Dear Mackey Jr.:
GEORGIA WARM SPRINGS
April 15, 1945
Here at Warm Springs, Georgia, in the past two days,
history has been made and Betty and I will put our heads together and write
you, as a representative of the GI's the world over, a personal glimpse of
what was going on among the patients and staff here when the news of our
President's death was brought to us about 5:10 p.m., April 12th.
The President arrived here March 30th about 1:30 p.m.
We went to the station for his arrival. His party was quite large; secretaries,
secret service men, two occasions, Misses Delano (10) and Suckley; (11) Fala (12) and Sister (13) (Sister belonging to Miss
Delano), Dr. Brueen, (14) George Fox (15) (the President's masseur), and many other that we and the Foundation
have to come to know on the President's many trips here. Mr. Roosevelt greeted
us with a wave of the hand from the window at which he was seated on the
train, then immediately was wheeled onto the observation platform and lowered
to the ground on a tiny elevator. Mike Reilly, (16) of the Secret Service, wheeled
him to his blue Ford which bears the license tag F.D.R. 1. The Secret Service
men lifted him into the car. The car top was down, but this time the President
did not drive the car himself to the Little White House. Mr. Fredericks (17) of the S.[ecret] S.[ervice],
since Taft's administration, drove. As has always been the custom on each
of his many trips the the Foundation, the entire Presidential party drove
around the circle at Georgia Hall where all the patients both wheel-chairs
and stretchers, were assembled to greet him. The President was dressed in
a navy blue suit and wore his hat. He looked very tired but not as bad as
when he was here in November. His entire stay here this time was spent at
the Little White House resting. He saw practically no one except his secretaries
and two cousins. I believe his old friend, McCarthy, (18) was there twice. He did not
even go to the swimming pool which he always enjoyed so much and did not
drive the car, although he went for several long rides around the Foundation
and to his old farm, which he deeded to the Foundation last year.
We had planned a special Easter service at the Foundation's
little chapel. It was a beautiful Easter morning, April 1st, 1945, in the
South. Three different parties donated the flowers, all white, Easter lilies,
carnations, gladiola. White candles were on the alter. The chapel was filled
with patients, staff and a few guests. The President was wheeled in in a
a small wheel-chair by S.S. men and accompanied by his two cousins and sat
in a pew in front of the S.S. men. Everyone in the chapel was very much aware
of his presence tho' no one turned around or stared. The service started
at 11:00 a.m. sharp. He was the last to arrive. As his cousins knelt to pray
the President leaned forward as a gesture of kneeling. We are sure everyone
in the chapel was moved as we were and immediately bowed their heads in prayer
for him. He was wearing a grey suit which seemed to accentuate his pallor.
He participated in the entire service -- responsive readings, songs, and
prayers. He was unusually nervous throughout the service and dropped his
hymn book and his lasses at different times. He stared straight ahead the
entire time and did not smile or speak to anyone on entering or leaving the
chapel which was most unusual. The special music for the service was by a
choir composed of patients, then Mr. Fred Botts (19) (present registrar of the
Foundation), an old friend and former patient, sang a solo. Little did we
know this would be the last time our President would worship in a church.
After reading over this page, it seems to insinuate
that we realized the seriousness of his condition. We definitely did not.
We understand now that the doctors here were worried about him, and when
he was here in November and December his doctor took his blood pressure and
used a stethoscope before and after he entered the pool. We realized he would
be making frequent trips here to rest because the telephone people spent
three weeks before his arrival laying under-ground cables and making everything
permanent. He could talk to any spot in the world from here. He had been
told he should not spend any more winters in the North.
No formal dinner was being planned. We probably would
have had a luncheon. He was always concerned about patients' activities. I
had planned a real black face minstrel to be given while they were here. We
started to work on it after the party arrived. On Monday this week Grace Tully
(20) and Major Greer
(21) stopped me and
said, "'The Boss' would like to have a request performance of the minstrel
on Thursday, April 12th at 5:30 p.m." I said of course we would be happy
to do it for him. Gee, the patients and those who were helping me certainly
worked hard. It had been planned for Friday the 13th. The Major and his signal
corps men made a two tier stage for me and put up mikes -- five of them.
