HV/Net: It seems to me that
Wilderstein is one of the lesser known of the
estates in the valley. I find this possibly
one of the most charming of them all, the scale
is more human. What kind of an impression do
you get from the people that come here? Are
they surprised when they come here? Are they
enchanted when they see it? Everybody's going
to the Vanderbilt and Mills mansions where it's
Duane: Well.., sort of going
back to the beginning of your question, it's
really since the mid-1980s that the house was
ever open to the public. it was a private home
until then. At that point Miss Suckley, the
last family member, decided that the only way
she could save it was to create Wilderstein
Preservation as a non-profit. So it began to
be open and word got out about it. The reaction
most people seem to have is that it's on a scale
they can relate to. The Vanderbilt is, for example,
is wonderful but who could live there? People
come [to Wilderstein] and say "Oh this
reminds me of"; it could be Grandma or an Aunt
or somebody like that. The scale of the rooms
inside is very, they're really quite small.
People feel comfortable about the house. There's
something about the veranda and the fact that
the furniture we're sitting on is the original
furniture. The Board has decided that first
of all we can't afford to replace it with modern
stuff, and if it appeals to people and that
helps us preserve the house and grounds we're
going to sacrifice this for that purpose rather
than something new here.
HV/Net: How many
visitors do you get?
Duane: We average over the
last couple of years 6,000 or so each summer
season, which is May 1st through October.
HV/Net: How does
that compare with the other mansions?
Duane: I don't really know
but I am sure it is much much lower.
season more or less matches the other mansions?
Duane: Pretty much. We're
open at the Holidays on two weekends. Local
florists decorate the house in Victorian holiday
style. We get quite a few visitors then. We're
open four days a week. Some of the places are
HV/Net: Is there
any coordination between the big estates in
the Dutchess County area?
Duane: Yes. We're very much
involved with them and the Country Seats Great
Estates group We've been a member of that for
a long time. Pat Weber, our site manager, is
very much involved on a regular basis with their
committees in planning events and coordinating
events. But it's only in the last couple of
years we've been able to do that because even
now we have only the equivalent of one full
time paid person on staff. And basically what
we do is have several part time people who work
HV/Net: HA! And
you're here all the time!
Duane: Well, when I'm not
in New York [laughing]. Last year we
had over 7,000 hours volunteered.
an amazing amount!
Duane: Yes. And I don't keep
track of mine, basically because I'm too lazy.
But I easily put in 15 to 20 hours every weekend.
do the volunteers do? Are they acting as the
guides? Are the volunteers doing the restoration?
How involved do they become?
Our volunteers become very involved. All of
the grounds work, all the mowing, all the work
on flower beds, anything that's done here is
done by volunteers. We don't hire any of that.
All of the docents, and when we have bus tours
which we do, all of that is volunteered. All
of the clearing is done by volunteers. We have
a Board member who's background is in horticulture
and landscape gardening and she coordinates
that whole thing. We have hired a full time
person now, using money from a $25,000 grant,
who is a restoration carpenter. Currently he's
working on the tower. And he has a full time
volunteer helper. And we have helpers who are
volunteers working on special projects. Two
weeks ago we had 20 people from Sotheby's program
in the decorative arts who came up and did an
inventory. They did over 200 items in two days.
Photographed, described, all the things you
have to do to identify items. Those will go
into our database.
HV/Net: All the
items in the house, um, when the house was given
over to the Trust, it was given over intact?
inside has remained with the house so it's really
a snapshot of that day when that happened right?
Duane: Uh huh.
HV/Net: How far
back to the possessions go in time?
Duane: The earliest document
we have that I'm aware of is a military commission
from 1704 from a member of the Beekman family
who was the Great Great Great Great Great, Grandfather
of Miss Suckley, signed by Governor Dongan of
New York. But the bulk of the collection, the
manuscript collection, goes back to the time
George Suckley came here in the late 1780s.
We have four Wedding Chairs from 1767 which
are documented wedding gifts, they're Philadelphia
Chippendale, to Miss Suckleys three Greats,
I think, Grandmother.
HV/Net: So the
contents of this house wind up being really
a collection of a family...
Duane: There are things that
came from the family's home at 103 St. Marks
Place in New York City which they purchased
or moved into in about 1840 or 1841 and kept
that until 1875 or 1880 or something like that
vicinity. I forget these dates a little bit.
