Some of you might be wondering, “Why would he go there? Sounds boring.” Museums that open my eyes to a greater understanding of why my world is the way it is, and manage to entertain me at the same time, capture my attention. History geek that I am, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Museum and Library located in Hyde Park on the river’s east bank, fascinated me with its interpretive and interactive exhibits about our 32nd President. Original film footage from the 1930s and 1940s showing in small theaters, posters of the day promoting federal programs to combat the Great Depression, audio recordings of his radio Fireside Chats, oodles of photographs and artifacts––all brought alive this dramatic period of upheaval in American life.
The Museum, operated by the federal government’s National Archives and Records Administration, powerfully captures the dire economic crisis leading to FDR’s 1932 election and his subsequent development of a series of economic programs and projects called collectively the New Deal. With these programs, the federal government assumed a strong role in providing an economic safety net for Americans. World War II also figures prominently in telling the story of this era.
The Museum highlights Eleanor Roosevelt’s prominence in her husband’s success and her support when he contracted polio that put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The exhibit delicately addresses their personal lives, including relationship issues and arrangements outside of their marriage. Yet they worked together to advance their principles of a strong America over the 12-plus years of his presidency.
The exhibition doesn’t skirt around opposition to this new federal role to support Americans’ basic well-being or to the resistance to FDR’s successful fourth term victory as president, cut short by his death from a brain hemorrhage in 1945.
Like any museum I visit, I’m caught up in every detail and sideshow for the first hour; then tired feet and flagging concentration take over and I rush through to the end. Pace yourself. Select topics that catch your interest in the beginning, pass by others, and you’ll be able to enjoy an overview of the entire story told here on two floors before your energy dissipates.
The Museum is open daily. Check the website for details. You can also sign up for tours of FDR’s residence, as well as Eleanor’s home.
Learn more at Fdrlibrary.org.