It was an all patient cast except for three specialties; two dances from
Atlanta and Graham Jackson (22) (the colored pianist who is so talented and who played for the
President 23 times since has been in office). The costumes for the chorus
were darling; white pants, pink shirts, green vests with large white buttons
down the front, orange cardboard ties with black polka dotes, white top hats
with green bands, and big white gloves (with faces painted on them) and large
white cuffs. I'll enclose a program. There was to be a barbecue for the President
and his party at 4:30 given by Mr. Allcorn, (23) Mayor of Warm Springs, at
his cabin on top of Pine Mountain. Mike Reilly came by the Playhouse to check
on the chair that the President was to sit in for the show and told us where
to place it. Mike was to have a Radio car out front, and as the President
left the barbecue they would radio us and we would all be ready. We had invited
all children patients, all children on the Foundation, and all patients who
had never seen him and a few special guests to be at the Request performance.
I was making up the last member of the cast when Graham
Jackson came running across the stage all made up for the show and whispered
to me -- tears rolling down his face -- "Mrs. Stephens! He's dead. The President
is dead!" I automatically said, "Hush Graham!" He said, "It's on the radio
-- N.B.C." I called Mrs. Irwin, (24) the Chief Surgeon's wife and a close friend of the President,
who was helping me and told her. She screamed. There was some noise so only
a few heard her. We rushed out as quietly as possible and with the Foundation
accountant began to verify the rumor. We immediately realized there were
no Secret Service men outside the Playhouse -- which meant something was
wrong. I went back to tell Betty who was at the door to continue to seat
people and what we had heard. Then I went back stage to finish up with make
up. The casts wasn't aware of anything. By 5:15 -- only about five minutes
later -- they were back and without any words I knew. His chair was in the
middle of the aisle -- the playhouse was full. I knew we must handle the
situation carefully and in a dignified manner. My, what a responsibility.
There happened to be a Methodist minister from Manchester -- a Reverend Mize,
(25) in the audience.
I sent for him. I made the announcement to the black faced patient cast and
the tears began to roll down the grease paint on their faces. He was their
friends -- everyone of them knew it too. Next I had two people draw the curtain
made of old sheets with black faces painted on them and the minister and
I stood before a large group of people who wondered why the leather chair
had been moved from its place. It took everything I had to make the announcement.
I said, "It is with a great deal of sympathy and regret on the part of the
cast and the entire Foundation family that I make the announcement -- the
President of the United States of America is dead. He died at 3:35 p.m. If
you will all stand we will have a minute of silent prayer and Rev. Mize will
close the prayer." My, what a shock and what could you do. We got the patients'
make up off and went up to the hall. The whole world knew it before we at
Warm Springs did, since Mr. Hassett (26) released it to the White House correspondents immediately.
The night of the 12th was a long one. We went by the
cottage the secretaries were staying in to see if there was anything we could
do. They were a most pathetic group. They were very close to him. We made
sure of the time the train was to leave Friday, so that we could have the
patients at the hall. It was traditional that he always stopped at the hall
on the way to the train.
I failed to tell you that Graham always brings the President
red American Beauty roses. This time besides those, he brought an orchid --
a lovely one for me because he appreciate my asking him to be here again when
Mr. Roosevelt was here. I took it down to put on after I finished with make
up. I never had it on. It is still in the box in the frigadaire. The American
Beauty roses were probably the first flowers to teach the Little White House.
Captain Ford (27) of the
4th Service Command, who also helped us with the show, took them up.
The train was supposed to leave at 8 a.m. so everyone
was up very early. There was much going on all night but no noise. Three thousand
soldiers and two thousand paratroopers to say nothing of the Generals and
Admirals who arrived during the night. Mrs. Roosevelt (28) and Admiral McIntire, (29) the President's personal physician,
flew down from Washington during the night. The mournful sound of the black
draped bass drum led the soldiers to their places at the Little White House
where the procession started.
