We had tried to visit Springwood, the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, before. Tried and failed. Our oldest was three years old at the time and “a climber”. It’s not a technical term, it’s just something we used to describe her. For example “We’re sorry she is on your nice couch – “sheeee’s a climber!” And so, being a national landmark full of priceless furnishings in their own right, regardless of whether or not they had once been the property of FDR, and mindful of the lack of humor our then tour guide had, we’d decided not to go in.
So, nine years ago, as the rules of the visit were explained to the group, and our daughter pointed to the upper floors screaming “The beast! The beast!”, we came to the determination that it would be best to skip the visit of the residence and stick to the grounds. Allow me to explain. She was an only child at that point. The twins had not yet graced us with their presence. Plus, she was also a big fan of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”. She must have seen something vaguely reminiscent of “The Beast’s” castle in Springwood, so she started to point and yell “The Beeeeeast!!!” over the stern and humorless voice of the guide. We figured that if we stayed out of the residence she could climb any tree she liked without running the risk of being bodily escorted off premises. It worked.
Nine years later we were back, this time with the twins and without the oldest. The twins were great company, although in all fairness to our oldest, they happen to be older than she was at the time of her aborted visit.
Springwood is a great place to visit with the family. I’m not going to lie and say that the girls were enthralled with the sometimes lengthy explanations of which European royalty had stayed on site, what year the ramps had been added, or at what point the wings were built, but they did learn a fair amount – including some pretty nifty trivia. (OK. OK. One of them still has trouble pronouncing his name, but she knows he was one of our presidents. Sheesh.) They visited and explored “the residence”. (We were told not to refer to it as “the mansion” because that is reserved for the Vanderbilt mansion just up the road from there.) They walked in the rose garden and visited Franklin and Eleanor’s grave site. They explored the same grounds that FDR did as a child. And we started it all off with a picnic at one of its shaded picnic tables. The only thing we didn’t do was visit the Presidential Library, which we have decided to do with – you guessed it – our oldest daughter.
I don’t recall whether the National Park Service operated the historical site when we last went, but I’m sure it did. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have become great fans of the NPS and are making a point of visiting as many of our country’s federal parks as we can. These federal sites are amazing places to visit with the family, and children (as well as adults) can learn a lot while doing it. When we arrived we asked one of the Park Rangers if they had a children’s activity book for Springwood, which they did. In return for listening carefully to our affable new guide, and completing the activities in the booklet, both girls received Junior Secret Service Agent certificates and badges. When asked what her Secret Service agent name would be, one of them (the one who can say “Franklin Delano Roosevelt”) responded “Agent McMuffin.” Now if that isn’t future U.S. President material, I don’t know what is.
If you find yourself in the Hudson Valley and would like to teach your kids a little American history, I recommend a visit to Hyde Park wholeheartedly. Ideas such as “noblesse oblige” may seem outdated, but there is a lot to be said for instilling a desire to help others and your country in our youth. Additionally, it is just a beautiful area to visit with a lot to see including the Vanderbilt Mansion, the Culinary Institute of America and Vassar College.
For more information visit the Springwood National Park Service site: http://www.nps.gov/hofr/index.htm