Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Beloved Island: Franklin & Eleanor and the Legacy of Campobello by Jonas Klein

Why I read it: Annual trips to Campobello.

Summary: James and Sara Roosevelt brought their infant son Franklin to Campobello, New Brunswick, Canada, to soothe his teething, purchasing a cottage. When Franklin and Eleanor came together, they found no reason to leave the island behind. Their greater story is told through the lens of the small island and its community.

My Thoughts: First, I'm privileged to visit Campobello every year as part of my full-time job. I've toured the house and the historic pathways through the dense woods Franklin and family used to wander, and I've even practiced a little citizen science on behalf of Canadian bird conservators. It's one of North America's enchanted places.

Of course, I was not the first to think so. The Roosevelts discovered Campobello at the beginning of its tourism heyday, a period that lasted from 1881 to 1907. At its height, Campobello was a more rustic Bar Harbor, a place focused more on natural beauty than high society, a true escape. Franklin and Eleanor returned regularly for years, bringing up their children there during the summers, allowing them to roam the woods and the waters. As the years advanced and Franklin's career interfered, his visits grew more sporadic. In the end, every step he made came with pomp and circumstance, and a visit to the island meant Navy escorts and hordes of reporters and other followers.

Campobello, too, though, was a place of sadness for FDR. While his youthful days were spent in tennis and boating and "hare and hound" chases through the boreal forests on the island, it was also the place where he was struck down by "infantile paralysis," or polio. He suffered greatly during the first days when he was being diagnosed.

The overall story is of love. It's of the relationship between Eleanor and Franklin, which certainly had its rocky, Clinton-like, moments. It's of Eleanor's upbringing, of Franklin's mother's doting, of the birth and growth of their children. Through it all, the author keeps Campobello at the center of the storm, showing how the island and the cottage (which strangely never received a name) changed FDR and Eleanor, and how the Roosevelts changed Campobello.

Their Campobello home is now part of a joint United States-Canada international park, spectacular to visit in summer. If you've done Hyde Park, put Campobello on the list, and buy this book at the gift shop.

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