(Harumph) Then we have things that came from
the Rhinebeck family which was the Great Great
Great Grandmother who was a Rutsen from the
some of those things go back to the 18th Century.
Then we have the Montgomery family which was Miss
Suckley's mother's family. Those things go back
to Clivdon and the Chew family in Philadelphia
who they were connected to. And as extended family
died or their estates were sold off, Wilderstein
became a kind of family attic.
HV/Net: The place
where it all got put?
Duane: Right. And people,
the family sort of brought things in and they
used them. For example in the Parlor we have
a Living Room Set which is a sofa and two chairs,
it came in 1938 when Miss Suckley's Godmother,
Elizabeth Montgomery Lynch, died. They were
more comfortable than the 1888 chairs, and so,
they were in better condition, so those went
to the attic [the 1888 chairs] and they
are here [pointing to the attic] and
the new stuff is there [pointing to the Parlor].
Miss Suckley, being the survivor, ended up with
all this stuff from Aunts and Uncles...
was the sole survivor from the whole family
line? Or has it branched off somewhere else?
Duane: There are two nieces
who were her sisters children. There are no
male Suckley's left so the Suckley line is essentially
She never married. There were seven children,
she was one of seven siblings. The first four
were boys. The oldest boy died here at Wilderstein
in 1890, he was 6 years old I think. The second
one died in World War I. Those two never married.
The two, the next two brothers, never married.
One spent most of his time at his villa in Monaco,
which we have a model of here, and the other
one, Robert, uh, named after his father, Robert
Jr., he.., I guess to be kind one could say
he was eccentric.
Duane: [smiling] Among
other things Robert, and his sisters, Miss Suckley
and the twin sisters, actually he and his three
sisters and one brother were living here, and
he became upset with them so he moved to the
cellar where he controlled the furnace.
Because anyone who controls the heat controls
the house! Soooo.....
Duane: He... He was... He
did things like make some rather poor investments,
but because he was the oldest son, that was
the way it worked! Until finally Miss Suckley
and her brother and sisters decided that Robert
needed to be overridden.
HV/Net: Uh huh...
Duane: I digress on that!
But he was an interesting character. Then the
one sister, the only one of these seven children,
married. The sister married a Southerner in
World War I, just at the time of the War and
they had three children. The first one was a
boy who was a schizophrenic and was in and out
of mental, well institutions, I don't know if
they were really mental institutions, but institutions,
and lived until about 80 years old I guess.
And then two daughters...
are the two nieces you were talking about?
Duane: Right. The two nieces.
One of whom married but had no children. One
lives half a mile from here on what was the
even older house on the estate and had been
part of this land. At one point Wilderstein
had been 150 acres which included several buildings
and a lot of farm land. They actually had a
producing farm. And then the other sister, the
other of the twin girls, never married, but
lived out on Salisbury Turnpike, I don't know
if you know where that is...
Duane: It is east of Rhinebeck.
In the 1820s her Great Grandfather George, the
first one that came over here, gave a plot of
land to Rhinebeck for a one room schoolhouse.
Written into that was that if the school closed
the land would revert, and the building, would
revert to the family. Well, in the 1930s the
school closed. And Catherine, the sister...
...got the schoolhouse. Which she promptly named
"The Belfry" and that's where she lived. And
some would say there's a certain validity to
the choice of names.
in the belfry?
Duane: Ummmm, she was a VERY
Duane: She's dead now. Miss
Suckley outlived them all!
HV/Net: Is it
norm..., how normal is it for the family lines
over here in the Dutchess County area to have
died away like that?
Duane: I really don't know,
all I do know is that the whole Suckley family
seemed to have, they seemed to be a large family,
uh, and then of those very few would marry ...
George and his wife Catharine Rutsen had six
children and of those one female married but
had no children, and then Miss Suckley's Grandfather
married and he had three children of whom two
died young so that left only Robert [Suckley's
father]. Robert had seven and of those only
one, and it was a female, had children. So I
don't know if that's typical I haven't...
that's what happened with this family...
Duane: Yes. I suspect that
if you look at it genetically that the families
intermarried so much that when you, sort of
getting back to your comment again about the
local families..., you had Beekmans, Rutsens,
Van Rensselaers, Livingstons , the kind of core
of families that kept intermarrying. You find
these unusual characters within all these families.
