Roosevelt Deep-Dive Event

Roos_Eleanor as a teenagerRoos_Franklin at age 18

We know Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as towering figures of the 20th century, but who were they as people? What were they like while growing up? What were the experiences (aside from Franklin’s polio) that shaped them and prepared them for their entry onto the world stage? What help did they receive from others along the way, and who were these friends and helpers?

The weekend of Friday May 4th thru Sunday May 6th I’ll be hosting a two-and-one-half day introduction to Franklin and Eleanor that attempts to answer all of these questions and more. The event will feature tours of the homes of FDR and ER (Springwood, Val-Kill, & Top Cottage), a bus trip to Oak Terrace (where Eleanor spent much of her childhood) and family gravesites in Tivoli and Hyde Park, sessions with National Park Service staff describing their work in maintaining and curating these national treasures, and informational sessions on the life stories of ER and FDR and the wider world into which they were born.

This will be a small group event of no more than 20, allowing participants maximum engagement, and is geared to the interested lay-person looking to learn about Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt as people and as life partners.

For more information please visit:

Cost: $145 per person

Note: This event will be limited to the first 20 people to register and pay the registration fee.

To register, please call Steve Adams at (607) 592-1583, or contact Steve via email at

Payment can be made by check or by credit card over the phone.

Motel accommodations are available in Hyde Park. A list of local motels can be provided upon request. Inclusion in the list does not imply any recommendation.


Fort William Henry 01 (949 x 534)

Today’s recreated Fort William Henry, on the shore of Lake George

Daniel Day-Lewis announced recently his retirement from acting. That’s unfortunate news for movie fans. I won’t try to characterize him as an actor, other than to acknowledge him as one of the greats, having won three Oscars amid a ridiculously long list of awards. Wikipedia has a good entry on his person.

At the risk of appearing hopelessly middle-brow I confess that I remember him most prominently in his role as Hawkeye in Michael Mann’s 1992 remake of The Last of the Mohicans. I enjoy the film’s warmth and its verisimilitude in scenes such as the besieging of Fort William Henry and the attack on the fort’s occupants on their way out. And I appreciate the film’s ability to convey the naked brutality of the time and place without bathing us in graphic depiction.

The film’s creators changed the original story, but I don’t begrudge it them. Audience taste and sensitivities change. In the film, Uncas and Hawkeye are brother-like friends, with Chingachgook as father and father-figure, while in the original it was Hawkeye and Chingachgook who were the brother-like friends, with Chingachgook’s son Uncas as the young one. The film wanted to showcase a romantic relationship between Hawkeye and Cora Munro, something that had no place in the original. And there are other changes, insertions, and omissions that allow the storytellers to retain the skeleton of the original work while adding layers of detail that project our own story onto the original frame.

The novel, first published in 1826, used the setting of the deep forest and the characters of one European and two Indians to explore the question of human nature and its need for “civilization” as the basis for morality and meaningful life – an unsurprising question given a young republic only recently born of revolution and confronted with a vast natural world inhabited by peoples living in much closer accord with that environment. James Fenimore Cooper’s depiction of Native American characters as honorable and intelligent was groundbreaking in its day and not universally applauded.

But I doubt that Cooper’s original theme would have much purchase on the modern mind. Instead, the 1992 film emphasizes freedom and its importance even in the face of risk, a topic we can relate to. In one memorable scene from the film, Hawkeye rebuts a British army officer recruiting local militia. Hawkeye asks why people should join the fight. The officer replies that France is the enemy. Hawkeye objects, saying, “France is your enemy”, as if this British officer were some kind of foreigner himself and the conflict between Britain and France of no import to local people, an attitude that I imagine would seem very strange to any frontier resident of the time, given the destruction of Saratoga and general frontier mayhem of King George’s War just 12 years prior. No, for people living north of Albany in 1757 France very much was the enemy.

I also once watched a BBC version of the story, made for television in 1971. Among other liberties taken with the story was an eye-opening scene in which Cora and Alice Munro, recently arrived at the fort, offer their help caring for the wounded. The surgeon, an officer, absolutely refuses to permit it. His class consciousness forbids the presence of ladies in such a squalid environment and un-ladylike undertaking. Cooper’s original tale says little about the actual siege of the fort and makes no mention of anything like this. The BBC folks, in their sense of class, inferred such a scene (which I think credible and enlightening), while the American film took it as a matter of course that Cora and Alice would pitch in and be welcomed. In this we see that the verisimilitude of the film’s battle scenes does not extend to portrayal of social norms of the day.

