The FDR Presidential Library recently underwent a massive capital improvement. The museum space expanded for an enhanced visitor experience. During the recent update, the library installed an interactive component to various areas of the museum. Among the permanent exhibitions, the visitor can chronicle the family history of the Delano and Roosevelt families.
As visitors enter the property, it’s as if they travel back in time. The Hyde Park venue is surrounded by massive fields and adorned with slate stone buildings. A massive stonewall marks the perimeter of the property and the landscape is marked by period correct structures. The only exception is the visitor’s center, which is a modern styled structure. The grounds are meant to reflect the time that FDR spent here as well as his eye for forestry. The National Park Service offers a guided informational tour to start your journey. A two-day pass to the library, museum and home modestly priced at $18.00 for a two-day pass. Visitors can elect to visit only the museum and library for $9.00. I recommend the full tour in order to obtain the full FDR experience; I however elected to view only the museum and library as a return visitor.
The journey begins with a walk across an open field from the visitor’s center to a stone building. My initial impression was this building is the same as I remember from my last visit. Once I entered the building, the similarities ended. The museum holds a wealth of artifacts and photographs. The journey begins with an exhibit of FDR’s childhood. I was surprised to see the Eleanor’s childhood was also presented. It was full of interesting photos and the library even has some old report cards! This first exhibit was my first opportunity to see one of the updates to the library. In the center of the exhibit was a massive touch-screen tablet the size of a small table. This massive screen provided the opportunity for the visitor to page thru a massive archive of old photos.
The library’s expansion also permitted additional floor space for temporary exhibits. The current exhibit is “See America”. The walls decorated with New Deal era posters encouraging citizens to travel and see the natural landmarks of the country. The posters are a mix of original and reproductions by the artists.
The artistic theme is carried to the next section of the tour. It begins with a focus upon the Great Depression and how it becomes part of FDR’s path to 1600 Pennsylvania Blvd. The Depression era statics dot the landscape to create the full picture of the state of the economy. FDR’s response to the depression was getting people back to work. FDR was able to accomplish this in large measure to his New Deal programs. The details of the New Deal are laid out for the visitor complete with personal notes and press clippings. The relationship with his uncle (President Theodore Roosevelt) is also highlighted.
To my surprise, the largest section of the tour was the wartime President. Some historians believe that FDR’s greatest feat was the ending the depression, but the role of Commander and Chief seems to be at the center of his legacy. The remainder of the tour is spent walking through the days of World War II. One of the exhibits of note is the original office. It was from that spot that FDR gave some of his most famous “fireside chats”. FDR was able to create a bond with the public, which viewed him as a friend not a political leader. The visitor is able to listen to hear some of the more notable radio addresses in period correct rooms. Possibly the most interesting exhibit for me was the “map room”. FDR created the precursor the “situation room” in his White House. The map room provided him with the most current intelligence and events during the war. Massive interactive screens allow the visitor to pick up a period correct phone and work in the map room.
The journey through the exhibit, covers all aspects of FDR’s life. I was surprised to find that Japanese interment (Executive Order 9066) covered and the aspects of his personal life. The library covers everything from his alleged affair to his adapted car. The majority of the expansion to the library takes place underground to preserve the original state of the campus. Perhaps the most enjoyable change to the site has been the addition of technology. The library is able to display a vast amount of information using the tables. The library uses short movie clips and soundtracks as well. The visitor is able to fully immerse him or herself in the FDR experience.
At the start of my day, I was not sure why the museum would sell a standard two-day pass. However, as I got lost in the exhibit I found myself needing to move faster than I wanted to ensure that I was able to take it all in. I would recommend planning for a two-day visit to fully appreciate all that the library has to offer. The museum has me hooked and I plan to return with my family. The FDR Presidential Library is a national treasure. President Bill Clinton sends the visitor off with an emotional tribute to the late FDR.
More information about the FDR library can be found at http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/
– Dennis Primiano, Marist ’15