After awhile I assume that might have had some
there's a question in that. There really were
only those four or five families in this area
[the Hudson River Valley]. How much influence
was there from the "outside"? Were they connected
into New York City...
did they really live "here" and intermarry here?
Duane: No, it was really
a society as far as I can see, from looking
at it from the last 200 years that it's connected
to the Suckleys, that was very much a New York
and river valley, Hudson River Valley group.
They all had their estates here along this area,
say from Clermont south, including the Delanos
on the west side of the River, they were all
connected. And they would all have a home or
an apartment or something in New York and would
be there part of the year, they all traveled
to Europe on a regular basis and they all gathered
Duane: No, but they would
all be there at various times. Letter after
letter is "oh we met so and so" and "cousin
so and so". There were a number of family members
in Brooklyn and a number of family members in
the Oranges in New Jersey. The Suckleys owned
a huge amount of land in New Jersey in Orange
and Newark, right in that area. They invested
in land and then they would extend it.
Duane: The Montgomerys I
think added new blood to the family.
HV/Net: So that
the four or five families really socialized
together in the City and up here? What, was
it coordinated? Did they all "progress" to the
Valley at a certain time of the year or did
they just sort of trickle in?
My impression is that it was more sort of a
trickle in although there was definitely a season.
When the weather got nice up here in the Spring
they all wanted to get up to the country. Life
was much pleasanter up here in the Summer than
it was in Manhattan. Or even, or they might
go north and vacation at 150th street or something
like that [laughing]. Or they might go
over to New Jersey which was still fairly rural
at the time.
they focused up here into the Valley right?
Duane: Right. They would,
the men would still maintain their offices in
New York and were constantly going back and
forth and the women would go down for visits,
shopping, social events..., in the summer once
they were up here full time they didn't go down
as often it seems from their correspondence.
Many of the family members wrote every day,
so there's a voluminous correspondence, some
of it to the point of nausea about dress makers
and social events and teas and all of this.
But in the midst of all of this is some really
interesting stuff about what's going on, because
there may be a casual paragraph here or a sentence
there that suddenly it all brings into focus...
the people and events...
Duane: ...between the people
and events. Sometimes they are very exciting
things because they're really a comment on an
event of national importance or local importance.
HV/Net: So my impression
is that in the collections in this house you've
got a vast assemblage of those kinds of documents.
Do the other estates and families have that kind
of information? Is it still around and is any
connecting of it all together in any way?
Duane: Well, Montgomery Place
for example, it's collection which I understand
was fairly large, was given I think to Princeton
University or one of the universities. So they
don't have onsite any of that stuff, it left
the Valley. It's probably extremely well taken
care of but it left the Valley. Uh, the Roosevelt
house of coarse has everything...
Duane: They have the library
and all of that stuff. I don't know about Clermont
for example. My guess is that they probably
don't have a whole lot. And, uh...
was the first house really in the Valley?
Duane: I believe so, of the
Livingston, the big Livingston holdings. I think
the unique thing about Wilderstein and the Suckley
family is that they not only collected all of
this they organized it in a way so that it's
fairly clear, it's very labor intensive, but
because you may find a box that holds 500 letters
that are all in there, but they're all by or
to the same person basically so the process...,
we've done over 200 boxes now of manuscript
HV/Net: Is there
a single empty spot in the house?
Duane: Ha! I think it's unusual
because it's so complete... I mean for the house
itself we have the 1852 elevations of the original
house, we have the letters and specifications
from the architect, John Warren Ritch, a New
York City architect. We have the diary of Thomas
Holy Suckley, which practically gives you a
day by day account, you know, "the ice house
is now finished and we're starting the foundations
of the house" on such and such a day. And you
HV/Net: He chronicled
the whole process...
He chronicled it. And he said that "I planted
my orchard. In my orchard are" such and such.
You can go back and find his check books and
the stubs and the checks and the bills from
the various things, I mean all of this. And
that follows through. They simply saved it all,
Miss Suckley saved it. I mean there are wonderful
notations in her sort of daily calendar: "My",
it says, "we had such a wind last night Robert
found the hatch out on the south lawn", the
hatch is a two by four foot cover that's on
the flat roof at the top of this house. The
wind blew it off down over to there, [pointing
south toward the lawn]. At the same time,
"A dealer came by and asked to talk to me about
selling Aunt" So and So's such and such, you
know? So you have this wonderful connection
of what was in the house, what left the house.