In fact, aside from a few moments of visible contempt on the part of British officers for “colonials”, class plays no role in the modern film. Cooper’s novel, on the other hand, deals not so much with class as with the question of blood and birth. For Cooper’s Cora was the product of her father’s first marriage to a woman of the West Indies with an African forebear in her family tree. This mixing of the races is indicated in Cora’s dark hair and generally lustier character and, in keeping with the conventions of the day, is what dooms her. But again it’s unlikely that the radar of a modern audience would pick up on such a dynamic or find it a compelling backdrop, so Cora survives in the film for the sake of happy-end romance with Hawkeye, and Uncas instead wends his affections towards Alice, who suffers the fate of Cora in the novel, though honorably by choosing death, rather than callously at the hand of one of Magua’s compatriots.

History and historical fiction present an opportunity to place ourselves in the shoes of others and imagine our reactions to their challenges so that we might learn about ourselves in a kind of thought experiment and not have to always rely on blundering through present reality to learn those same lessons. But we’re not the same people that they were. While we share a basic humanity our sensibilities and frames of reference are quite different, and we shouldn’t mistake recreated trappings of objects and events for the lived reality of those depicted. For that we’d have to work harder, be more patient, take seriously their cares and prejudices, and not insist that they share our values or entertain us. Not exactly a Hollywood recipe.

Lasting family legacy


This year’s Rockefeller Center Christmas tree arrived on Veteran’s Day. Having just recently visited Rockefeller Center, watched skaters twirl or grope their way around the famous skating rink there and taken a few photos, I’m again put in mind of the reach and lasting impact of this remarkable family.  On a recent bus tour I attempted an impromptu listing of institutions founded or funded by the Rockefellers, whose creation came about largely due to Rockefeller influence, or whose activities have been significantly influenced by Rockefeller money and family members.  Having listed Spelman College, University of Chicago, Rockefeller Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, Rockefeller University, Rockefeller Center, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Historic Hudson Valley, I was reminded that I had left out Colonial Williamsburg, not to mention the Cloisters, Riverside Church, the World Trade Center, the siting of the United Nations Headquarters, Grand Teton National Park (which is connected to Yellowstone National Park by the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway), Lincoln Center, One Chase Manhattan Plaza, carriage trails in Acadia National Park, the Council on Foreign Relations, etc., etc., etc. And that’s just the John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) branch of the family. Anyone having watched much PBS programming will have heard the name Geraldine R. Dodge in connection with program funding. Well, that “R.” stands for Rockefeller, Geraldine being a daughter of William Rockefeller (1841-1922), John D.’s brother and partner in Standard Oil.

Rockefeller Center decoration

Rockefeller Center interior

In fact the John D. and William branches each had their own family bank. Legislation enacted in 1911 forced the Equitable Life Assurance Company to sell its subsidiary, the Equitable Trust Company, of which John D. became the principal shareholder. Over the ensuing years this financial institution grew to become the nation’s eighth largest bank. In 1930 the Equitable Trust Company was acquired by Chase National Bank, whereby Chase became one of the biggest banks in the world. Thus did Chase become the family bank of the John D. branch, with John D.’s grandson David (1916-2017) serving as president beginning in 1960 and as chairman and CEO from 1969-1980. On William’s side of the family, two of his sons, William and Percy, married two daughters of James Jewett Stillman, the then president of National City Bank, which ultimately became Citigroup. Young William’s son, James Stillman Rockefeller (1902-2004), became president of this competing financial institution in 1952.

Rockefeller brothers

2nd & 3rd Generations: (left to right) John D. Jr., sons David, Nelson, Winthrop, Laurance, and John D. III, taken in 1937 at the Tarrytown, NY train station, awaiting the arrival of the train carrying the recently deceased John D.

In addition to banking, education, and the arts, Rockefellers and Rockefeller associates were influential in foreign affairs. Nelson Rockefeller was Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs at the conclusion of World War II, John D. III was prominent in Asian affairs, and John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk, board chair and president, respectively, of the Rockefeller Foundation served as US Secretaries of State under Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson for 14 of the 16 years from 1953 to 1969.

