Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Handwritten Thank You Note to Eleanor Roosevelt -- or the Girl With a Hundred Curls

A week or so ago there was a discussion on Pentrace started by Len Provisor, entitled "What significant person deserves honor on a Limited Edition pen?"

Two of the many suggestions were the crew of Apollo 11 (or just Neil Armstrong alone), as well as Eleanor Roosevelt.

Clearly, that honor should be bestowed upon Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (and let's not forget Michael Collins -- for a time the most isolated and lonely human in history). I wrote something of a paean to the Apollo 11 crew on this blog about a decade ago, which you're welcome to read if you'd care to.

However, I have a familial tie to wanting to celebrate Eleanor Roosevelt.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, circa 1935

My mother was something of a childhood star on radio. She was dubbed the 'Girl With a Hundred Curls', and at age twelve or thirteen she had her own show in Washington, D.C., geared to young people.

You can read the full story here if interested, but to quickly summarize, my mother invited Mrs. Roosevelt to appear on the program with her, and the First Lady accepted.

That appearance was later cancelled (there's some intrigue there), but subsequently Mrs. Roosevelt invited my mother and grandmother to the White House for tea. More than anything, my mother recalled my grandmother only allowing her to take one biscuit -- and most off all -- the strapping Roosevelt boys!

Hearing the story throughout my life, what stuck with me more than anything else was the coda to the story. About six years later after the White House visit my mother -- who was now a young woman of about 18 -- got on an elevator also occupied by Mrs. Roosevelt -- and Mrs. Roosevelt recognized *her*! Can you image? Having met a young girl years prior -- and with thousands of other people she met as First Lady in the interim -- she recognized a transformed young woman that she'd spent a few minutes with years before. I always found that absolutely amazing.

Phyllis Warner Haase

My mother started to become quite ill in 2008 (she passed away in 2009) and I really wanted to find some way to bring this great family story back to her in a special way. I'd questioned her over the years as to whether she had an actual invitation from the White House, or some other physical memorabilia of the event beyond her memory of it and that of my grandmother. She didn't recall there ever being anything like that.

So, I started to do some research to see if there was any 'official' record that I could find for her. Among the sources I tried were the Eleanore Roosevelt Society (if *my* memory serves), the 'First Ladies' Museum in Ohio and several others. I finally struck gold with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

They reported "We have found an index card in the Records of the Office of the Chief
of Social Entertainment which indicates that Miss Phyllis Warner and
Mrs. Charles Warner attended a tea at the White House on June 10, 1937." (That letter exchange can be read here).

But what really made the pursuit worth it, was they also found a handwritten thank you note to Mrs. Roosevelt from my mother:

click on the photo to enlarge

along with a poem she had included:

and a thank you note in return:

I was able to present these to my mother before her 85th birthday, while in the hospital, and a few months before her passing.

If you'd care to, you can see the handwritten note and poem on this page of the memorial website I put up for the Girl With a Hundred Curls.

Norman Haase

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