Here I am at my new volunteer gig – at the FDR Memorial near the National Mall. I love the spiffy official shirt and cap they give the volunteers, love this statue added four years after the memorial opened to finally acknowledge his disability (some protests really work!), and I totally love this memorial, designed as it was by a landscape architect, not an architect (just sayin’).
So if you haven’t seen the memorial, that’s a tip-off to what’s so different about it – it’s garden-like and experiential, laid out as a walking experience through 7.5 acres depicting the years of FDR’s administrations and even after his death, to a statue of our first ambassador to the U.N. – Eleanor Roosevelt.
There’s a lot in the memorial about the New Deal, though I’m afraid it’s not at all clear to the visitor, but that’s where my job as a volunteers come in. While I’m still new and not totally schooled in Roosevelt history, I spend my time explaining the most abstract part of the memorial, where confused faces appear on visitors whether they’re from Arlington or Azerbaijan – the panels below called “Social Programs” and the even more puzzling columns near the panels. Here’s the answer to what’s almost a riddle: each panel has a corresponding column that’s its exact reverse. So if something is concave on the wall it’s convex on the column.
During my first days as a volunteer I’d listen to Rangers giving tours and I once heard a scene on this wall identified as depicting Greenbelt! But sorry to report, according to the official “Mall 101” study guide for volunteers, it’s actually a TVA dam, so chalk that up to Ranger error. In fact, the Resettlement Administration that built Greenbelt isn’t depicted on these panels at all. What’s included are scenes of workers, farmers and artists from lots of other New Deal programs, but not ours.
But whatever. I get to greet visitors from all over, explain this puzzling work, and drop hints about how government once put people back to work and even funded art – imagine that! And then I mention that I live in a New Deal-funded town just 20 minutes away. (Yes, since they opened the new “Capitol Hill” exit from 295 South, it takes me that long to get to the FDR off-rush-hour.)
In the book store there are a couple of mentions of Greenbelt, I’m happy to report – these two posters. And I’m told there were once brochures about Greenbelt there, too, and we may be able to simply refresh the supply.
Park Rangers, Pay us a Visit!
But here’s the omission that really surprised me at the FDR Memorial: the discovery that none of the interpretative Rangers or volunteers I’ve met there – these learned fans of FDR and the New Deal, mind you – have ever been to Greenbelt!! Twenty minutes up the road! Didn’t know we have a museum or something called the New Deal Cafe!
Greenbelt Museum folks I mentioned this situation to all expressed interest in hosting a tour for FDR Memorial Rangers, and the Park Service supervisor I suggested this to thought it would make a dandy field trip during the off season! So let’s hope this happens soon and that that these fans of the New Deal will soon become fans of Greenbelt, too. I mean, really!
In favor of this happening? The sequester means field trips have to be short this year. And I’m there every week to bug them.