Unfinished portrait of FDR by artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff (1888-1980), April 12, 1945
President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, 76 years ago. He had been inaugurated on January 20th for his fourth term as president, an unprecedented feat never to be repeated. He was only 63 years old but his health had been undermined with many conditions— very high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, possibly melanoma – that today might have been ameliorated with medication. He was weakened by post-polio syndrome and the enormous stresses of 12 years of overseeing the nation’s recovery from the Great Depression and heading up the wartime coalition to defeat the Germans, Japanese and their allies.
FDR succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage (stroke) while taking a restful break at Warm Springs, Georgia, the polio treatment center he had created in the late 1920s. On his prior visits, he had always come away feeling rejuvenated from the warm air, the warm water where he was able to move without assistance, and the warm camaraderie he enjoyed with the patients, young and old. He was stricken at his home, the so-called Little White House, while sitting for his portrait and chatting with friends. He never regained consciousness. His wife of 40 years, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, was in Washington, and once informed she flew to Warm Springs. “Though this was terrible blow,“ she later wrote in her autobiography, “somehow you had no chance to think of it as a personal sorrow. It was the sorrow of all those to whom this man who now lay dead, and who happened to be my husband, had been a symbol of strength and fortitude.”
FDR built this compact house in 1932 when he was Governor of New York
FDR in therapeutic pool at Warm Springs
FDR and Mrs. Roosevelt with children at Warm Springs
Mrs. Roosevelt traveled back to Washington in the train bearing FDR’s coffin, and “lay in my berth all night with the window shade up, looking out at the countryside he loved and watching the faces of the people at stations, and even at the crossroads. who came to pay their last tribute all through the night.” Just as Lincoln’s funeral cortege had borne his remains back to Illinois with so many grateful Americans by the tracks acknowledging how he had saved the Union, so it was for crowds honoring FDR for saving democracy, and saving the world from dictatorship and horror. He had also laid the groundwork for the United Nations to prevent another world war.
After a funeral service at the White House, his casket traveled again by train for a short service and final interment in the rose garden at Springwood, his home in Hyde Park, New York, on April 15, 1945. In her newspaper column several days later, Mrs. Roosevelt paid tribute to FDR:
While my husband was in Albany [as Governor] and for some years after coming to Washington, his chief interest was in seeing that the average human being was given a fairer chance for ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ That was what made him always interested in the problems of minority groups and of any group which was at a disadvantage. As the war clouds gathered and the inevitable involvement of this country became more evident, his objective was always to deal with the problems of the war, political and military, so that eventually an organization might be built to prevent future wars…. a leader may chart the way, may point out the road to lasting peace, but that many leaders and many peoples must do the building. It cannot be the work of one man, nor can the responsibility be laid upon his shoulders, and so, when the time comes for peoples to assume the burden more fully, he is given rest. God grant that we may have the wisdom and courage to build a peaceful world with justice and opportunity for all peoples the world over.
FDR casket in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 1945
FDR grave at Hyde Park