My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 5, “Images of Internment,” Exhibition at the FDR Presidential Library (2017)

If you’re like me, and you have a penchant for attracting liars, cheats, and emotionally hollowed-out husks of men, do yourself a favor and date yourself. Style that hair, strap on your best shoes, and go out into the world, confident that your favorite heels would never let you down. Literally. Personally, after being thrown into an unwanted girlfriend receptacle by my ex, I picked myself up out of the the heap, and looked into a bright future of hot dates with myself!

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For date number 5, I thought that it might be best to pull out all of the stops. Really impress myself. I wanted the museum, the mansion and the garden experience all rolled into one delectable date! Perusing the internet during the summer of 2017, I discovered that the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY was having an exhibition titled “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of the Japanese Americans During WWII,” featuring ephemera, documents, and over 200 WPA photographs of the wasteland habitat carved-out for Japanese Americans by the impetus of Executive Order 9066. If anything else, this date would fashion an entire new appreciation for my mobile freedom.

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I began my date by taking a tour of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home, Springwood. It was the place that he was born, rode pretty ponies as a boy, retreated during his Presidency, and, after he died, came to rest in the rose garden– along with his wife and my girl, Eleanor Roosevelt, and faithful dog, Fala. But, we’ll visit the gang in the rose garden a bit later on my date.

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The romance of my date with myself began at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center, where  I, along with a jolly band of tour goers, gathered around a pictorial mosaic floor map of FDR’s childhood neighborhood. This set-up allows for moments of intense geographical study, wistful daydreaming, and casual people watching while a knowledgeable U.S. Park Ranger tour guide fills you in on local history.

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After gaining a better grasp on local topography, it was time to walk over to the Springwood home, which was purchased by FDR’s father, James Roosevelt, in 1866. In 1882, Franklin D. Roosevelt made his grand entrance into the world within the walls of Springwood, and would later come to live there with his mum, Sara Roosevelt, and his fantastically wonderful– though genetically too close for my modern comfort– cousin and bride, Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1915, FDR and his mummy dearest, Sara, decided that the home was too small for a growing family, and hired the Hoppin and Koen architectural firm of NYC to add two additional wings to the original house, resulting in a charming Colonial Revival-style structure, with field stone facade, and columned portico. Some rather handsome ivy has taken residence on the outer walls, and spends its time on the portico with 100 year-old potted palms. What fun!

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View from Springwood Home of the Hudson Valley

Stepping across the threshold of Springwood is like entering a time capsule, which was permanently suspended in the year of 1945– the year of FDR’s death. As per his request, the Springwood estate and property was donated to the public, and given to the U.S. Department of the Interior, where it has since then been maintained as a National Historic Site. The home boasts some interesting ship and sailboat paintings (FDR was a great collector of them– among other things), a fun game of Parcheesi from the 1940s (I’m dying to know who won the game!), and all of Sara Roosevelt’s encroaching floral curtains. After FDR’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt remained in her personal home on the estate, Val-Kill, which you can visit.

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After exiting the house, I wandered to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library by way of the garden, and said hello to the bones of FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and little dog, Fala. (They were enjoying the pleasant sunny weather!). After paying my respects, I finally made my way to the library and museum, where I could enjoy the “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of the Japanese Americans During WWII” exhibition, which was tinged with bitter sweet irony, since it was FDR himself who signed into order the awful Executive Order 9066.

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After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fear and rumors stirred together on the west coast of the U.S. to create an ugly cocktail of racist sentiment and xenophobia. In response to the spread of fear, hatred and political pressure, FDR signed Executive order 9066, authorizing the Secretary of War to designate certain areas as military zones, which allowed for the incarceration of over 120,000 people of Japanese descent: 70,000 of which were American born citizens, and none of which were found guilty of espionage or sabotage.

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Entire families were taken from their homes, losing businesses and belongings, and placed behind barbed wire in some of the most desolate and lonely landscapes of the American West. Some of the photos displayed at the exhibition were taken in camps such as Heart Mountain, and Manzanar, where windy, wet winters, and dusty, dry summers chafed at the people who lived in flimsy plywood homes.

