Friday, June 15, 2012

When FDR Died

When FDR Died is a 1961 book by Bernard Asbell that chronicles the events of April 12, 1945, the day FDR died while vacationing in Warm Springs, Georgia.

I've owned the book for close to 20 years now, so I'm happy I finally got off my duff and crossed this off my 'to be read' list. It's a very readable, very informal account of the day and the events culminating in his funeral, and I certainly learned a lot. For starters, I always assumed he died in the White House, and I never could have guessed at the extent of the public mourning for the man.

Regarding that mourning . . . well it strikes me as over the top, even creepy. Sharecroppers literally prostrating themselves before his funeral train. A Madison factory going on strike because the owner wouldn't fly a US flag in mourning during a rainstorm. Newspapers refusing all commercial advertising. Stores closed. Concerts cancelled. The public warned that the expected run on mourning clothes could cripple the wartime cotton industry. People of all ages falling to their knees and weeping to the heavens.

I was born 29 years after his death, so I can't begin to put myself in the shoes of your Average Joe of the day, but it seems so excessive. I can understand it for Lincoln, a man murdered by a vengeful enemy in the hour of his triumph, or Kennedy, a young icon struck down in his prime. But for a frail, sickly man who had propped himself up as President for Life? No. It's very nearly blasphemous.  He was a man, not a diety.

I'm sure it's a generational gap. But I'm equally certain my opinion was shared by contemporaries of the event, and that the love affair was not quite so universal as advertised. Said William C Murphy, Jr, later an RNC publicity director but at the time a beat reporter on the funeral train "You guys will be coming back as soon as the old man is buried, but not me. I'm going to sit by his grave for three days and see if he . . . rises."

A worthwhile, detailed look at a watershed moment for the Greatest Generation.

Grade: A -

Boook #44 of the year

1 comment:

Heather said...

I've done a lot of research on the Roosevelt family. We are distantly related through my great-grandmother - she was a cousin to Mittie Bulloch, Theodore Roosevelt's mother. Most people don't realize that when FDR died his long time mistress was there in Warm Springs with him. It was a different generation and at the time, folks were so caught up in patriotism due to the War that losing their leader WAS a national crisis. I love those intense views back in time. Have you read Bill O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln?