August 18, 2016
On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate an entire century of preserving our nation's history and environment since its establishment by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. It all began in 1872 when the first National Park, Yellowstone, was protected by law. That moment in history sparked the establishment of 411 more parks over the past century, including our park, the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site, which was designated a National Park in 1940 beginning with the Vanderbilt Mansion and scooping up the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Top Cottage along the way. We are proud to be a part of this exciting day in the life of the NPS and decided to share some special stories from our own rangers' experiences.
"It was the best day of my life, of my career, I still get excited talking about it…" supervisory Park Ranger Franceska Macsali-Urbin recalls, "I was going to be giving a tour to the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world."
When President Bill Clinton visited in February 1993, the town of Hyde Park was buzzing with secret service and Macsali-Urbin had to sit in the home of FDR for over 12 hours while men in black suits swept through the house, preparing for Clinton's arrival. "When he finally entered the house, he stared at the entryway like a kid on Christmas morning looking at all the presents, he was so in awe."
Mascali-Urbin gave him the grand tour and even let him use the lift that FDR used to get around the house. "He listened to every word I said, so intently. At the end of it, I thought, who else gets to talk to a president and have him listen for such a long time. I felt so lucky."
Mascali-Urbin has taken many well-known people on tours of our parks including First Lady Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Lynda Bird Johnson-Robb, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson. But, she's not the only one who has had the honor of giving special tours like this.
Our Chief of Interpretation, Scott Rector, recalls his favorite memory: taking Superman on a tour of Val-Kill. Back in 2001, Christopher Reeve, who played the action hero from 1978 to 1987, was nominated for the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award for his work for people with disabilities after he himself became a quadriplegic during a horseback riding accident in 1995.
"We actually built a ramp into Stone Cottage just for him, and that same ramp is still used today," said Rector who got to take him on the tour. "It was a really great experience for me because his work helped so many people."
But sometimes, it isn't just the heroes and the presidents that make the biggest impact on our rangers. For the Lead Park Ranger of Top Cottage, Kevin Oldenburg, his fondest memories since the grand opening of FDR's retreat home in 2001 were with Harry Johannesen on the porch. Johannesen was a local of Hyde Park his entire life, he had worked at Val-Kill Industries building furniture with Eleanor and he even attended the famous hot dog picnic with the King and Queen of England.
"I've spent a lot of time on that porch, it's kind of magical to be sitting in the same place where FDR, Winston Churchill and the Queen of England once sat. Harry would often visit for my tours and sit with our visitors and talk to them about the picnic, which he supplied the hot dogs for!" said Oldenburg. "Harry was like living history and I still try my best to keep his spirit alive when I'm on that porch."
Visiting our national parks is a way to connect to our history, to our culture, and to our environment. Our rangers love giving tours, hosting events and reenactments and celebrating what it means to protect these beloved places.
"I think meeting and interacting with visitors from all over the globe has been the most rewarding," said Margaret Laffin, Park Ranger. "It's been a great 28 years for me and I'm happy to be a part of the NPS Centennial this year."
We will be celebrating the centennial with a concert at Vanderbilt Mansion by the West Point Military Academy Band on August 24 at 6:30 p.m. The event is free and all are welcome to join us in the celebration. For more details about this event, visit our calendar page.
To read the original story on the National Park Service website, click here.