When construction began back in 1939 on America’s first Presidential Library, our nation and our president were still resisting involvement in the conflicts raging in Europe and Southeast Asia. But for America and the world, everything changed drastically over the following two years. 1941 was a pivotal year: Bookended by President Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech in January and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, the time had come for Americans to stand against totalitarianism and enter the fray.
In the interim and far from the battle, the new Presidential Library in Hyde Park opened on June 30, 1941. FDR had created a national treasure, one he designed, dedicated and donated to the people of the US to be run by the National Archives and Records Administration. Making the papers of his presidency public documents in this way was an unprecedented act. Since that time, every president has followed his example and established a Presidential Library to preserve and make accessible to the American people the records of their presidencies.
With the mission to foster a deeper understanding of the lives and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and of their continuing impact on contemporary life, the Library maintains archives and a research room, manages the museum collections and exhibitions and offers innovative educational programs and public programming. Over the past 75 years, more than 13 million people have walked through the Library’s front doors. If you’ve never visited the FDR Presidential Library & Museum, this weekend would be a great time to do so.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary, there will be a new special exhibition on Pearl Harbor, titled “Day of Infamy: 24 Hours that Changed History,” in the vanden Heuvel Gallery. Highlighting behind-the-scenes meetings between FDR and his advisors, “Day of Infamy” touches on the shock caused by Japan’s surprise attack, instantly forcing the US into World War II. The account begins on December 7, 1941 and ends 24 hours later when the president delivered his famous address to a joint session of Congress and signed the declaration of war with Japan.
The exhibit includes FDR’s hand-amended first draft of his “Day of Infamy” speech, film of the Pearl Harbor attack, a series of interactive touchscreens that provide visitors with updates on the evolving military situation in the Pacific and audio stations where visitors can access first-person testimony (found in oral histories, diary entries and memoirs) from key individuals who were with FDR on December 7.
The exhibit runs through December 31.
A series of free public events is planned to thank the community and the visiting public for seven-and-a-half decades of support. On Thursday morning, June 30, ceremonial remarks will be offered by historian and author Michael Beschloss to kick things off. The new Pearl Harbor exhibition opens at 12 noon. At 2 p.m., a panel discussion will delve into “A History of the Roosevelt Library.”
On Friday, July 1, visitors can sit in on a book talk, as author William E. Leuchtenburg discusses his book, The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, at 3 p.m. Later that evening, there will be a theatrical performance titled In Their Own Words: The Roosevelts.
Saturday, July 2, will feature a Family Fun Festival on the Lawn, complete with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, World War II music and food trucks. Two repeat performances of In Their Own Words: The Roosevelts will be held: one at 4 p.m. and one at 7 p.m.
All 75th anniversary special events are free to the public; admission to the Library and Museum, including the special exhibition, is also free of charge on Thursday and Saturday.
75th Anniversary Celebration, Thursday-Saturday, June 30-July 2, FDR Presidential Library & Museum, 4079 Albany Post Road (Route 9), Hyde Park; (800) 337-8474, www.fdrlibrary.org.