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LIBRARY OFFERINGS: Local libraries give free museum passes



The author (left in sidecar) at the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh. Photo contributed

HUDSON–The Columbia County Libraries Association (CCLA) ushered in the New Year with a free museum pass program for county residents with a library account in good standing. The program is in its fourth year and passes were available throughout January up to February 4.

In an email Emily Chameldes, director of the Hudson Area Library, explained that individual branches had been providing some passes. “We (CCLA) joined together to improve access to these resources …by working together, we…offer a wider variety and larger number of passes…than… individual libraries.” The museum program steadily has gained popularity. 1,432 passes were issued in 2021 compared to 2,385 passes issued last year.

Twenty-five venues located in Albany, Columbia, Greene, Dutchess and Orange counties as well as Berkshire County, MA and Bennington County, VT, participate. The online process to get a pass was simple and convenient. Admission generally covered 2-5 people.

Incentivized to get out of the house at an unforgiving time of year, four venues were selected. The first stop was the Trevor Zoo located on 6 acres of the Millbrook School in Millbrook. It is the only US high school with a zoo.

On a gorgeous sunny day that warmed cool temperatures most of the animals save the river otters were active. The zoo is sectioned by geographic areas: Africa, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, North America, Central and South America. Navigating them was easy and the exhibits replicated a natural environment as much as possible.

According to the zoo’s brochure, “nine of the 170 exotic and indigenous species displayed are considered endangered” including two species of lemurs: ring-tailed, and black & white ruffled; red wolf, red panda and golden lion tamarin. The black & white ruffled lemurs were especially vocal with the “boss” unleashing cacophonous and chilling screams.

The North America section included 4 species of owls: barred, snowy, eastern screech and great horned; 3 species of hawks: cooper, red-tailed and red-shouldered; and 2 species of vultures: black and turkey.

The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum and Outdoor Discovery Center in Cornwall was the second visit. The 176-acre facility is strongly youth focused. Its Grasshopper Grove is open only on weekends. Youth programs offer various classes on turtles, foxes, dragonflies and other common species.

Also, the grounds include 3 miles of accessible walking trails including a mix of loop, field and pond trails of modest elevations. Also, its Red Trail is an official NYS Birding route. The walking trails are open year-round from dawn to dusk.

The third visit was to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park operated by the National Park Service. Unfortunately the library and museum were undergoing a deep cleaning and were not open to the public; however the Roosevelt home was open for a $10 admission fee. It was worth the price due in no small part to Ranger Dimitri Stratis, the tour guide. He offered several anecdotes about Roosevelt that made the program especially interesting.

We were an intimate group of 6. The Roosevelt home, known as Springwood, is a 3-story, 35-room, 9.5-bath, 17 thousand square foot building. As the Roosevelt family grew, 18 rooms were added flanking the right and left sides of the central area. The third floor was reserved for children’s bedrooms, baths, nursery and playroom.

Stratis explained, “moneyed families, like the Roosevelts,” were referred to by the locals as “River Families.” Indeed the estate’s southern flank offers spectacular and arresting views of the Hudson River, Catskill Mountains and the Mid-Hudson Bridge.

Roosevelt’s father purchased the 110- acre property, which was expanded to 1500 acres including the planting of 42,000 trees, over the president’s lifetime. According to Stratis the Hudson was Franklin’s water playground. “He acquired his first yacht at age 14 before he had a car even.” Stratis described Roosevelt as an avid birder, who could “identify all species common to the Hudson Valley by their calls.”

Franklin Roosevelt’s political career began in 1910 when he was elected a state senator representing Columbia, Dutchess and Putnam counties. Stratis noted an irony that though Roosevelt was regarded as an esteemed Hyde Park resident, “he never carried Hyde Park or Dutchess County in any of his elections. The area was staunch Republican.”

Though polio is largely identified as a childhood disease, Roosevelt was afflicted by it at age 39. According to Stratis, Roosevelt caught the virus while mixing and mingling at a Boy Scout Jamboree near Bear Mountain, where five youth also contracted the disease. “He was paralyzed from the chest down.”

Roosevelt’s condition required discreet renovations at Springwood. Ramps were added to the first floor and hidden under clear surfaces. The first floor rooms had small chairs with bicycle wheels attached to facilitate his movement. Also, a first floor dumb waiter was outfitted to serve as an elevator to access the second floor.