Nelson, of course, went on to become the governor of New York State from 1959 to 1973 and Vice-President of the United States for two years under Gerald Ford. Nelson’s brother Winthrop became the governor of Arkansas. And John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV, the son of Nelson and Winthrop’s brother John D. III, was first governor of and then US Senator from West Virginia.

Kykuit front (2)


Brothers William (in 1886) and John D. (in 1893) bought neighboring tracts of land in the Pocantico Hills above Tarrytown and North Tarrytown (renamed Sleepy Hollow in 1996) in the Hudson Valley. Eventually, William’s estate, named Rockwood, was donated to New York State to form the Rockefeller State Park Preserve.  As for John D.’s estate, part of it, including its crowning main house named Kykuit (rhymes with PIE-cut), was bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is open for tours, with the rest of the estate remaining in family possession but allowing public access. David Rockefeller, the youngest grandchild of John D., who died just this past March at age 101, had his residence here. He was the last of his generation, his last living sibling, brother Laurance (born 1910), having died in 2004.

Less is known about family members descended from the children of John D., Jr. – the five brothers pictured above and their sister, Abby. A 2016 Forbes article put the number of living descendants at 174, with total family wealth of $11 billion. But the remaining personal wealth of family members doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the family’s lasting legacy and continuing influence, both in the institutions they fostered and in their ongoing participation on boards of directors of corporations and foundations. Clearly, a family legacy built to last, still touching our lives in ways seen and unseen.

A Gem in Hastings-on-Hudson

Jasper_Francis_Cropsey_-_Starrucca_Viaduct,_Pennsylvania_-_Google_Art_Project (2006 x 1202)

Starruca Viaduct (1865)

Jasper_Francis_Copsey,_by_Edward_L._Mooney (125 x 158)

Jasper F. Cropsey

Fans of art history and the Hudson River School of painting should plan a trip to one of the gems of the Hudson River Valley, the home of Jasper F. Cropsey (1823-1900), named Ever Rest, and its associated Gallery of Art, in Hastings-on-Hudson. Preserved over the years through a combination of first tragedy, then chance that in hindsight appears as fate, and lastly personal devotion, Ever Rest offers today’s visitor an oasis of peacefulness, beauty, and creative inspiration.

Jasper and his wife Maria bought the house at 49 Washington Ave. in 1885 or 1886, when Jasper was still an active painter but on the downside of his career. Considered part of the second generation of the Hudson River School of painters, Jasper found fame and fortune beginning in the mid-1840s and extending into the mid- to late-1860s. But tastes changed following the Civil War, and whereas Cropsey’s “Autumn on the Hudson River” met with acclaim in 1860, his “The Old Mill” failed to sell after being exhibited at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, a fate that was to be repeated following its exhibition at the St. Louis Exposition the next year, despite Cropsey having reduced the price from $7,000 to $2,500.

Cropsey Autumn_on_the_Hudson_River_1860

Autumn on the Hudson River (1860), 5′ x 9′

Cropsey The_Old_Mill_1876

Cropsey’s last major painting: The Old Mill (1876), 4′ x 7′

Unfortunately, it was at precisely the same time that tastes in the world of painting were changing that Cropsey and his wife Maria bought 45 acres of land in Warwick, NY and began construction on their dream summer home, a 29-room mansion equipped with artist’s studio and separate buildings to house servants and staff. The house, designed by Cropsey and named Aladdin, served as a summer retreat for Jasper and Maria until 1884, when they were forced to sell it and auction off most of its contents.

Cropsey Ever Rest Studio

The Studio at Ever Rest

Following the sale of Aladdin, Jasper and Maria rented a house in Hastings-on-Hudson, and subsequently bought the house at 49 Washington Ave. that would be their home for the rest of their lives. Unable to afford continued studio space in New York City, Jasper designed and had built a studio space attached to Ever Rest, where he continued to paint.

To supplement his diminished income from painting Jasper worked as an architect, which had been his initial training as a young man before devoting his energy to painting. Cropsey’s talent, highly-regarded name, and connections with wealthy patrons won him commissions, the most publicly prominent of which was a project begun in 1878 to design the first station on the Manhattan Elevated Railway line that ran up 6th Avenue in Manhattan. This initial design was eventually replicated to fourteen stations built for this line.

