Death in the White House - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt
32th President 1933 - 1945

President Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the White House during a time of great despair. The country was crippled by the Depression and FDR promised a "New Deal" and led the country out of the Depression and through World War II. His strong will and good cheer helped make him the people's President. In his "fireside chats" broadcast on the radio, he informed the public of his plans and kept them up to date with the war. FDR had personally struggled with polio contracted in 1921. In 1924, he discovered the restorative powers of the mineral waters at Warm Springs, Georgia, and found that exercising in the buoyant 88-degree waters helped him recover some strength in his paralyzed legs. Over the years he made frequent visits and bought property forming the Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in 1927. He bought the old resort hotel at Warm Springs and began inviting other polio victims to exercise and try the healing powers of the warm water. Then in 1932 while running for President, he built a vacation cottage on Pine Mountain. This home would become the "Little White House."

FDR was in Warm Springs at the "Little White House" to rest and recover from exhaustion. The push for the end of the war was on, and FDR needed to be at his best. He arrived on March 30, 1945. On the afternoon of April 12th he was reviewing official papers. He was afflicted suddenly with a headache and pressed his hand to his temple saying: "I have a terrific headache." He then slumped over into unconsciousness. The doctor was immediately summoned and a secret service officer helped carry FDR to his bed. Another specialist was called from Atlanta; Dr. James A. Paullin arrived within 90 minutes. FDR's doctor in Washington was called, and all agreed that he had suffered a "massive cerebral hemorrhage." At 3:35 p.m. on April 12, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in his small bedroom in his beloved cottage at Warm Springs.

Funeral Procession
That evening Eleanor Roosevelt flew to Georgia arriving at Warm Springs at 11:30 p.m. She worked throughout the night on the details of returning his body to Washington, the official services there, and the final funeral at Hyde Park. An appropriate coffin was brought from Atlanta. The American flag flying at the "Little White House" was taken down and draped over the coffin.

FDR left Warm Springs, Georgia, for the last time on April 13, 1945. The tradition of greeting and farewell had always been carried out by FDR whenever he came and went from Warm Springs. He would always greet and bid farewell to his companions and neighbors. This final farewell was carried out by a military escort from Fort Benning, Georgia. The procession traveled to Georgia Hall (the hotel where patients stayed) and to the train. The military band played dirges softly and Graham Jackson, a musician who had often played for FDR, stepped out from the crowd. Jackson with tears streaming down his face played Dvorak's "Goin' Home" on his accordion. The train left Warm Springs around 9:05 a.m. As had previous Presidential funeral trains, the train traveled slowly through the countryside with the windows of the car holding his casket opened so the people gathered along the track and in small towns could view it as it passed. The train arrived in Atlanta around 1:30 p.m. It arrived in Washington just before 10:00 a.m. on the morning of April 14, 1945.

The body was removed to the White House by a horse-drawn caisson. The funeral service was held in the East Room at 4 p.m. Then at 9:30 p.m. the body was returned to the train. FDR had shared with Eleanor that he did not like the practice of a body lying in state at the Capitol for hundreds to pass by, so this was not part of his state funeral. The train departed for Hyde Park after a slight delay and arrived the next morning. The Roosevelt family departed the train at 9:50 a.m. The body was removed to a hearse that carried it a short distance to the foot of a bluff below the family home, Springwood. There it was placed on a caisson led by six brown horses followed by the seventh horse with stirrups turned backwards, the symbol of a fallen warrior. The caisson carried the body to the rose garden at the top of the hill. Following the graveside services the train carrying President Truman returned to Washington, Truman's first sad duty as President concluded.