In many cases she gave things to family members
who we are in touch with and they are beginning
to give us back things.
Duane: Just today we had
some people out of the blue, so to speak, found
some Montgomery family letters. They asked around
and got directed here and I met with them. That's
where I was earlier. They've given them to us.
Actually they are Miss Suckley's mother's uncle
who was the Consul to Geneva in the 1870s, and
he had consular positions in several places.
They are letters between him and his father
when he was at Princeton as an undergraduate.
They are very interesting and we already know
about these people and they fit into our collection.
HV/Net: So part
of what, part of the mission of Wilderstein Preservation
is to catalogue, organize, conserve, discover
all of the information that is contained inside
of the house?
Duane: Yes, and what we hope
to do is to, through our work with local history
programs at Bard, at New Paltz, at Vassar and
Dutchess, we've had interns from all of those
places, we've most recently had 4 from Vassar
this past year, is to create a kind of working
collection. We'd like to use our Gate House
Lodge, Vaux designed this little lodge really
for the manager of the estate, and we would
like to utilize that as a local history center
where the colleges would send people and we
would supplement what's going on with other
Getting back to an earlier question that you
had, [before the interview started I had
inquired about the coordination of various collections
and sites into something larger than the individual
pieces], there is an attempt in Rhinebeck.
We formed a group called the Rhinebeck Consortium,
it represents Wilderstein, the Library, the
Historical Society, the Dutchess County Historical
Society, the historical society in Red Hook
which at one time was part of Rhinebeck, the
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Cemetery Society, the
DAR, all these groups that have pieces of local
history, not just Rhinebeck but the greater
area. We've had a series of workshops on how
to care for materials and how to share it so
that we can see that it gets to the right places.
And we are building a database so that a researcher
can say "I want to know about the Montgomerys"
and we can say "well, you can go to Montgomery
Place and get this you can go to Wilderstein
and get that..."
That's fascinating. I am working with Neil Larson
at Hudson Valley Study Center...
Duane: Oh I know Neil well!
been writing all the programming. He's doing
something very similar where...
Duane: Yes, we've talked,
he was going to use Wilderstein as a prototype
for a grant that he didn't get. I've been pushing
him saying "come on Neil, let's do something
he's finally got the databases set up, I've
written all the programming for him as I said,
and he's starting to put in the entries putting
in the historical sites in the Valley. It's
a fascinating concept. He was telling me exactly
what you just said. If somebody wants to go
find something where do they go? It's all here,
but in a lot of ways it's inaccessible.
Duane: Well, what we've decided
is that our first step will be a kind of locational
thing. In other words, we'll get a series of
standard vocabulary terms, which are used in
archives, so that if you are talking about local
buildings then you will know about whether we
have anything about buildings. Then if you had
an name you would immediately know whether we
did. You wouldn't know exactly what we have
but you'd know the first...
first place, the first stop to find more, or
even eliminated because what you're looking
for isn't here...
Duane: ...and then we will
build on that database in more detail as we
go along. Because there are issues that we are
concerned about from a security standpoint...we
don't want on the net the fact that we have
X number of pieces of silver worth X, we don't
mind saying that we have so many pieces of furniture..
So you know...but if you wanted to locate stuff,
we think this would be a real help.
Now Neil was very interested in land and boundaries
and we have probably 300 to 500 what they called
that quantity is a big thing at Wilderstein!
Duane: Well, I'll take you
around and show you if you're interested...!
Just to get you a feel for the quantities.
Duane: [nodding] These
are indentures of various kinds. The Suckley
family through the Rutsons owned, inherited
what was called the Beekman Patent. It was a
patent of land that was given by the King to
the Beekman family that went from the River
all the way to Connecticut. It was sort of the
northern part of Hyde Park up to Red Hook...
the way across to Connecticut?
