Dec 10 - FDR and Warm Springs, Part 1

Unfinished Portrait
(copyright 1945 Elizabeth Shoumatoff)
The decision was made to spend today in search of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Some initial research gave us this background:

FDR was born 1882 in Hyde Park New York. A distant cousin of Teddy Roosevelt, he also was born into a family of wealth and privilege. In 1905 he married Eleanor Roosevelt, a niece of Teddy Roosevelt and a fifth cousin to FDR. In rapid succession they had 6 children, one of which died in infancy. In 1911 he was elected to the New York Senate until he resigned that office in 1913 to become the Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson. In 1920 he ran, unsuccessfully, for Vice-President with James Cox of Ohio. After the loss he returned to Hyde Park to practice law. Later, in 1928 he ran for Governor of New York and won. He served as Governor until the end of 1932 when he was elected President.

In 1921, at the age of 39, he contracted polio which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down. He spent years and considerable effort to regain some ability to walk again but was unsuccessful. This paralysis was the reason he came to Warm Springs Georgia in 1924. The naturally heated warm springs were reported to have curative effects and he was willing to try anything.

This first visit resulted in 40 more visits to Warm Springs before his death in 1945. During the intervening years he purchased a declining resort in the area and turned it into a leading polio treatment center which still operates today as the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation.

During his run for the Presidency in 1932 he had a small vacation cottage built on the side of Pine Mountain, just a short distance from Warm Springs. This is the place that would become known as the "Little White House" and was where he died on April 12, 1945. (links to more info on the cottage [here] and [here])

Today would be spent chasing FDR, seeking to be where he was, to see what he saw, to feel what he felt... to try to understand... to make sense of all the puzzle pieces that made up this complicated man.

View from Dowdell's Knob (click for larger image)

First up was a stop at Dowdell's Knob, a favorite spot of FDRs. Perched at the top of a high knob along the Pine Mountain Range he often came here to enjoy the view and contemplate. There's a story that just days before his death he directed his secret service guys to drive him up here, park, and told them to walk away and leave him alone in the car... and not to come back until he blew the car horn. He reportedly sat there, alone, for over two hours. One can only speculate what he thought about.

FDR's cottage... the Little White House
Next up was The Little White House Historic Site operated by the State of Georgia. The facility includes a welcome center and very interesting museum in addition to the scattered small buildings that made up the Little White House complex.

So small.  Much smaller than I imagined. His little cottage was built in the style of many other small homes in the area. Wood. Warm wood. The walls and ceilings were wood, not plaster. The central living area served as what we might call a "great room" today, but very compact and just large enough for a few chairs, a desk, a table, and a few other items. Bookshelves and nautical themed paintings on the walls. Models of ships... one of which he built with one of his sons. He loved the sea. Some might call it messy... to many knick-knacks, mementos... but it was comfortable and warm. A place to relax.


There's a story that one closet, near the front door, was his private space and he had the only key. Come late afternoon, when he had excused anyone he couldn't trust implicitly, he'd open the closet and brought out the makin's for cocktails that he had stashed within. In the early years the nation was still under prohibition. But FDR had come to know some locals who helped him procure locally produced adult beverages, moonshine, for his use. He called these afternoon sessions with his friends and staff "chillin' hour".

Over the years he designed things. The hand controls on his car were of his own design. In the living room of the cottage is a floor lamp, but unlike any floor lamp you've seen before. This one was primarily a fan that he designed to pull cigarette smoke away from guests and blow it up toward the ceiling. He also designed his own wheel chair that was much smaller and compact than the normal large clunky models... and one he could easily cover, disguise, if he chose.

The day he died, April 12, 1945, he was having his portrait painted by Elizabeth Shoumatoff in the living room of the cottage. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, was carried to his bedroom, and died two hours later. He was 63.

Here are a couple more photos from our day. But visit our online album for the complete photo story.

At Dowdell's Knob
The living room in the cottage... actually, about half the living room.

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