All patients and staff were at Georgia Hall the first
thing in the morning of Friday the 13th. You will see them in the newsreels
and newspapers. Several bands led the procession and after those were thousands
of armed soldiers in battle dress -- each man with a grave countenance. The
blackdrums and the crepe on the American flag were so symbolical and then
the dark green hearse bearing that great man's worn out body. The pall bearers
were young men representing each branch of the Armed services. The honor
guard followed -- all on foot. Mrs. Roosevelt and Admiral McIntire followed
in a car and Miss Tully. Mr. Hassett, other secretaries and secret service
men behind them. The hardest moment was when the hearse stopped in front
of Georgia Hall by the patients -- just as always, only he didn't lift his
hat and smile this time. Instead, the colored musician in the uniform of
a Chief Petty Officer of the Navy played "Goin' Home" very softly on the
accordion. There wasn't a dry eye -- even Graham's lips trembled and his
eyes were closed as the tears streamed down his black face. At the flag pole
-- with the flag at half mast the hearse also stopped for newsreels and newspapers.
We got into my car then and joined the procession to the train. Starting
at the Gates to the Foundation there was an avenue of O.C.S. [Officers' Candidate
School] men and paratroopers lining the road on both sides, all the way to
the train. There were about 4 feet apart and stood at attention with their
guns. At the train -- the flag draped casket was taken up a ramp and lifted
into his car. As the band played softly, service men saluted, others bowed
their heads [as] his special train silently and slowly left the place he
established, for the last time. All of us felt that a personal friend had
left us never to return.
Before leaving all members of the President's Party
expressed a wish that we would have the show we had planned on Friday night
and dedicate it to him. It would be his wish they insisted. So after discussing
it with every doctor and the higher officials and the cast we decided if
that was what he would want the show would go on. It would have been easier
to do anything but a minstrel and I was very much afraid they couldn't make
a go of it. We revised the script and I made the statement before the curtain
was drawn, "Our show tonight instead of being a request performance will be
a dedication, a dedication to the spirit of the leader who made Georgia Warm
Springs Foundation mean what it does to you and to me. In the opinion of
those who knew him best it would be his wish that we carry on with the precedent
he established -- and so now, with your help, we will carry on -- courageously,
smiling through." The show was perfect. It was hard to do but everyone was
so glad they had done it.
We spent all day yesterday planning a Memorial Service
and decorating the chapel. The service was held at the same time the funeral
was conducted at his other home -- Hyde Park. There were no outsiders -- just
patients, staff and those who knew him well; no newspaper men or radio announcers
because we purposely kept the time from the public. It was just a sincere
Warm Springs Foundation memorial Service to our Commander in Chief, our President,
our Founder and a great Humanitarian. The alter was decked with white carnations
and two varieties of wild dogwood grown near the Little White House. The
chapel couldn't hold everyone who wished to attend, some were at windows
and doors. I will enclose one of the programs. The anthem by the choir was
the same one they did Easter Sunday for him. Dr. Huntington (30) is a polio who is an LLD and
a PhD. He was president of Roberts College in Turkey when he took polio.
Miss Plastridge (31) who
made a short statement was once his physio[therapist]. Dr. Irwin (32) is the Chief Surgeon here
and a personal friend (the President has been in his home and Dr. Irwin has
been in both White Houses). He gave the most touching remarks of all. He
is a large, handsome doctor and his eyes were full of tears -- he would bite
his lips and hesitate between sentences. When he finished and took his seat
he cried. A doctor, a surgeon and the man that he is -- being so moved because
of the loss of a friend -- was hard. The patients here dearly love Dr. Irwin.
Mr. Botts, the other speaker, was the first patient here and another fine
individual who personally feels the loss of this great man. The entire service
was lovely and left us with the feeling that all of us will do our best to
carry out to the best of our ability our individual jobs in order to carry
on the great work which he started.