Cropsey elevated train station

Sixth Avenue El station designed by Jasper Cropsey

The chain of events that would result in the house at 49 Washington Ave. remaining in the family until 1970 and then being converted into the historic site we enjoy today began in tragedy in 1892, when Jasper and Maria’s daughter Rose and Rose’s husband Conrad were killed in a train accident. Rose and Conrad’s two daughters, Isabel and Constance, came to Ever Rest, where Jasper and Maria took care of them. Following Jasper’s death in 1900 and Maria’s in 1906, Ever Rest was inherited by their granddaughter Isabel, who lived there the rest of her life. Isabel’s husband, William Steinschneider, lived in the house until his death in 1970, whereupon Isabel and William’s daughter Barbara Newington led the way in having Ever Rest placed on the Register of Historic Places and in creating the Newington-Cropsey Foundation, which now oversees the property.

Cropsey Ever Rest

Ever Rest

In 1994 the Newington-Cropsey Foundation opened the neighboring Gallery of Art, which houses most of the Foundation’s holdings of Jasper Cropsey’s art.  Both the house and the gallery are available for tours, by appointment, on weekdays. Tours are free.

Cropsey Gallery

Cropsey Gallery of Art

Hudson Valley Garlic Festival

Garlic 1

The Hudson Valley Garlic Festival is an annual event held in Saugerties that took place this past weekend. You don’t have to love garlic to enjoy the event. The spacious site has room for the big crowd, music shows sprinkled around create a nice atmosphere, classy vendors provide for fun browsing, and there’s a lot of great food.

First of all, this thing is big. I took a photo upon first entering, just to have a sense of its scale, and it didn’t seem too overwhelming.

Garlic 3

But it keeps going,

Garlic 4

and going,

Garlic 5

and, oh I just give up:

Garlic 8

Just enjoy.

Garlic 2

Garlic 13

Garlic 17

Garlic 11Garlic 14

Garlic 9

Admission costs $10. On-site parking is available for another $10, or park at numerous sites around the village and take the free shuttle. Next year’s festival is slated for the weekend of September 29th and 30th.

The Gardens of the Vanderbilt Estate

Vanderbilt garden 01

Frederick Vanderbilt

F. W. Vanderbilt

One of the many treasures of Hyde Park along the Hudson is the Vanderbilt estate, with its beautiful grounds, ample parking, gorgeous views of the river, and, of course, the mansion. All of this is maintained by the National Park Service (NPS).

One part of the estate, however, that’s worth a visit is maintained not by the National Park Service but rather by an organization of volunteers – the Frederick W. Vanderbilt Garden Association (FWVGA). Since 1984, working together with the NPS, volunteers of the FWVGA have worked

Vanderbilt garden 2

The Rose Garden

to restore the Italian-style garden that was created by Frederick W. Vanderbilt but that fell into decay following his death in 1938 and the transfer of the property to the NPS in 1940. Over the years the volunteers, in conjunction with the NPS and with the support of numerous businesses, have worked to recover the glory of the tiered garden by removing sod from the erstwhile beds, cultivating the soil, planting thousands of annuals andVanderbilt garden 3 perennials (including 1200 rose plants), and rehabilitating a fountain and pool. The full story can be found on the FWVGA website.

FWVGA volunteers offer free tours of the garden on the third Sunday of each month during the summer. If you just enjoy Vanderbilt garden 5gardens, are interested in formal gardens of the Gilded Age era, or enjoy talking with committed people who are doing great work, take a trip to the Vanderbilt Estate and visit the resurrected garden there.

Vanderbilt garden 4


Albany is a great city with a rich history and vibrant life. A recent trip there included one of the oldest museums in the United States, a folksy diner, an art-strewn government plaza that always leaves me feeling both impressed and unsettled, and a converted pump house that now hosts an inviting microbrewery.

The Albany Institute of History and Art (AIHA) is conveniently located in downtown Albany along a major thoroughfare. Founded in New York City in 1791, this is one of the oldest museums in the Albany Institute (1040 x 585)United States. The museum’s website gives a brief overview of its history, stating that the AIHA’s founding organization, The Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures, was created “to improve the state’s economy through advances in agricultural methods and manufacturing technologies.” Supported in part by the New York State Legislature, the Society was required to meet wherever the state legislature convened, and moved to Albany in 1797 when that city became New York’s capital.

