Here we are walking up to FDR’s home.
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From the porch we looked into FDR’s study where he gave some of his “Fireside Chats” and is also where the some of the Manhattan Project meetings were held. Unfortunately we looked through a window so pictures were not going to come out good and we were trying our best to keep up with the ranger! Once inside the home we were able to look around downstairs and see some of the many collections there. Our 2 favorite rooms were “the snuggery” and the library. I think I will start calling the living room the snuggery! Its such an excellent name. The library was filled with small chairs for children, board games, one of FDR’s wheelchairs (we discovered he purposely had them made from wooden dining chairs so no one would pay attention to it) and many books. One of the books, to Maddie’s delight, was The Burgess Bird Book for Children. I read from this book to the kids at snacktime quite often.

All pictures by Maddie!! You can see Baldwin was having quite a bit of fun..
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We also went upstairs but didn’t take a lot of pictures. What was interesting is that Eleanor let the children have a couple things each from the house but otherwise left it as is for the National Park Service to take over so there are clothes in the closet that FDR wore himself and the direct line phone from his bedside to the White House is also still there. Eleanor moved her own things to Val-Kill and lived there until her death.

Maddie asked about the Junior Ranger program which turned out to actually be a Junior Secret Service Agent program! FDR liked to give the Secret Service quite a run for the money apparently. Eleanor would invite anyone she liked to come visit even people they just met! And FDR had a car specially outfitted so he could drive it with hand controls. We saw the car in the library along with some funny quotes by people like Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mum) about riding in the car. Queen Elizabeth said it was rather terrifying and a relief to arrive at the picnic and most of the quotes were along that line! FDR would try to outrun the Secret Service in his car and since he was driving on his own property he could do it more often than not. So a lot of the questions in the book were about how to keep up with the president and keep him safe when everyone in the world was coming to dinner.
Maddie, Brian and Baldwin working on the booklet
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We took a lot of pictures of Maddie and Baldwin by the signs!
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On our way back to the library we stopped to see the gravesite in the garden.
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There was a very interesting statue called “Break Free” in a small space called “Freedom Court”. This was given to the library from the artist and another was given to the Winston Churchill Library in Iowa(of all places…Iowa? doesn’t matter its now on Brian’s to do list!). The cause both men lead their countries to defend in World War II was overshadowed by the “Iron Curtain” (Churchill coined that phrase) coming down. The artist felt that people breaking free of that was a cause to celebrate in both places honoring these men. The statues are made from the Berlin Wall and I was so interested to see it. We had a long discussion with Maddie again about the Berlin Wall, Communism, The Cold War and Ronald Regan. I was surprised by how thick it was. I thought it was very slim all this time because I recall the people knocking it down with whatever they could get their hands on. It just seemed to me that it was probably much slimmer than it actually was!
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Statue of Churchill…the sun was just too bright!
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Then it was into the library. At the start there are letters from people to FDR when he was president and they included not only “Attaboy” letters (that in fact is all one said…Attaboy!) but also ones from people who were obviously not happy with FDR and his policies (I voted for you and I will always be ashamed of that vote considering what you have done. said one letter). My favorite one however was from a boy 8 years old who wrote to let the president know he was named for FDR and asking for a birthday present! It made me wonder if FDR sent something and what the boy’s parents thought if he did.
As we walked through the library told the story of FDR’s childhood and young adult years, explained a bit about polio and then took us through the Depression and World War II. In several spots there were places to listen to parts of the fireside chat set up like the kitchen or dining room of the time. FDR’s dog Fala was very important to him and he was all over the library as well. Madam President Madeline Grace gave her acceptance speech along with Baldwin.
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photo by Maddie!
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At the end was a set up of the map room in the White House during World War II. The table actually had interactive activities and when you picked up the phone FDR was talking.
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On our way out we got some pictures of Maddie and Baldwin with FDR and Eleanor!
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After that we had some lunch and headed out to Val-Kill.
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This was a home Eleanor built as her own place. It was comfortable and simple which is what she wanted. There were bookshelves and photos everywhere so it rather felt like our house! Many famous people visited here as well as the FDR home. In fact those terrifying rides to the picnic often ended here at Val Kill. There were a lot of home movies to see and photos of some of those people there. Eleanor didn’t feel there was a lot of historic significance to the home despite all of this so there was nothing in her will to preserve the home. In the end 2 or 3 groups were able to save the building from being made into apartments and handed it over to the National Park Service in 1977. They are still working on locating items that were in the home and putting things back into place so sometimes there was an odd spot obviously crying out for a picture to be on the wall. They have records of what it looked like because the librarian at the FDR library sent a photographer to photo the home when Eleanor passed away. The best part of this home for me was the knitting….
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I asked and was told that it is Eleanor’s knitting and her knitting bag. How it managed to stay like this all this time I cannot imagine. How neat to be able to see it though! I just wish I could’ve gotten closer…was it a sweater for a grandchild? And I couldn’t really read the crewelwork on the bag. Ah well…

Once done there we headed for home and, thankfully, a good night’s sleep! This morning Brian made camp breakfast of spam and eggs outside for Maddie.
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Now its back to the real world of groceries and house cleaning!!!

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