5 things we learned from Karen Chase's 'FDR on his Houseboat'
Stricken with polio, Franklin Delano Roosevelt escaped to the warm waters of the Florida Keys from 1924 to 1926 aboard his new houseboat, the Larooco. During his time on the boat, he kept a nautical log describing daily events. The log, an interesting, often amusing look at the life of FDR before he entered the White House in 1933, is virtually unknown to the public.
Lenox author Karen Chase has recently released "FDR on his Houseboat, The Larooco Log, 1924-1926," in which she uses the log and photographs culled from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., to create a timeline of the former president's struggle to walk again, while in the midst of the Jazz Age.
The book gives a rare glimpse of FDR's personal life — with surprising pieces of information that help paint a larger picture of our 32nd president. We asked Chase to share what the five most surprising things she learned about FDR from the Larooco logs.
FDR was funny
FDR's sense of humor and playfulness run through his log entries. After recording that the boat's port engine was in "comatose condition," he wrote that the "Miami Engine doctor was at work and that the patient may respond to heroic treatment."
Or this entry about his guest, Maunsell Crosby:
"Yesterday Maunsell took a bath
Reason clothed in mystery
Now it develops that today
is his Birthday
Having no other gifts
I took a bath also
in his honor"
He relished in the details
FDR had a zest for tending to the ordinary details of everyday life, which is evident throughout the log. Here's a quote from his grocery list for the Miami Grocery Company:
"From the last box of fruit which we got we threw away 15 oranges and 6 grapefruit, so will you please send us fruit which is not too ripe, and which is good and solid. Also, will you try to get for us a really good piece of corned beef."
FDR's personal struggle shaped his presidency
FDR's three winters aboard the houseboat enabled him to focus on healing, which, of course, was unsuccessful. But it gave him the time and space to withdraw from the outer world and focus on himself as a vulnerable human being. The time was formative. Focusing on himself as a frail person lead to his focus on others who were vulnerable. This compassion for others became the bedrock of his presidency.
FDR was somewhat isolated
FDR owned the boat in the mid-1920s during the peak of the Jazz Age and the period when both Stalin and Hitler were rising on the world stage. The book highlights what FDR was doing on his houseboat, relatively isolated from the larger world, while monumental things were unfolding in the larger world. Numerous photographs are woven through the book to illustrate this. For example, there is a photo of George Gershwin whose "Rhapsody in Blue" premiered at Carnegie Hall the same evening that FDR and his friends were playing Parcheesi aboard the Larooco. There's a photo of Martha Graham, who founded one of the first dance companies in the U.S., as the houseboat's motors break down. There's one of F.Scott Fitzgerald who published "The Great Gatsby" the same week FDR left the boat and took a train to Warm Springs, Ga.
the heart grow fonder?
Franklin and Eleanor each set up separate domestic living situations during this exact period, although they remained in constant communication. Missy LeHand, FDR's personal assistant, became the hostess on the boat. On the rare occasions that Eleanor visited the boat, she was a guest. And Eleanor set up house with her friends, Marion Dickerman and Nancy Cook, a couple she had met through New York State politics. FDR built for them what he called "the honeymoon cottage" in Hyde Park, N.Y., 2 miles from Springwood, the Roosevelt family home.
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