Where were you and what were you doing when FDR died?
Few people can still answer this question, but for the generations that came of age and were adults during the Depression and World War II, the memory of the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt—his funeral took place 68 years ago today—was as indelible as that of JFK for later generations.
Robert Klara writes in FDR’s Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance of those who were waiting for the arrival the funeral train: “A father in the group turned to his younger son, who had been shivering in the cold, and spoke to him. ‘You’ve got to remember everything you see today,’ the man said firmly, but not unkindly.”
The nation did remember. Those unable to be eye witnesses to the funeral train kept vigil by their radios and remembered the events of that week in April for years to come. The following entries are from the diaries of my great aunt Harriet, who lived hundreds of miles west of the train route, on a ranch in South Dakota:
April 12, 1945: Bright, nice day, not as cold as it has been. I was playing solitaire between 5:30 and six o’clock when I turned Pierre radio on, and they were telling about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Death at Warm Springs, Georgia at 3:35 Central time. He finished his official business at noon and was sitting for an artist to paint his picture by the fireplace at his cottage on the hill, when at 1:15 p.m., he said that he had a terrible headache and fainted, so his colored valet and Filipino bell-boy lifted him to his bed and got the doctors, but he never gained consciousness and died at above time, so our President is gone. News to Washington, and at 7:09 Central time, Harry S. Truman, Vice Pres., had taken Oath of President and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt flew to Warm Springs. She was at Tea for some organization and was called home a few blocks from the White House. A shocked world this night is sending messages.
April 13, 1945: President Roosevelt’s body left Warm Springs, Georgia and the entire route going North was one of respect.
April 14, 1945: I listened a lot to all programs in respect to Departed Pres. Roosevelt and the funeral at 4 p.m., Eastern time. The Radio Station and about all business stopped for 1 minute to 5 minutes to 1 hour and some all day in his memory. The funeral is at White House, Washington, D. C., and the procession from the train was all Military. The Casket of Copper and Mahogany draped in the flag was placed, drawn by 7 white horses, and planes. Ranks of all the Navy and Army were represented. The Funeral Train left Washington for Hyde Park, New York this Saturday evening at 8 p.m., our time.
April 12, 1946: One year ago today Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, so on this day his old House at Hyde Park was turned over to the Government as a Memorial to him, and will be a Museum.
April 12, 1951: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 6 years since death.
April 12, 1955: Ex-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death 10 years ago.
April 12, 1956: Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away on April 12 at his White House Georgia home, and our Nation is in sorrow untold, and all programs on the radio are in his memory.
Author’s Note: Diary entries have been edited slightly for issues of brevity and standard usage. Photo copyrighted April 24, 1945, under J37972 at U.S. Copyright Office.