Campobello, New Brunswick — It is easy to understand why Campobello was a ''beloved island'' to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is a land of wave-beaten cliffs, spruce, mountain ash, maples, luxuriant ferns and fields of wild roses, daisies, and buttercups. Dense fogs frequently engulf the island, and its air is forever sharp with the scents of land and sea.
In the 1880s a number of wealthy Americans, including Franklin Roosevelt's father, James, bought property here and built large summer cottages on the island's western shore. The future President spent his boyhood summers here. Then in 1909 Franklin and Eleanor acquired their own home--an 18-bedroom house near ''Granny's house.'' All in all, Franklin Roosevelt spent nearly every summer here from 1883 until 1921.
Life has changed little on Campobello for the past 100 years. There's no movie house. Television has found a niche in the entertainment life--but it's not more important than the quilting parties. Most of the island's 1,200 people depend on fishing for their living, as did their Scots and Yankee ancestors.
Campobello is a remote, off-the-track part of the world for most Americans and Canadians, but nearly 150,000 visitors flock here from all over the world each year to tour the Roosevelt cottage, to explore the woods, bogs, and beaches where the President walked and relaxed, and to stroll down to the waters of Friars Head Bay where he sailed the Half Moon.
The drive across Roosevelt International Bridge to Campobello Island takes less than four minutes, including the brief stop to answer a few questions from Canadian border officials, but it is a crossing to a tranquil place of endless yesterdays.
The number of visitors is certain to swell this year. Jan. 30, 1982, is the centennial of FDR's birth, and a year-long observance is being led by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt National Centennial Committee. While exhibitions and performances at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington are the centerpiece of the observances, thousands are expected to make the pilgrimage to Campobello, where Roosevelt spent nearly 40 summers. It was here, too, that a major turning point in his life occurred--the physical disability that was so vividly dramatized in Dore Schary's play and motion picture, ''Sunrise at Campobello.''
The red-shingled, green-shuttered house is tucked away amid towering pines just off Campobello's main road, in a setting of broad lawns, neat hedges, and carefully tended gardens full of color: roses, petunias, nasturtiums, dahlias, and the like. While the cottage is large, it is hardly pretentious. Inside, the overall impression is of a comfortable, relaxed household. The rooms are large and airy; the woodwork, dark-stained; the walls, colorfully papered with floral prints. It is--as it has always been--a house of wicker furniture, a true ''summer house.'' As such, it is not really a match for some of its stylish Victorian neighbors.
Our guide, Linnea Calder, explained that over the years furniture has been moved in and out of the cottage like so many temporary summer guests. Mrs. Calder, who is eager for visitors to relish the house's objects and charms as much as she does, is surely the world's expert on the Roosevelt cottage: She has spent more time there than anyone else, including the many Roosevelts. Her mother, Mrs. Anna McGowan, was housekeeper for the Roosevelts for 40 years and Linnea herself started working for the Roosevelt family when she was 13 years old. Today, 57 years later, she is official historian of the Roosevelt cottage, and clearly recalls the summers with Franklin and Eleanor and their lively children: Anna, Elliott, Franklin, and John.
''When Granny (Sara Delano) Roosevelt's nearby house was torn down around 1949, the furniture was brought here,'' she told us. ''Later, Elliott and John took some of the furniture away, and nearly all the linen, dishes, and books. Then still later, some things were brought up here from Hyde Park and the Roosevelt home in New York City. While a number of things here today weren't in the house originally, they are still Roosevelt articles.''
One of the most impressive rooms is FDR's study, set up especially for FDR's visit to Campobello as President in 1933 - one of only three brief visits he made here after 1921. It is crammed with memorabilia. The worn, black leather chair behind a plain desk is the one he used while presiding over his first Cabinet. A breakfront, made for him at Hyde Park, contains many items he cherished, including some volumes from his miniature book collection and some of his personal china from the White House.
A hand-cranked phonograph at an end of the study reminds us of Eleanor Roosevelt's unsuccessful attempt one summer to learn Spanish with the help of records. In the end, she confessed that she might never learn the language, because she ''had not mastered the art of making the phonograph work.'' There's a set of boat oars from FDR's Harvard University days in the same room, and in front of the picture window facing the bay is the famous telescope.
''The glass used to be set up on the front porch and they'd watch for boats--just as in the movie,'' she says. She quickly points out that the movie contained a number of inaccuracies, however--the chief flaw being the cinematic license taken by the moviemakers when they filmed a sunset (the house's view is west) and called it a ''sunrise.''