Among other things, the AIHA prides itself on its collection of works by Hudson River School painters, which was my main interest in going. I found an impressive exhibit of works by Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School, along with an excellent cross-section of works by other painters.  The artists and works are all nicely described by accompanying placards, which also give information about the events surrounding the creation of many of the paintings. From the AIHA website I gather that the exhibition space for these paintings was reduced to make way for another exhibit, but that the space will again be expanded and open for viewing in early July.

Museums always make me hungry.  Upon an acquaintance’s recommendation, I drove about 15 minutes from downtown to Grandma’s Pies and Restaurant for lunch, and felt rewarded for having made the trip.

Grandma's Pies 1 (1040 x 585)
The front counter at Grandma’s. Note the stacks of pies behind the customers.

Aside from selling a lot of pies, Grandma’s offers a very pleasant, inexpensive, diner-type restaurant with tasty food and friendly staff. I’m not one to take pictures of my food, but I was very pleased with my go-to acid test lunch choice, wherever I find it, of a corned beef reuben. They didn’t have any dill pickles, only sweet, but that was the only thing not perfect about this delightful oasis.

Albany food trucks (780 x 439)

Alas, so many choices, only so much appetite

I will add, however, that as I walked around the city and poked my head into a few places, I found a lot of great places for lunch, including the line of food trucks parked next to the state capitol.


Albany Empire Plaza 1

Empire Plaza reflecting pond and State Museum building

After lunch I paid a visit to the Empire State Plaza, that brainchild of Nelson Rockefeller, who was governor of New York from 1959 to 1973.  I never know quite what to make of the plaza.  It’s an impressive place, but its mildly Stalinist layout and hyper-modern building design clash with the surrounding architecture and make for a jumbled and confusing viewshed.

Albany Empire Plaza 3

Jumbled viewshed: State office tower on left, State Capitol middle, Eggshell right

There is an observation deck on the 42nd floor of one of the plaza towers that is open to the public and offers a 360º view of the city.

Albany Empire Plaza Observation Deck view

Observation deck view of northern end of the Empire Plaza and the State Capitol. The oval building in the foreground is the “Eggshell”, a performing arts center

Nelson Rockefeller loved modern art. The Empire State Plaza serves as a sort of open-air Albany Empire Plaza artart gallery, with pieces spread throughout the complex, in buildings, on the plaza, and on the “Concourse”, the space underneath the plaza that provides access to underground parking and the Capitol building, and houses shops, a cafeteria, and a visitors’ center.

The last stop of the day was at the C.H. Evans Brewing Company at the Albany Pump Station. They offer a nice selection of beers brewed on the premises, a full menu, and a pleasant ambiance in a beautiful setting. The lunch stop on the next trip to Albany is already set.

Summing up, this day in Albany just grazed the surface of what the city has to offer, and it’s a nice feeling to have a capital city that offers so much to be proud of.




Community Theatre: Wappingers, Ghent, & Rhinebeck

Community theater is alive and well in the Hudson Valley. Over the past two months I was able to attend productions by three local companies in Wappingers Falls, Ghent, and Rhinebeck.  The local companies take obvious pride in their craft and rightfully so. All three shows were ably produced and acted in attractive and comfortable settings.

The County Players, based in Wappingers Falls, began in 1958 and are still going strong. In 1977 the group acquired the Academy Theatre in Wappingers Falls, which it renovated and renamed The County Players Falls Theatre. The theatre seats 400, with 18 spaces reserved for wheelchair patrons. The County Players’ season runs September thru May, this year with four productions. Productions run for three consecutive weekends in September, November, February, and May. This year’s February show was Amadeus. Never before having seen Falls Theatre Wappingers (2)Amadeus on the stage but having seen the 1984 film I was curious about how it would be staged. I learned that the stage play relies on the talent of the actor portraying Salieri, and in this case the actor Rick Meyer met the challenge. Really, everyone was good, the sets spartan but satisfying, and lighting and sound excellent – actors had mics, music excerpts were clear. Tickets were $17 online, with a 10% surcharge. The theatre has no parking lot, so patrons have to find parking on village streets and a nearby municipal lot.