Duane: Mr. Suckley, George
the first one, his wife Catharine Rutsen, inherited
pretty much the eastern end of that. So they
owned huge numbers of farms in Dover and Amenia,
that whole area. So we have all of this correspondence
between the tenants and them from the late 18th
Century into the early 19th Century. And the
documents that were made, these indentures regarding
the various lands and leases and all this stuff...
family obtained a patent from King George? When
did they arrive here?
Duane: This came from the
so it's the Beekmans that had the patent?
Duane: And then through inheritance
it came down to the Rutsons.
this can get a little confusing??!!??
Catherine Rutsen, her Grandmother, er her mother,
let's see now..., her mother was a Carman, her
Grandmother was a Livingston and her Great Grandmother
was Cornelia Beekman. So you see you get all
back and forth...
Family and land, family and land. But there
are some interesting pieces here. For example
, we just discovered we have Catharine Rutsen's
Dresser Set which is ivory comb and brush and
mirror with her monogram on it. So that has
to be, um..., she got married in 1799, so it's
probably not too much later than that. We have
some silver beakers that were made for her and
the interesting thing about them is that we
have the letter from the Kingston silver maker
who converted them from something else, he writes
to her about what was he supposed to do with
HV/Net: So you
Duane: We can document...
have so much documentation for almost everything
in the house...
Duane: ...it's really incredible.
And to me that's one of the most unusual and exciting
parts about it. For students of any of these areas
dealing with furniture, decorative arts, the architecture
as we have the drawings that Tiffany did for the
interiors of the house, it's really enabled us
to work with a kind of complete yet untouched
picture of the history of the house.
how widely known is..., well I was telling you
before is that my impression of Wilderstein
is that it's like an unknown...
widely known is the collection?
Duane: It's not widely known
yet. We're working on that. But we're working
slowly because we couldn't handle more.
HV/Net: Do the
design schools in the City know about it?
Duane: Well, Bard's decorative
design program knows about it and we're working
with them to develop some more closer working
relationships. The first Masters Degree granted
by the Bard program was on the relationship
between Joseph Tiffany the designer of Wilderstein's
interiors and the owner, Robert. Fabulous work
and it really should be published, I'm pushing
to see if we can get that done, a very brilliant
young woman did it. We've also made some connections
with Columbia's program in architecture and
historic preservation and we had a Masters thesis
printed about the architecture of Wilderstein
based on the collections here. So slowly we're
doing it. I just had a letter today from the
Sotherby's people saying that it was such a
wonderful experience for their students and
they want to know if they can arrange to come
back another year as a learning experience.
really it's only been accessible now for what,
just under 10 years right?
Duane: [nodding] But
the collections have only been accessible really
since Miss Suckley died in 1991. She lived here,
it was her personal stuff! A lot of it had been
moved to the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park
for storage just because we were afraid. Now
we really have three storage sites, two onsite
and one off site and we've tried to say, "Ok,
this is the most important stuff". But..., we've
reached the point now where the bulk is so big
that we can't keep it onsite. What I'm hoping
is that we can take the Ice House and create,
restore the exterior, and create an environmentally
controlled fire proof storage facility so that
we have the collection onsite for use.
HV/Net: I want
to ask you some about the FDR connection. What
can you tell me?
[smiling...] What would you like to know??...
Duane: Well, actually it
appears that Daisy met Franklin after he had
been stricken with polio. Well, she probably
had met him at a dance in 1910. They were cousins,
so they probably also met as children. But you
know she wasn't here for ten years.
what is that about?
The family boarded up Wilderstein and moved
to Europe for ten years. It wasn't until they
came back that, it appears it was Sarah [FDRs
mother] who brought Daisy into the picture
in 1922. It was probably an effort to provide
Franklin with company. So it looks like they
got to know each other during this time. She
would spend time down there and he would come
here to Wilderstein. I think it was probably
a fairly casual relationship at this point,
a social relationship.
Eleanor part of this? Did she know both Eleanor
Duane: Well, she was Eleanor's
fifth cousin and Franklin's sixth cousin you
know. So yes, she and Eleanor knew each other,
but I'm not sure of the relationship. I think
that yes there would have been interaction between
Miss Suckley and Eleanor and Franklin on a social
level. It seems Sarah encouraged a small group
of people to come and occupy Roosevelt and entertain
him. But it would have been only family and
close friends, a social thing. It wasn't until
later that Miss Suckley and Roosevelt developed
a more intimate friendship.