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photo: Dorothea Lange (1943)

However, the incarcerated prisoners made the best of the situation, setting up schools, ballet studios, newspapers, and even screen printing shops. As a super tangential side-note, some members of the Internment Camps joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit in 1943, becoming the most highly decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. History. Coming from the wastelands of the American West, their motto was appropriately “Go For Broke.”

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Photo: Hikaru Iwasaki (1943)

All of the photos exhibited an interplay of darkness and light: hopeful smiles from children set in a barren dustbowl; unflagging athletes competing in games with a barbed wire backdrop; proud graduates donning a cap and gown, trapped in place of confinement. Of course (because I cry like three times a day for fun), these exquisite photos brought tears to my eyes. I was reminded that even in the depths of sadness and strife, there is hope of happiness if one is strong enough and willing enough to alter their perspective. And just like the little girl, flying through the air on a swing in Hikaru Iwasaki’s photo (1943), I, too, have seen a beautiful place for myself on the horizon.

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My Muses: Calliope and Bessie Stringfield

I’m sitting in a beach-house in Lauderdale by the Sea. It’s my break from school, and I’m having a difficult time slathering sunscreen (SPF 30) and joining my merry holiday party on the beach. Too much relaxation generally scares me, and on this trip I’m terrified. With no papers due or readings to debate, I feel as if I have been unmoored—bobbing about aimlessly in a sea of relaxation and sloth. Ah, well enough about my troubles. To remedy my fear of having fun, I decided to create a project of vacation-size proportions for myself, assigning real-life, honest to Zeus women to the nine Greek Muses: Calliope, Clio (my personal favorite), Euterpe, Erato, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania. Today, I begin with Calliope:

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Calliope is the Greek Muse of epic poetry. Surely, if one wants to be inspired in an epic way, the bad-ass Bessie Stringfield fits the bill. Now, any epic saga should have a hero born out of strife, and Bessie was certainly met with some hard-times. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1911, her parents moved the family to Boston when she was very young, and after their unfortunate passing, Bessie was adopted by an Irish woman when she was five. She found herself an orphaned black girl, lodged in the societally sticky early 1900s. And though she was met with quite a bit of resistance from patriarchal, white-washed America, Bessie didn’t give a damn. She was a spirited lady with a motorbike.

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When Bessie turned nineteen, she got herself a 1928 Indian Scout motorcycle and made several cross-country trips, funding her travels by performing motorcycle stunts in carnival shows. It might seem as if Bessie had found freedom on the open road, but she was often denied accommodations at motels because of her skin color, and had to sleep out in the open, on her motorcycle at filling stations. Because she was a female, she was many times denied the prizes that she won in flat-track races.

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But, such circumstances did not keep Bessie and her motorcycle down. During WWII, she became the only woman to serve as a dispatch rider for the United States Army, delivering documents to domestic Army bases atop her breezy blue Harley Davidson. It was a grueling and dangerous job—one which bad-ass Bessie was perfectly suited for.

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After the beaches of Normandy had been stormed, and WWII passed into the annals of history, Bessie’s job as a courier for the U.S. Army ended. She moved to Miami, Florida: land of sunshine and racism. Bessie was repeatedly pulled over and harassed by the Miami police. Apparently, black women weren’t allowed to ride motorcycles. But, apparently, they had never met Bessie Stringfield before.

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Bessie went on down to the police station, and met with the police captain to discuss the issue of her driving her motorcycle. They convened in a nearby empty lot, where Bessie could show off her riding prowess; whereafter, the police chief gave her his approval to ride whenever she pleased, and the police never bothered her again. Decades later, I’m sitting here and wondering what exactly Bessie did to change to police chief’s mind. She must have put on one hell of a show to sway the minds of people living in an area rife with racism and sexism and sink-holes. In that moment, she broke ground for both women and African Americans who wanted to ride their motorcycles in freedom. Known as the “Motorcycle Queen of Miami,” Bessie Stringfield is an epic muse. She rode her motorcycle until the day she died.

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