The desk Franklin Delano Roosevelt kept in the family’s East 65th Street townhouse

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on this date in 1882. On these winter days I sometimes think of the coming summer, when among other things I usually make a day trip to Hyde Park. When I was there last summer I asked the ranger if the site does something every January 30 to commemorate the occasion of the only four term president’s birth. She said the library & museum hold a brief ceremony every year, often with a contingent from the West Point Band just down the Hudson on hand to play. She emphasized the brevity of the ceremony. The winds blowing cold off the river in late January make a longer event untenable.

The photograph of the desk you see above was not taken in Hyde Park. I took the photo this past November at the Roosevelt House on East 65th Street. I sent the image to a friend of mine the night I took this. He was shocked at how modest and unadorned the desk was. I explained that, for all the wealth the Roosevelts had, they tended toward Dutch restraint. Roosevelt once famously said while president that he did not want a memorial in his honor after his death to be any larger than his desk. They honored that request in the mid 1960s. That it took twenty years to build even such a modest edifice is testimony to how long these things take.

When we think of the Hudson River Roosevelts we think of Hyde Park and Washington. Over course there were the twelve White House years. Thirty years before then, during the First World War when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin and Eleanor rented a house from her Aunt Bamie just off Dupont Circle. Still the Manhattan home, with his mother Sara living next door in a detached townhouse, was very much the family domicile for large stretches throughout their lives. I kept the image above in my photo stream for the past 2 1/2 months waiting until this winter day to mark the 136th anniversary of FDR’s brith.