Somehow we feel we were privileged to be associated
with this institution at the time we have been. The place naturally means
a great deal to us, and more so now after these experiences. He certainly
loved this place. He has a million dollar life insurance policy given to him
by Edsel Ford and made payable to Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. The Little
White House where he died will in probability become a National Shrine and
probably the Foundation will be set up as a Memorial to him.
Very few people know that on Tuesday, April 10th he
went up to what is known as the "Knob" (33) -- a high point on Pine Mountain where we often go on picnics
and, there, he spent two hours alone. Of course Secret Service men were in
the woods but he was alone and very close to God -- "The Knob" is just that
kind of a place. You wonder what his thoughts were and if he had any premonition
of what was to come.
How we do hope his plans can be carried out and a lasting
Peace established -- then his great sacrifice will not have been vain.
Betty and I have composed and typed this letter together
here at the President's Pool this afternoon -- the afternoon of his burial.
We hope it has given you a clear picture of the now historical events which
occurred here these last two weeks. We are both pretty tired -- physically
and mentally -- tomorrow is Betty's day off so we're going to Atlanta and
try to relax. We will each write personally in the near future.
A fitting conclusion to this letter, we believe, are
Mike Reilly's words, "None of us will ever life long enough to know just
how great a man he really was."
Hazel & Betty
1 Quote from documentary
film, "JFK: In His Own Words." For comparative reaction to the deaths of
Roosevelt and Kennedy, see William E. Leuchtenberg, In the Shadow of FDR:
From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan (Ithaca, N.Y., 1983), 115-18.
2 The author wishes to thank
William Lewis Davis, Jr., of Tallahassee, Florida, who generously supplied
him the original letter. He would also like to thank Betty Brown of Pine Mountain,
Georgia, Hazel Stephens O'Connor Dillmeir of Garden City, New York, and Beverly
Bulloch of Warm Springs, Georgia, for their cooperation.
3 All biographies of Franklin
D. Roosevelt necessarily examine his struggle with infantile paralysis and
the treatment at Warm Springs, Georgia. See Frank Freidel, Franklin D.
Roosevelt: The Ordeal (Boston, 1954); James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt:
The Lion and the Fox (New York, 1956). More recently, insight has been
provided by Kenneth S. Davis, FDR, The Beckoning of Destiny, 1889-1928:
A History (New York, 1972); Hugh Gregory Gallagher, FDR's Splendid
Deception (New York, 1985); Geoffrey C. Ward, A First-Class Temperament:
The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt (New York, 1989). More popular treatments
focusing on Roosevelt and Warm Springs are Turnley Walker, Roosevelt and
the Warm Springs Story (New York, 1953); and Theo Lippman, Jr., The
Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia, 1924-1945 (New York, 1947).
4 Davis, The Beckoning
of Destiny, 766, 769; Ward, A First-Class Temperament, 705-709,
715, 721-24, 744-46, 755-56; Freidel, Franklin Roosevelt, 194-95.
5 Ross T. McIntire (in collaboration
with George Creel), White House Physician (New York, 1946), 39; Gallagher,
FDR's Splendid Deception, 40-41; Lippman, Squire of Warm Springs,
60; author's telephone interview with Dr. and Mrs. Stuart Raper, Atlanta,
Georgia, October 18, 1988.
6 Grace Tully, F.D.R.,
My Boss (New York, 1948), 248-49; Lippman, Squire of Warm Springs,
94; Michael F. Reilly (in collaboration with William J. Schuster), Reilly
of the White House (New York, 1947), 225; interview with Dr. and Mrs.
Stuart Raper, October 18, 1988. For Roosevelt's input into architectural design
at Warm Springs, see William B. Rhoades, "Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Architecture
of Warm Springs," Georgia Historical Quarterly LXVII (Spring 1983),
7 Jim Bishop, FDR's Last
Year (New York, 1974), 4-9, 485-88, 502-505, 509, 518, 521, 531-40; Bernard
Asbell, When F.D.R. Died (New York, 1961), 14-15; Gallagher, Splendid
Deception, 153. For local coverage of Roosevelt's death, see Warm
Springs Mirror, April 20, 1945; Columbus Enquirer, April 13, 1945;
Atlanta Constitution, April 13, 1945. For Elizabeth Shoumatoff's
account, see FDR's Unfinished Portrait: A Memoir (Pittsburgh, 1991).
