Hyde Park returns to limelight Recalling an era: Hyde Park lost its news value 50 years ago when President Roosevelt died, but yesterday the town had a chance to relive its days as a center of world attention.

Sun Journal

October 24, 1995|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

HYDE PARK, N.Y. -- History gets old when you don't make it every day, so when two visiting presidents surprised the world yesterday by agreeing to pursue peace in Bosnia together, the historic town of Hyde Park was proud to be standing by.

Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and President Clinton reached their unexpected understanding in a meeting at Springwood, the Hudson River mansion where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born, grew up and often retreated to restore himself as he led the United States through the Great Depression and World War II.

The Roosevelt home, a monument to capitalism, has little of the splendor of the czarist Kremlin. The two leaders met in the home's mahogany-panelled library, lined with books and portraits of forebears, some painted by luminaries like Gilbert Stuart.

The presidents stood outside the library for a few moments, looking at the magnificent Hudson River below. The Morgan mansion stood next door. And the Vanderbilts were up the river.

"It's beautiful," Mr. Yeltsin said, looking over the front yard that covers about 1 1/2 miles.

With this visit Mr. Clinton was returning an invitation.

When Mr. Clinton visited Moscow in May, the Russian president paved a street, erected enormous monuments and sent up an Air Force armada to throw a coming rainstorm off course.

Yesterday Mr. Clinton brought Mr. Yeltsin from New York City, 75 miles away by helicopter, flying over traffic snarled by endless roadwork.

The sunshine was dazzling. And Mr. Clinton brought his guest to an enduring monument to one of the nation's proudest moments.

Just as Mr. Clinton apparently intended, the weight of history worked its magic. Mr. Yeltsin declared himself deeply impressed by Roosevelt's legacy and the way it was preserved in his home and the museum next door.

"I want to bow my head to the people who work here," Mr. Yeltsin said, "who support the persona of President Roosevelt."

He was less solicitous of another U.S. institution, the press, when the two leaders emerged on the front steps of the great stone house, after about four hours of talks. Before the meeting Mr. Yeltsin was expected to have a prickly exchange about Bosnia.

"This was all due to you," he said, scolding the reporters assembled before him in stern tones. "You were writing my meeting with Bill Clinton was going to be a disaster. You are the disaster."

An astonished Mr. Clinton laughed. He doubled over. He wiped tears from his eyes. He told the press to be sure they heard who said it. His face was red with laughter. He threw an arm around Mr. Yeltsin and laughed again, leaning against him as if they were Borscht Belt comedians winding up a great routine.

Hyde Park, a town of 21,000, which stopped making news 50 years ago when Roosevelt died, was pleased.

"This puts Hyde Park on the map," said Gordon Knapp, who owns an antique store just down the street. "Of course it's wonderful to have the world's attention focused on Hyde Park."

Hyde Park was ready. Headlines in the local papers had warned: "FDR site braces for media hordes." There were several stories speculating on how vast the hordes would be, noting that six portable toilets had been ordered and that the rule of thumb was one per 50 people.

The Dutchess County tourism agency served coffee and food for the hordes and stacked their arms with promotional materials.

No one wanted to be blamed for upsetting a world leader. The U.S. Park Service combed the 30-by-50-foot library of the Roosevelt house, removing vases and other breakable objects. Perhaps the leaders would send a piece of glass crashing to the floor, setting off an international incident.

Hyde Park's other institution pitched in. The CIA -- that is, the Culinary Institute of America -- cooked lunch for the presidents. Late into Sunday night, instructors and students worked over their stoves and plates.

Sunday night, Tim Rodgers, the chef instructor in charge, shook his head unhappily as he practiced arranging smoked breast of duckling around a winter beet salad.

The oil and vinegar were separating. 'Do you think we can create an emulsion here?" the CIA president, Ferdinand Metz, asked.

The next day, eight students and their chef instructors served lunch without incident. An emulsion was achieved.

It was one president to another. Mr. Metz himself served Mr. Yeltsin dessert, an assortment of Hudson Valley apple dishes including apple lavender sherbet on a honeycomb and apple mousse on cake. Mr. Yeltsin's eyes lit up, Mr. Metz reported.

A short time later, the agreement was announced. Mr. Yeltsin credited the spirit of Roosevelt, who has particular resonance for Russians.

"The Russians know Roosevelt quite well, better than most Americans," said Alex Yanischeff, a park ranger here. "He was a hero of the Great Patriotic War."

The Russians call World War II the patriotic war because no one escaped sacrifice. They saw Roosevelt as an inspiring ally who tempered the cruel face of capitalism with social protections.

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