During the time that he was Governor there's
correspondence that he gave things, gifts and
books and stuff like that, so the social connection
was there. And I don't think it's till he's
in the, gets to Washington, and I'm, I'd have
to reread Geoffrey Ward's book, I'm not a Roosevelt
scholar on all of this, but, their relationship
seemed to develop and their interest in the
same things. He would come up here, they both
liked nature so they'd go out birding. There's
a wonderful adventure where she organizes this
little secret birding trip and they [a group
of bird watchers] meet FDR at 4 o'clock
in the morning or 3 o'clock in the morning and
they get out to eastern Dutchess to see the
birds at sunrise. We have the card where he
signs that he's seen so many birds and she's
seen so many birds. All of this is done so nobody
knows. They'd go driving around. He shared her
interest in local history, or she his. And they,
we have a hand drawn [by FDR] family
chart where it shows the Roosevelts and it shows
the, it's the Livingston and Beekmans I guess,
and you finally go down and see him and you
see her on there [gesturing in a horizontal
line between two points] and you see how
they were, they're connected through the Beekman
family. So they always refer to each other as
the Beekman cousins.
They loved the River. There was always a lot
of interest in the River.
did Eleanor have to say about this relationship?
I think that Eleanor was so involved with other
issues that, both her political things and the
work she was doing. Daisy entertained...
wasn't part of this friendship or was she...?
I mean, we all hear about Eleanor and all the...
relationships that were going on...
Duane: It's very interesting
because in everything I've read, and I think
I've read every letter that we have when she
[Miss Suckley] talks about, not just
the stuff that Geoffrey Ward put in his book,
but things she talks to her cousins and sisters
and brothers about, and she's always very solicitous
to Eleanor. And invitation after invitation
come from Eleanor. We have a ton of stuff from
Eleanor to Miss Suckley...
HV/Net: It wasn't
a purely private relationship just between her
Duane: She was part of the
family in a way. But she was a very unobtrusive
quiet person who would go and listen and would
take care of whatever had to be done. They called
her "The Little Brown Wren" you know. Nobody
suspected that she was an intimate with the
President and his thinking about things. I think
Eleanor , this is just a personal thing, that
she was probably glad to have somebody who would
entertain him and make him happy because he
was not the kind of person who could relax.
I mean he was very outgoing but he, particularly
the last years of his life, was not well at
all. Daisy would sort of make sure that he got
something to eat. Eleanor was out there on the
Front Line really covering for him I think.
HV/Net: So Daisy
spent, my impression from what you just said
is that she spent a great deal of time with
him in Washington as well as up here?
Duane: Yes. And then he appointed
her as a Junior Archivist when they opened the
Roosevelt Library. She was as poor as a church
mouse. She was the only one in the family who
worked. They had lost land from lack of being
able to pay taxes, their investments had gone
bad, the family wanted to maintain the Mother,
the Father had died in 1922, from then on the
children took care of the Mother and maintaining
her lifestyle at the level a social person should
have. And Bobby, the nephew was schizophrenic,
had to have special medical treatment and in
fact housing at one point. So it simply was
only Daisy earning money as a secretary to her
Aunt. It was the only income coming into the
family other than small amounts of income coming
in from investments, they continued to get some.
But, that's part of the reason they didn't do
anything with the house, there just wasn't money
enough to keep...
HV/Net: So the
tenants and the land was gone at this point?
Most of it, most of it. By the, well after the
Depression practically everything was gone.
But before that they still held on to some,
but some of it they didn't pay the taxes. But
the people who had, the tenants who had the
land, paid enough so that they had a legal case
for saying that they had the right to the land.
So they [the Suckleys] lost it. Then
they began selling off pieces of the land in
this area. They owned a lot right around this
[pointing at the house and grounds].
As I say, they owned 150 acres on the estate
at one point. And uh, it cost a lot to keep
Arthur happy in Monaco...
Duane: Arthur's income was
not great and so he couldn't support Mama and,
you know... Arthur liked being at really good
parties where there was a lot of good food to
eat and he met people with titles and went to
tennis matches and he went down to Monaco and
went to various places in Europe during the
season. And then he would come to Wilderstein
during the summer and then back again. He lived
a very comfortable...
