For almost my entire life, I have been a semi-obsessive student of WWI, and most particularly, WWI aviation. It started with the most innocuous of sources, a comic strip. It blossomed into a full-blown fascination that has never really subsisted.
When Snoopy began fighting the Red Baron in the comic strips in 1965, I became curious to find out more about the Red Baron, Sopwith Camels, and other aspects mentioned casually in the strip.
Then I found out that two of my great uncles served in WWI, one even losing a lung to mustard gas on the front lines, and ultimately appearing in an article about the “Great War” in Life Magazine. I was hooked (which is an inside joke, as my Uncle’s name was Irving Hook).
My Uncle Irv…entertaining the troops with a captured piano, in the trenches of the Western Front in WWI.
I built countless scale models, read every book I could lay my hands on, and even had a WWI plane in my backyard.
OK. So…maybe it was an antique Railway Express cart, with lawn chair, and a plunger, fitted with a bicycle grip and a nail for the trigger as my “joy stick”…but I had ACTUAL WWI era goggles (bought at a garage sale), and a windbreaker that looked kind of like a flight jacket…all much to my father’s concern. I spent hours of “fight time” in my plane…over the trenches of Western France, doing battle with any number of Jasta from the “Bosch” who inhabited the “other side.” Yes. I did this well into Junior High. Yes. I was a “peculiar kid.”
I don’t fly my own planes. In fact, the one time I have been in an open cockpit biplane, I came to realize the men who flew these things into battle were more than a little insane.
But…once I found out about it, one of the key spots on my Bucket List, was the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, NY.
Cross that off of the list…and call me amazed by what I found, as well as the obsession of the man who built it.
Then we visited the home of who I consider to be one of the greatest Presidents of all time…but not for the reasons you may think.
Follow us to Rhinebeck and Hyde Park on Day 8 of our journey…
I spent the entire three hours at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome with an “idiot smile” on my face. This is the face I get when I am sailing, when I hit a great shot in golf, and when I am amazed by a virtuoso performance of music. My face hurt by the time we left…it was simply overwhelming.
First of all…you have to understand, that this place was built, guided and maintained by one man and a team of fellow WWI enthusiasts. It is waaaaaay out in the pristine farm land that surrounds the town of Rhinebeck, which is several miles off of the main highways.
There is a museum, full to the brim with vintage aircraft and memorabilia. Then there is an actual working aerodrome, where a team of pilots fly several of the vintage aircraft in weekend airshow/mock battles. We missed the battle, due to scheduling conflicts…but it will be on my list for the next time we come.
I could go on and on and on, about the rickety nature of these planes, and the courage/insanity of the pilots who flew them into battle. But the best thing to do, is to turn you on their web site, and then trust me, that these things are glorified paper gliders, with unreliable engines, wings that tended to fall apart with too much strain, while people are shooting at you from all angles of the air/ground, while your plane is trying to crash unless you fight the torque of the oversized engine.
HERE IS THE SITE. It is loaded with pics, information about Cole Palen, the founder, originator and first pilot, and gives you a sense of why you need to go, if you are anywhere near the place.
Cole Palin– the man who dreamed, built, guided, and maintained this amazing place.
Snoopy never looked as cute as this standing next to his Sopwith Camel…
Cole’s other obsessions were vintage motorcycles and cars…
These guns were often as lethal to the ones firing them, as the shoe who were being pursued.
The Wright Flyer…started it all.
The Fokker D-1 Monoplane. The first “fighter” equipped with a synchronized, forward firing machine gun.
Cole Palen in his prime…happy as could be, entertaining, and flying..
This cutaway, shows just how rickety and basic these planes were. Bailing wire, a seat, and some pulleys. At 3,000 feet…in freezing temps…with someone shooting at you.
What $395 could buy you in 1905
Yep…you laid down below the engine…on that little sling. The landings must have been brutal.
The Fokker DR1 was my favorite plane of the War…and the last plane that “The Red Baron” flew when he was killed. He had more “kills” in Albatross models, but loved this place for its ability to climb and maneuver.
Rolls Royce Roadster…hand made perfection.
A vintage WW1 Tank. Is there any wonder why these were considered dangerous and unreliable in the mud? But they scared the hell out of the enemies when they saw them lumbering and firing toward the trenches.
The Spad VII, a favorite of the American Lafayette Escadrille…the “Flying Stork” squadron. Eddie Rickenbacker flew these, as well as the Spad XIII, which had duel machine guns, and more power.
Another Fokker DR1…this one is used for the air show.
The Fokker D VII, was the arguably the best plane in the War. Unfortunately for Germany, it wasn’t placed into service until the war was almost over.