One county to the north, the Columbia Civic Players formed in 1974. For its first thirteen years the group had no fixed performance venue, and staged productions wherever space could be found, in restaurants, churches, and school auditoriums. All that changed in 1987 when the group leased the former Ghent town hall, renamed it the Ghent Playhouse, and began converting the space into a community theater. The first show in the new space was Carnival, which opened in January 1989. In 2001 the group was able to buy the building outright and began an extensive refurbishment. The theatre now seats 105, with two spaces reserved for wheelchair patrons, and offers modern bathrooms, dressing rooms, areas for set construction and costume storage, and upgraded lighting and sound systems. That same year, 2001, the group changed its name to Ghent Playhouse, Inc.

Similar to The County Players, Ghent Playhouse’s season runs fall through spring, beginning in October and ending in early June. Each year’s program includes five shows, with each show running over three consecutive weekends, in October, November-December, January-February, March-April, and May-June. The show that I saw recentlyGhent playhouse is titled Mothers and Sons, written by Terrence McNally and having opened on Broadway in 2014. All of the action takes place in a single set, with just four actors, over the course of about 90 minutes with no intermission. Viewers were rewarded with a deft handling of a play containing challenging themes and leaving the actors nowhere to hide. Tickets were $20, with an 8% surcharge. Parking is available in a lot across the road from the theatre.

The CENTER for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck boasts a large, barn-like building, the construction of which was begun in October 1997 and finished in time for its opening in July 1998. For four years leading up to that a tent on the same site had served as a venue for summer theatre. Year-round operations began in April 1999, and have continued since, with the building being open 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with just a few holiday exceptions. The CENTER hosts mainstage productions by its own theatrical company, CENTERstage Productions, as well as by the community-based Rhinebeck Theatre Society, and produces shows aimed at school age audiences as part of its theater workshop program involving young actors. Traveling theater companies are also welcome.

The current production at the time of this writing is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a Tom Stoppard play first performed in 1966.  The play centers on the thoughts and actions of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, showing their bewilderment at and attempts to find reason in the events that are going on around them and that they do not understand.  The play is described as “absurdist”, “existential”, and “comical”.  I won’t attempt to describe it further, other than to say that it seems a pretty ambitious project for community theatre. At almost three hours (with two intermissions) the play is long by community theatre standards, characters periodically embark on extended, abstraction-laced monologues, and the audience needs to at least be on speaking terms with Shakespeare’s original work.   Fortunately the Rhinebeck Theatre Society, founded in 1986, can rely on its more than 30 years of experience to field actors up to the challenge, the set design is inventive and effective, and the bowl-like theatre construction makes every seat in the house feel close to the action and provides perfect sight lines. Microphones for the actors aren’t needed, though devices to assist the hearing-impaired are available.

Rhinebeck CFPA

Rhinebeck CENTER for Performing Arts – no such thing as a bad seat

The next two scheduled shows, The Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate, will be put on by the CENTER’s own company, CENTERstage Productions.  The Taming of the Shrew will run April 21-30, and Kiss Me Kate will run May 5-21.

The CENTER theatre seats 152, with numerous spaces available for wheelchair patrons, and offers onsite parking.  Tickets cost $20 at the door, or $23 online with a $3 service fee.

Casualties of war

This week marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into World War I, on April 6, 1917. What was hoped to be the “war to end all wars” turned out to be nothing of the sort, and stands instead as one of the great disasters of the 20th century, marked by the senseless and utter wasting of millions of young lives and the high idealism of those so wasted.

Prominent families in the Hudson Valley were not spared. Before the days of college deferments, smoking but not inhaling, and that sanctuary known as the Texas Air National Guard, the sons and daughters of elite families didn’t just talk the talk but actually walked the walk of service to higher ideals by responding to the twin calls of patriotism and the fight against tyranny. Sons drove ambulances, fought with the French, and, when the time came, enlisted in our own armed forces. Daughters went to France to act as nurses or work in relief organizations. Being away from the fighting, the daughters returned. But not all the sons.