8 Betty Brown, a native of
Jacksonville, Florida, joined the Warm Springs staff in 1944. Her friend and
co-author, Hazel Stephens, a native of Panama City, Florida, arrived in 1941.
9 Betty Brown to author,
May 12, 1990; author's telephone interview with William Davis, Tallahassee,
Florida, May 31, 1990.
10 Laura Delano frequently
accompanied the president to Warm Springs. A cousin of Roosevelt's, she was
talkative and enjoyed gossip. Neither did "Polly," as Laura Delano was known,
dwell on politics. The president was completely at east with her. She telephoned
Eleanor first of Roosevelt's collapse.
11 Margaret Suckley was another
distant cousin whose company Roosevelt enjoyed. "Daisy," as she was nicknamed,
had given the president his beloved Scottie, Fala. She was the only person
to hear Roosevelt's last words, " I have a terrible headache."Asbell, When
F.D.R. Died, 38.
12 Fala, the president's
Scottie dog, was well known to the public. Given to him as a puppy in 1940,
Fala had recently made news. The pet became the focal point of controversy
when Roosevelt left Fala behind on an Aleutian Island and supposedly sent
a destroyer back to get him. In an early 1944 campaign appearance Roosevelt
deftly and humorously turned the charges on his political adversaries. Michael
Reilly described Fala as "the greatest little ham that ever walked on four
feet." Reilly, Reilly of the White House, 63.
13 Sister was Laura Delano's
Scotch terrier dog.
14 Howard G. Bruenn was a
lieutenant commander in the United States Naval Reserve. A cardiologist,
he had served as the president's physician-in-attendance since 1944. Bruenn
recognized the president's precarious health, but had discovered nothing
unusual when he examined Roosevelt on the morning of April 12. He fought
to save the president's life, but even Bruenn, who William D. Hassett felt
"would inspire anyone's confidence," failed. William D. Hassett, Off the
Record with F.D.R., 1942-1945 (New Brunswick, N.J., 1948), 328.
15 George A. Fox acted quietly
and efficiently as the president's masseur. Because of his expertise in physical
therapy, Fox had been called upon to help with President Woodrow Wilson during
his long convalescence. The lieutenant commander had served every president
since. Well liked by Roosevelt, Fox was always part of the entourage and
had recently traveled to Yalta with him.
16 Michael F. Reilly had
protected the president as a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent since
1935. He was a likeable second-generation Irishman who Grace Tully felt "looked
more like a movie actor than a security specialist." Tully, F.D.R., My
Boss, 206. A large and powerful man, who easily picked up and handled
the incapacitated executive, Reilly was devoted to Roosevelt. As he would
write, "I never believed he'd die, until he did." Reilly, Reilly of the
White House, 226.
17 Charles Fredericks, known
as "Charlie," was a long-time member of the Secret Service and often served
18 Leighton McCarty, a wealth
Canadian corporation lawyer, was a personal friend of the president. Leighton's
son, a polio patient, was treated at Warm Springs first in 1928, and the McCarthys
bought a cottage there. McCarthy was part of the group that arrived on March
30, 1945, with the president. The former Canadian ambassador eventually became
a Warm Springs Foundation trustee.
19 Fred Botts was one of
the first polio victims attracted to Warm Springs by Roosevelt's progress.
Soon after the frail young man arrived from Pennsylvania in 1925. Roosevelt
taught him how to swim. Taking a characteristic personal interest in Botts,
Roosevelt soon provided a prognosis: "He uses braces. When he came here [he]
could walk only a few steps, yesterday he walked half a mile in them." Ward,
A First-Class Temperament, 728.
20 Grace Tully acted as one
of Roosevelt's chief secretaries throughout his entire administration. The
president was drawn to the woman described by Dr. Ross McIntire as "gay,
able, [and] charming." McIntire, White House Physician, 70. As Grace
Tully recorded in her lively recollections, Roosevelt was "literally a hero
to those others who know so well the physical toll of infantile." Tully,
F.D.R., My Boss, 39.