The western view toward Eastport, Maine, is of a long rolling hill down to a dock in Friars Head Bay. ''The dock wasn't originally where it is now,'' Mrs. Calder says. ''The movie people put it there so you'd get a better view of it from the house. The original Roosevelt dock was off to the side, at the end of the road, and it went out much farther.''
The living room is furnished with an assortment of period objects that evoke memories of long summer days. There is a five-foot-high megaphone, used to corral the Roosevelt youngers at dinnertime, and an Atwater Kent radio, now rigged to play the resonant presidential voice delivering the speeches. In one corner is a piano owned by ''Granny'' Roosevelt that FDR played as a child.
Large summer homes such as the Roosevelts' depended heavily on a hardworking staff of servants. In the kitchen, food was cooked on a large iron stove and kept warm on kerosene stoves. In the old days, Mrs. Calder explains, all the hot water for the household was heated in a tank off the stove. Thus, it was a household rule that baths had to be taken with less than three inches of water.''
Of course, the boys encouraged the guests to use as much water as they wanted , so there wouldn't be enough hot water left for their own baths,'' she says.
A large picnic basket reminds Mrs. Calder how fond the Roosevelts were of picnics. ''Of course, the help had to pack the basket with the tableloth, the chinaware, and everything else so that they could have a picnic with all the comforts of home except the added attraction of bugs,'' she notes.
Breakfast trays were conveyed to upstairs guests by a dumbwaiter, which, not surprisingly, was often used by the Roosevelt boys as a hiding place. So was the big wood chest in the back hall. ''Until somebody dumped water down the dumbwaiter shaft or sat on the lid of the wood chest,'' Mrs. Calder recalls.
Upstairs are the numerous bedrooms. Iron bedsteads, bright, woven coverlets, oak chests of drawers, marble-topped washstands, and daybeds under windows abound. The master bedroom is furnished as Eleanor used it in the summers after 1921, and later as a place to write her ''My Day'' column. Her small desk stands in one corner.
Another simply furnished bedroom was used by FDR's political adviser and frequent house guest, Louis Howe. The largest and sunniest of the rooms was used by Franklin Jr. and John after they had graduated from the third floor nursery, and it is furnished with toys, games, and two small school desks.
The cottage today is part of Roosevelt Campobello International Park, jointly administered by Canada and the United States. Park visitors are received at a brick center that somewhat resembles a church with its arched columns, peaked roof, and subdued visitors' area. Several films on Roosevelt and Campobello are screened daily.
Outside the park, visitors find several points of interest in the year-round Campobello within a short driving distance. The northern part of the island, with its hills, reminds many visitors of the coast of Scotland. Just a few miles east of the cottage is Herring Cove, a mile-long, rough-pebbled, pine-bluffed beach favored by the Roosevelts for picnics. At Welshpool, near the park, a pier harbors fishing craft of all sizes.
The southern end of Campobello is almost tropical in its abundance of ferns and flowers. Fog Forest, at Liberty Point, is a mysterious world of trees shrouded in perpetual fog.Even though the Roosevelt cottage attracts thousands of tourists to the island for a brief stay, there is remarkably little competition for the tourist dollar. A few shops announce themselves as gift shops and that's about it. The Roosevelt name is absent from the few billboards.
Indeed, one senses a certain distance between the islanders and the activities at the park--and perhaps the distance is natural.''
In the old days the summer people came and went,'' explains Mrs. Calder, whose family members have been islanders for generations. ''People didn't have cars or telephones. Only the people working for the families had any contact. Now and then, some of the women selling hooked mats might come to the door. Islanders just accepted the summer people, I guess.''
At Campobello, the great turning point in FDR's life occurred with few of the year-round residents even aware of it. There was no bridge from the island in 1921, of course. The future president was taken to the US mainland by boat, a promising political career apparently nipped in the bud, and hardly any of the Campobello residents knew about it, not even Mrs. Calder.
The boat trip to Eastport, Maine, turned out to be a crossing of symbolic importance. FDR left the island with a cocky grin and a promise to ''come back.'' Seven years later he walked triumphantly across the platform at the Democratic National Convention, to tremendous applause, to nominate Al Smith for president. Four years after that, he himself was nominated and elected the nation's president. Since then times have changed, but Campobello remains much the same as when FDR went there. The great advocate of social change would like that. Practical information:
The Roosevelt Campobello International Park is open from late May to mid-October, seven days a week. There will be special celebrations at Campobello on July 4 this year. Visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Eastern daylight time, during July and August and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT in the other months. There is no admission charge.
To get to Campobello, you can drive from Lubec, Maine, across the Roosevelt International bridge, or take a ferry from L'Etete, New Brunswick, to Deer Island, drive the length of Deer Isle, then take a second ferry across to Campobello. The ferries run from July 1 to Sept. 6.