I love the sleek lines of the Albatross DV. It is a model I must have built at least 10 times in my lifetime, in various sizes and scales.
Deb was a trooper. She allowed me all of the time I needed, and agreed that we had to come back one day when we could see the air show. It will have to suffice for the time being.
We then started heading back West toward Ryan and Katie’s in Scotch Plains NJ, knowing that we had a couple hours leeway to meander if something caught out attention. We weren’t 15 minutes into our journey when we saw signs for the “FDR Presidential Home and Library.” Boom. Decision made.
Let’s just get this out of the way…
While many modern “armchair politicians” deem FDR a semi-communist, and a President who overreached his powers to change government as we know it, I’m going to say this once, and once only…
Without FDR…you morons wouldn’t have social security, medicare, most of your pensions, some semblance of regulation over Wall St. (although Clinton and the Gingrich clan did their best to gut that), as well as countless results of Federal Work programs that ultimately helped get us out of the Great Depression. So…shut, the F&*K up…or give back all of your “entitlements.”
To me, someone who has been obsessed with politics and history, the most important thing that makes FDR great, is that he clearly didn’t have to do a damn thing. He CHOSE to dedicate his life to serving his nation, and the public good, when he could have just sat back and spent the family fortune. His life of service, in spite of guaranteed family wealth, is the antithesis of at least one of the current Presidential Candidates.
The amazing thing about the FDR library is that he and his mother planned, built and filled most of it, while he was still a sitting President. It has been augmented by countless artifacts, collections (the guy was a huge collector of a long list of things), and displays about his strengths, weaknesses, and foibles. It is honest. It is overwhelmingly direct. And it makes it clear how much our country needed every bit of his service.
There are many parallels between FDR and Obama. But, every challenge that FDR faced was magnified by several notches of difficulty. The one advantage the FDR had over Obama, is a congress that for the most part, could actually agree to put aside partisan bickering to get thing done. The Great Depression, rampant joblessness, and a World War are the kind of things that could and probably should sink a lesser man (ask Woodrow Wilson). FDR did it all…while battling a crippling disease. He had an amazing woman by his side (along with a few other women to bolster his spirits), as well as his detractors.
An amazing man. Period.
Deb and I parked near what we thought was marked as the FDR home. We both commented that it seemed to be kind of smallish, and very much in need of a paint job. It had the wheelchair ramp…but just didn’t seem quite right.
Because it wasn’t. It was the Park Service house…which had been servant quarters in the days of this estate being an actual home. OK. Good to know.
At the interpretive center, there are explanations of the many Roosevelt homes, cabins and properties in the area, including the Top Cottage, where FDR and Lucy Mercer used to meet.
Deb, having a casual conversation with FDR and Eleanor.
The entrance to the FDR Library…several floors, including a basement, loaded with priceless treasures.
the Actual FDR Home is just a bit larger…as in huge.
Because this house was designed to become a “National Treasure” and open to the public in its design, every item inside is original..carpets, furniture, decorations, paintings, books…it’s as if every single item was there in 1946…because it WAS.
Because FDR wanted to keep his polio a secret, he had no ramps in the house, or up to the house. Instead, he used a small wheelchair he designed from a narrow kitchen chair, that allowed him to use the freight elevator to go between floors.
FDR’s Childhood Bedroom
FDR’s Bedroom as an adult.
Eleanor’s bedroom, after FDR contracted polio.
The huge family horse barn…loaded to the brim with original Roosevelt family tack, ribbons, and pictures.
The memorial gardens, including the resting place of FDR and Eleanor. It is the size of his White House desk…but otherwise completely humble and understated.
I can’t beleive to show even a fraction of all of the amazing displays and memorabilia in the FDR Presidential Library. It was overwhelming…humbling…and inspiring.
The unvarnished truth…does little to diminish his accomplishments.
FDR’s Leg Braces and Canes…a symbol of his personal courage, knowing that keeping his “darkest secret” was needed to instill confidence with the worldwide public, who looked to him for strength and guidance during some of the darkest days of world history.
We stayed as long as we could stay, did a quick drive-by of the Vanderbilt estate (which is as garish and self serving as the family who resided there), and then continued on to meet up with Katie a couple hours drive away.
Coming into Scotch Plains, NJ… there is one of the WWI cannons that is almost ubiquitous in small towns across the East and Midwest.
We celebrated our arrival with Katie in Scotch Plains with a drink at the Coach House…
Then we wandered over to the church cemetery nearby, and found some “patrons” from as early as 1751, as well as a handful of Revolutionary War Vets.
An Amazing Day….My head was still swimming by the time we had to get up the next morning..at 3:30 AM, to go into NYC to “Katie’s work” at CBS.