The Executive Mansion in Albany, N.Y., is a pivotal setting for Baby Grand. I took a tour of the mansion in order to get a feel for the place, a sense of its rich history as well as where it was located in relation to other points of interest in downtown Albany.
The Executive Mansion’s website mentions that the building is situated on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the river. In fact, the mansion is right on Eagle Street, set back a bit from the sidewalk and hidden behind a black fence and tall green bushes. Had the cab driver not stopped there for me to get out, I would have missed the landmark altogether. Perhaps the river was behind the building or I maybe I would have seen it if the tour guide had allowed us roam the upstairs floors. Who knows.
Once inside the gate, though, the building, hidden from street traffic, is quite lovely with a quiet regality about it. Built in 1856, the mansion was home to four governors who would later became president: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland and Martin Van Buren. The mansion was originally a 10-room house, but has gone through a variety of renovations over the years and is now a 39-room home.
Roses, which are New York’s state flower, line the walkway leading up to the mansion. (I also learned that New York has a state drink: Milk. And a state bug: the ladybug.) Our tour guide said we were lucky to see some roses blooming while we were there, since tours that had come just a week before had seen nothing but barren branches. Still, it looked a bit sparse, and I wondered what that walkway looked like filled with roses on both sides. Must be very pretty.
The mansion is very conveniently located, for a tourist like myself. It’s within walking distance of the New York State Museum right on Empire State Plaza, home to the famous Egg, which offers all kind of music, dance and theater performances, and near the Capitol Building.
I was lucky enough to have sunny weather while I walked around the downtown area, and it was nice to see classes of students and local businessmen and women eating lunch on the Plaza. I probably could have walked all the way back to my hotel, but the cab driver, Marty, who had brought me to the mansion gave me his card and told me to call him when I was ready to return. He was retired and driving a taxi “so that he didn’t have to bring work home with him.” He had so many stories about growing up in the poor neighborhoods of Albany, including how, when he was a boy, Governor Harriman used to let the local youths swim in the mansion’s pool once a month. He was a delightful man with photos of his granddaughters hanging from his rearview mirror. I cherish the time spent with that sweet, gray-haired fellow probably as much as I do the time walking the historic mansion.