The second floor’s south wing housed the adults’ bedrooms. Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, had a small bedroom “sandwiched” between two spacious rooms for her husband and mother-in-law.

As Roosevelt’s political career advanced, the first floor rooms were converted to “official” use for meetings with Democratic Party leaders and extended stays by international leaders. Stratis said that UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Springwood four times and on one of those occasions they discussed the “creation and use of atomic bombs.”

The family went to great length to hide Roosevelt’s infirmity from the public. Stratis explained, “This was a time when circuses exhibited disabled people for entertainment.” Roosevelt discovered swimming in “hot springs” as effective therapy. He established the “Little White House,” a modest, six room one-story cottage in Warm Springs, GA.

He regained sufficient strength to limit the paralysis to below his waist and was able to sit up and “walk.” Boxer Jack Dempsey said “FDR looked like a boxer waist up.” Stratis said that Roosevelt’s hips were “atrophied and his legs withered. 14 pounds of steel encased his legs.” Roosevelt used a stout cane and balanced himself on the arm of a relative, usually his eldest son, James, whose arm would be heavily bruised “black and blue” by the end of a day. When walking in a group “all participants would adopt Roosevelt’s stiff gait so that he would not stick out.”

Both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are entombed at Springwood in the Memorial Rose Garden, where their two dogs, Chief and Fala, are also buried. The historic site includes 2 walking trails, the 1.7- mile Forest Trail, which is steep in sections and a flat .8-mile loop Meadow Trail.

The last visit was to the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh. This 2-story, 85 thousand square foot warehouse like facility has a collection of 650 motorcycles built from 1900 to the present. All of the exhibited motorcycles have been accumulated by museum founder Ted Doering and are kept in immaculate condition.

The facility is sectioned by brands: Indian, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki etc. as well as lesser known brands such as the Arlen Ness Lowrider. Service motorcycles, used by the military and police departments, are also displayed. These bikes have low centers of gravity and more storage space. Although Harley Davidson became known as “the police motorcycle” the 1945 Indian Chief “Police Special,” which had a 4-speed transmission and a reverse gear, was a favorite among 70% of the nation’s law enforcement departments. In addition the museum has a celebrity wall featuring actors, singers and politicians with their bikes.

Our tour guide, Peter Giordano, was very informative and led us through the Indian section. The company was the first motorcycle manufacturer. Giordano explained that the first motorcycles were bicycles with engines and tires made of natural rubber, a grey-white colored soft substance. Over three years, 1901- 03, 522 models were sold.

Giordano said that the “first real motorcycle” was built in 1910. The gas tank was located in the center; headlight and luggage rack were optional. In 1911 the first kick starter was added as well as durable black tires. In 1927 front brakes were added. 1924 brought the first motorcycle designed specifically for women, the Royal Enfield 201A/ 225 cc, was manufactured in England.

All types of motorcycles are displayed and this museum encourages visitors to sit on designated bikes and in sidecars. Some have a passenger seat in front of the driver, like the 1904 Quadrant Carette made in England, or next to the driver; and sidecars on either the right or left. The MKII Ariel, made in 1954, has a 2-passenger sidecar. Invacare made a motorcycle designed for handicap drivers that included a seat belt to secure the driver and a sidecar for a wheelchair.

The museum, also, has excellent signage and video screens throughout the exhibit. One story told is “Veronica Feeling R.I.P” about the adventurous female motorcyclist, who rode for two years (2013-15) circumnavigating the globe. Her trip was to culminate in her driving off a pier in Newburg into the Hudson River. When her 750 Honda hit the water Feeling’s bike exploded into a fireball and she did not survive. There is controversy whether the stunt was actually a suicide attempt or an “inexplicable accident.”

The 2024 museum pass participating venues include: Albany Institute of History & Art, Bennington Museum, Berkshire Botanical Garden, Boscobel, Chesterwood, Clark Art Institute, Empire Pass, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, FDR Presidential Library & Museum, Hancock Shaker Village, Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, Hudson River Maritime Museum, Iroquois Museum, MASS MoCA, Motorcyclepedia Museum, Olana State Historic Site, Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Opus 40, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Trevor Zoo at Millbrook School, Underground Railroad Education Center, and USS Slater.

Don’t see your favorite venue on the list? CCLA Director Chameldes writes, “Suggestions for additional venues can be submitted through one’s home library. The CCLA reviews current and potential passes each year and makes determinations based on patron interest, museum pass cost and availability.”

Mark your calendars for 2025.

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