Far upriver from New York City, in Barrytown, the Astor estate known as Rokeby was home to the “Astor orphans”, the children of Margaret Astor Ward and John Winthrop Chanler. By the end of 1877 both Margaret and John were dead, leaving behind their ten children aged 15 and younger. One of these children, Elizabeth Astor Winthrop Chanler, born 1866, married in 1898 the writer John Jay Chapman. Chapman was a widower, his

Victor Chapman and mother

Victor Chapman with his mother

first wife, Minna Timmins, having died in childbirth the year before. Chapman brought into the marriage with Elizabeth three children from his previous union with Timmins, the oldest a boy named Victor Emmanuel, born in 1890.

Victor Emmanuel didn’t wait for the United States to officially enter The Great War to become involved. He joined the French Foreign Legion in August 1914. Mired in the trench warfare that developed, Victor grew bored and managed a transfer to the air service, where he trained as a pilot and joined the Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter unit composed largely of like-minded American volunteers. On June 23, 1916, making a non-combat flight, Victor happened upon a dogfight between three Allied and five German planes. He plunged in. The three Allied planes made good their escape, but Victor was shot down and killed. He was the first American pilot killed in the war, and became a cause célèbre in both France and the United States. A memoir written by Victor’s father, including Victor’s letters, can be found here.

Not far from Rokeby, in Rhinebeck, Thomas Holy Suckley (pronounced SOOK-lee) built in 1852 a house on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River and named the estate Wilderstein. Upon Thomas’ death in 1888, the estate was inherited by his son Robert Bowne Suckley.

Wilderstein By Rolf Müller (User Rolfmueller) - Own work CC BY-SA 3.0 (484 x 322)

Wilderstein in 2007 (Photo by Rolf Mueller – CC BY-S)

Robert was a builder and a tinkerer, and over the years he transformed the modest house his father had built into a Queen Anne-style jewel. Modern students of Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognize immediately the name Suckley as belonging to one of FDR’s cousins and confidantes in later life, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley. Less familiar is the story of Daisy’s older brother Henry, lovingly nicknamed “Nummie” throughout his childhood and adolescence. In all, Robert and his wife, Elizabeth “Bessie” Montgomery, had seven children, four boys and three girls, of which Daisy was the fifth child and the first daughter. Daisy’s oldest brother, Rutsen, died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of five the year before Daisy was born. Of the siblings that Daisy grew up with, Henry, born in 1887, was the oldest.

The Suckleys had spent years living in Europe before the war. At the outbreak of hostilities Henry joined the American Field Service, which was setting up an ambulance corps in France and seemed a natural fit for Henry, as he was conversant in French and German and could get by in Italian, and like his father was a tinkerer who loved to drive and work on automobiles. Furthermore, as the author Cynthia Owen Philip notes in her book “Wilderstein and the Suckleys”, due to his family connections Henry knew people of means. Later in the war members of the New York Stock Exchange would fund the purchase of 25 ambulances that were placed under Henry’s command.

Henry spent the years 1915 and 1916 in France, with occasional visits home, bringing wounded soldiers from the front to where they could be treated. During this time Henry’s neighbor Victor Chapman was killed. On December 27, 1916 Henry received the orders he had been waiting for – a transfer to the eastern front, with a unit under his command. Not long after, on March 18, 1917, the dreaded cablegram arrived at Wilderstein. In his diary, Robert wrote “HMS [Henry’s initials] at Zemlak, Albania, struck by a fragment of a bomb dropped by aviators. Was taken to hospital at Koritza at once. No hope!” Henry died the next day.

While not a Hudson River Family, the Roosevelts of Oyster Bay on Long Island come to the attention of anyone studying the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Though they became estranged in the early decades of the 20th century, prior to that the two branches of the Roosevelt family were closely connected. James Roosevelt, FDR’s father, for a time pursued Teddy Roosevelt’s sister Anna, only to be disappointed. Later, it was at a family party arranged by Anna that Mr. James met Sara Delano, who would become his wife and the mother of FDR. Furthermore, TR’s brother Elliott became, first, godfather to Franklin, and of course later the father of Eleanor, FDR’s future wife. And when Mr. James’s first son, James “Rosy” Roosevelt, lost his wife while serving in a diplomatic post in England, it was TR’s sister Anna who traveled to London to take charge of Rosy’s two now motherless children.