HV/Net: A great
Duane: ...life. And he lived...,
in a way he lived a very Spartan life because
he pretty much rented out his whole house in
Monaco. He had a little room in the basement
or down on a lower floor and rented the rest
of it. But he was a Gentleman tho. Well, anyway...
HV/Net: So Margaret,
Daisy, working as a secretary, that was really
the only income to the family?
Duane: Until she became the
Archivist, you know, the Junior Archivist at
the Roosevelt Library where she, her responsibility
really was to handle the Presidents collection
of local history and family history. That also
gave her the opportunity to officially be in
Washington a whole lot. And, she would go down
and she went on a number of trips with him across
the country and to Warm Springs. She and Sarah
Delano, uh Laura Delano, another cousin, both
loved dogs so she gave him Fala. So they had
a great time. She would laugh at his jokes and
she would listen to what he said and never disagree
and tell him things like "you have to eat your.."
Duane: ...porridge, and all
this stuff and humored him. And it seems from
the letters that she really filled a very...,
Now whether or not there was anything..., um,
physical that went on with them, I personally
seem to really doubt it. But, she obviously
loved him, but, um, love doesn't obviously have
HV/Net: No it
Duane: ...a fling in bed.
HV/Net: Is there
any.., um..., within the collection of the Roosevelt
family are there references in fact to her?
Duane: Well, she did an oral
history, she wrote some magazine things. There
are references within the Roosevelt collection,
but they're very minimal and researchers will
mention her as having been someone. But I think
until the letters and the diaries appeared here
at Wilderstein, that people, nobody realized
that she was that close to FDR. It's very interesting
I think because he carried her letters around,
a lot of them, in his fishing creel or stamp
box or something like that. After he died she
wrote a note saying "you know, there are some
old letters I wrote or he wrote, if nobody wants
them you know I'd like to have them back." Obviously
she was looking out for FDR. We have a trunk,
literally a trunk full of newspaper clippings
about Roosevelt. I call this the Rooseveltiana
collection. It's everywhere, every newspaper
article, book after book about him. And then
there's a whole series of books that say "OH",
Our House, or Our Hill, this house on the hill
refers to Top Cottage. And they are all signed
by him and a date and they say "To MM", My Margaret,
or "To Margaret". So...
HV/Net: So how...,
this may be an impertinent question, but how
intimate was she? It sounds more of an obsession.
It's hard for me at this point with what little
I've been able to read about her to understand
the nature of the relationship. Not to be salacious,
but, it sounds like she focused on him for a
very long period of time...
Duane: She did...
to her own exclusion.
Duane: When she was growing
up, when she was a young woman, she had a number
of suitors. She was attractive and she came
from a family that, at the time, that was prominent
and connected and had a fair amount of money.
And she never seemed to uh, get engaged or anything.
She was always everyone's friend. She was a
very kind person to people. And as you're reading
things, [the letters and correspondence,
you see that] people would always depend
on Daisy to do things. I think that when she
got with Roosevelt, she filled a need both for
him and herself. He seems to have been the kind
of person who needed people to do things for
him. Not just because he was physically disabled,
but because he needed attention.
HV/Net: A part
of his personality...
Duane: ...she needed someone
to do something for. And she just admired him
tremendously. I think she was obviously in love
with him and really thought that at some point
he would retire and they would live at Top Cottage.
She helped design Top Cottage, and she writes
about the Big Bedroom and the Little Bedroom
and who has the closets and who doesn't. We
have furniture here that was in Top Cottage
that she loaned him. So, I mean, and then, I
guess Roosevelt was charming to women...
HV/Net: It was
...and I think that she read more into it than
he intended. There seems to have been a time
period when this sort of closeness..., didn't
stop, but it took a different turn. It took
a more realistic turn where she was just one
of his entourage and maybe very special, always
very special, but her place was not going to
be one where it was just the two of them. And
she was a bright enough person to realize that.
But I think it was almost like a teenager thing.
Here she was 50 years old...
Duane: ...and she was in
love. And you read her diaries and it sounds
like a teenager.
did she do after he died?
Duane: She was full time...
impact did that have on her?
Duane: at the Roosevelt library.
She was there for over 20 years.
there any writings about her feelings about
Duane: Oh yes, there are
Duane: Geoffrey Ward has
quoted a lot of that..
his book "Closest Companion"?