F.D.R. at the Hall

This Hyde Hall “mystery” involves one of the Hall’s most distinguished visitors: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We now have ample documentation from both Clarke family oral tradition and a local newspaper article, that then-Governor Franklin Roosevelt along with his wife Eleanor, two state police officers, and an entourage of reporters and staff paid a visit to Hyde Hall in August 1930.

FDR was enroute to Cooperstown to deliver a speech – he was running for his second two-year term as governor, and only two years away from winning the White House. Interestingly, when I contacted the FDR Library at Hyde Park, they had no record of this event.

FDRAbove: FDR in the fall of 1930 – leaning on his car and using a cane. Normally when walking, due to his bout with polio, he would be aided by one or more state police officers; that summer he traveled to Hyde Hall with both a captain and a sergeant.

The real mystery: In the Cooperstown newspaper report, the future president made a comment about coming here 25 years earlier (or thereabouts?). What would have occasioned his visit circa 1905?

Three theories:

• Might he (and Eleanor?) have been guests at the 1907 wedding of Anne Hyde Clarke and Arthur Choate? Contemporary newspaper accounts of the Choate wedding do not list him among the more prominent guests, but in 1907, the 25-year old FDR was hardly prominent. Choate-Roosevelt connections: The Delano’s (and Roosevelts) and Choates were connected, all part of New York’s relatively insular upper crust.

A few years earlier, Arthur Choate’s uncle, Joseph Choate Sr., Teddy Roosevelt’s ambassador to Great Britain, had been approached by Sara Delano Roosevelt, Franklin’s mother, to see if he would take young Franklin back to London as a secretary at the embassy. Her thinly-disguised aim was to put an ocean between her son and his then-fiancé, Eleanor (there would remain a life-long antagonism between Sara and Eleanor). Fortunately, the ambassador firmly said NO, as Franklin, fresh out of Harvard, had no experience or qualifications for the post.

As president, FDR would appoint Arthur’s cousin Joseph Choate, Jr. to the key post of chairing the post-prohibition Federal Alcohol Control Administration. Joseph Jr.’s wife was photographed as a wedding guest of Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter Ethel in 1913 (below). Eleanor Roosevelt and Anne H.C. Choate both served together for many years on the Girl Scouts National Council.

• Or might he (and Eleanor) have attended Anne’s debutante party in 1905?
• Or stopped by in 1908 when he was in the area with “Cousin Teddy.” That summer, then -President Theodore Roosevelt (Eleanor’s uncle) dedicated the new town library in nearby Jordanville, N.Y. His sister Corinne Roosevelt Robinson had a summer home there and provided a major endowment for the library. Recently the Jordanville library staff kindly copied for me their guestbook for that dedication day, showing signatures of both Roosevelts and other luminaries.

TRAbove: President Theodore Roosevelt at the Jordanville Library dedication, 1908

The Choate’s and Clarkes associated with leaders of both parties (Democrats FDR, Averill Harriman – a distant Clarke cousin through Mary Gale’s family – and Hyde himself ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature as a Democrat; and Republicans Teddy Roosevelt, Nelson and Laurence Rockefeller). Party lines and ideology in their time were not as clearly drawn as today, and perhaps a few degrees more civil, at least publicly and among the leadership.

The family tradition of Teddy Roosevelt visiting Hyde Hall will be considered in an upcoming “mystery” column. From his youth (seeking remedial help for chronic asthma in Richfield Springs and visiting his sister), Teddy was in the area often, and he spoke in Cooperstown on various occasions. But we lack that photo or letter to give us substantiation. More later!

Back to FDR – if you have a clue, suggestion or documentation – please let us know!

-Randy Lamb

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