The life of Teddy Roosevelt became the model for the young Franklin Roosevelt – state legislator, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, President of the United States. Teddy had six children, the first a daughter named Alice, whose mother tragically died just two days after her birth. A few years later Teddy married Edith Kermit Carow, a childhood friend. Teddy and Edith brought five children to the world, four boys and a girl.

Following America’s entry into the war in April, 1917 all four boys enlisted, two with the army, one with the British army, and the youngest, Quentin, with a newly formed air


Quentin Roosevelt

unit. Quentin trained at an airfield on Long Island, then was posted to a training facility in France. Eventually, he joined a combat unit and flew his first combat mission on July 4, 1918. His first confirmed kill came less than a week later, on July 10. Four days later, on July 14, 1918, he himself was killed behind enemy lines, over the village of Chamery, near Rheims. Quentin’s mother dealt with her grief, in part, by remarking that “You cannot bring up boys as eagles and expect them to turn out sparrows.”

Quentin’s three brothers survived the war, all having served with distinction. In fact, they would serve again in the Second World War, and Quentin’s oldest brother, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would earn the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day at Utah beach.

Whatever one thinks of the monied class of the Gilded Age and the early 20th century, in at least three of the families whose stories we still read and whose homes we still visit a commitment to higher ideals and to “the strenuous life”, as Teddy Roosevelt put it, really was the order of the day.


With New York City so close at hand, dance fans in the lower Hudson Valley have always had easy access to dance performances. Now, that sort of easy access is becoming more and more available to people in the mid- and upper-Hudson regions, as dance artists and aficionados take the plunge to establish dance centers and to include dance in seasonal festivals.  The Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre held its 35th annual dance gala at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie in early March, and Bard Summerscape, which runs this year from June 30th to August 20th, begins with a weekend of performances by the New York City Ballet. Later this year, PS21 in Chatham will devote weekends for the entire month of August to dance as part of its annual festival. In the city of Catskill, the performing arts institution Lumberyard (formerly American Dance Institute) is renovating a former lumberyard into a facility that, beginning in 2018, will host performances and offer space and living accommodations for visiting artists developing new projects.Kaatsbaan sign A little further south and across the river, in Tivoli, and already in full operation, one finds the flagship of all this activity: the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center.

The organization behind Kaatsbaan was founded in 1990 by four professional dancers and achieved 501(c)3 status in 1991. Land in Tivoli known as Tivoli Farms was selected in 1994 and purchased in 1997. Construction began in 1999. The dance center now consists of a studio complex with three dance studios, a 160-seat black-box dance theatre, roads, parking lots, and a dancers’ inn that can accommodate 36 dancers.

Kaatsbaan theatre (2)

Kaatsbaan’s Dance Theatre

A gatehouse building offers two additional bedrooms and a kitchen. A “music barn”, designed by Stanford White and built in the 1890s, awaits refurbishment into a visitor reception center with shops and 10,000 square feet of art and exhibition galleries. Also planned are additional studios, a second dancers’ inn, and a lodge and dining room complex.

Kaatsbaan barn (2)

The Stanford White-designed Music Barn

In addition to the built facilities they provide, the founders of Kaatsbaan emphasize the importance of an aesthetically inspirational and healthy work environment. Of the 153 acres that belong to Kaatsbaan, development plans include only 18 acres. The remaining 135 acres of hay fields and woodlands will remain open spaces, preserving the character of the site and the scenic views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains.

From the Kaatsbaan website:

Kaatsbaan was designed to provide national and international dance companies, choreographers and all dance artists with an affordable year-round facility where they can interact as a diverse community, experiment, create, rehearse, perform, showcase new work, train, and develop new sets, costumes and productions. The project is designed to stimulate the development and growth of dance as an art form.

True to this statement of purpose, in 2015 Kaatsbaan hosted over 200 professional dancers performing with 18 dance companies in its black-box theater, and had 19 dance companies spend time in residence there and utilize 1250 hours of studio time. And true to the “International” part of its name, the dance center hosted resident dancers from Asia, Europe, and Latin America, in addition to the dancers there from North America.

Public performances are offered Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons during the spring, with a handful of performances in April and weekly performances in May and early June.  Adult tickets cost $30, while tickets for students and children cost just $10.