21 Major DeWitt Greer, a
member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, was the chief of communication. He
set up a short-wave operation in Frank Allcorn's barn at the barbecue on
the day of Roosevelt's death.
22 Graham Jackson, a black
recruiting officer in the Coast guard at Macon, Georgia, was Roosevelt's favorite
musician. He had performed for him on numerous occasions and was scheduled
to do so again at the minstrel show. He was equally talented playing the
accordion or piano. A moving photograph of a tearful Jackson with his accordion
at the Warm Springs ceremonies was circulated worldwide.
23 Frank W. Allcorn was the
mayor of Warm Springs and a friend of President Roosevelt.
24 Mabel Irwin was the wife
of Chief surgeon Charles Irwin. She had no official position at the foundation,
but was involved in many volunteer activities.
25 Benjamin F. Mize served
from 1944-1945 as pastor of the First Methodist Church in nearby Manchester,
26 William D. Hassett often
filled in for Stephen T. Early as press secretary on out-of-town trips. He
and the president liked each other, had much in common, and carried on long
conversations. Less than a week before Roosevelt died, the erudite Hassett
expressed fears about the president's health to Dr. Bruenn. It was Hassett,
described by Grace Tully as "a truly cultured man," who officially announced
the president's death. Tully, F.D.R., My Boss, 156.
27 Captain Ford (first name
unknown) was in charge of a marine detachment at the foundation.
28 Eleanor Roosevelt was
in Washington when her husband died. Hearing of his collapse, she excused
herself from a meeting and rushed to the White House. Dr. McIntire and Steve
Early informed her of Roosevelt's death, and she immediately flew to Warm
29 Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire
served as the Navy surgeon general. He had acted as the president's personal
physician since Roosevelt's inauguration in 1933. A great admirer of the president,
he praised from a medical perspective Roosevelt's refusal to "accept invalidism
as a rule of life. . . ." Although McIntire usually accompanied the president
on all trips, he had promised to testify before a congressional investigative
committee. Less than a year after Roosevelt's death, McIntire wrote, "War
Springs, to my mind, is the real monument to Franklin Roosevelt." After all,
McIntire continued, "it was his guiding hand and compassionate heart that
built up a run-down health resort into a great national institution, offering
treatment to five and six hundred patients a year, regardless of race, creed,
or ability to pay." McIntire, White House Physician, 5, 43-44.
30 George H. Huntington,
acting as the vice president of Roberts College in Istanbul, was struck down
by polio in the 1920s. Huntington sought treatment at Warm Springs and eventually
moved there permanently with his wife, Elizabeth Dodge. The Congregational
Church minister and the president socialized often.
31 Alice Lou Plastridge first
treated Roosevelt at Horseneck Beach, Massachusetts in 1925. They took an
instant liking to each other. Due to her efforts, walking with crutches became
much easier for Roosevelt. He spoke enthusiastically of his Warm Springs
plans during their sessions, and in 1927 Alice was hired. She soon became
director of physiotherapy.
32 Charles Edwin Irwin, known
as "Dr. Ed." became chief surgeon and medical director of the foundation in
1933. He had graduated from Emory University medical School in 1932. During
his lengthy tenure Dr. Irwin became world-renowned in the field of poliomyelitis
surgery. Esteemed by Roosevelt, and "literally adored" by his patients, Irwin
retired in 1955. See Bette Jane Synder, "Eulogy to Charles Edwin Irwin,"
1962, on file at Warm Springs Foundation Library, Warm Springs, Georgia.
33 Dowdell's Knob is located
six to eight miles south of Warm Springs on Pine Mountain. Its elevation,
almost 1,400 feet, provides a panoramic view of the valley. It was the president's
favorite site. Betty Brown recalled, "He would spread a blanket on the rocks
and thoroughly enjoy himself." Betty Brown to author, May 15, 1990.