Tuesday, January 13, 2015

FDR's Funeral Train, Robert Klara

FDR’s Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance

Robert Klara

Category: History: Politics & Washington, D.C.

Synopsis: A recount of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death and the funeral train journey from Warm Springs, Georgia to Washington, D.C., to Hyde Park, New York.

Date finished: 26 October 2014

Rating: ****

I so enjoyed Robert Klara’s The Hidden White House earlier this year that midway through it I snatched up this, his earlier book.

Back in the day, presidents were escorted from their place of death to their place of burial via train. And that train’s path and itinerary was published in all the newspapers so that people who never would have seen their president in life could see him—at least in passing—postmortem. Although Klara doesn’t say so, FDR has to have been one of the last presidents to be honored this way.

FDR died April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, the site of his polio rehabilitation camp. After his passing, he was transported to Washington, D.C. for his funeral. Then, family, friends, staff, U.S. leaders, and the newly sworn in President Truman and his family, hopped aboard his funeral train to his graveside ceremony in Hyde Park. It is a feat that would never be done nowadays. Every branch of government (the Supreme Court, members of Congress, etc.), the highest ranking military officers, the new president, indeed, all of the officeholders in the greatest government in the free world on two trains travelling 22 hours and 650 miles? During wartime? What were they thinking?

FDR did not want to lay in state, and indeed the cerebral hemorrhage that killed him disfigured his face to a point that a state funeral was out of the question. His funeral was a short 23-minute affair in the (East Room?) of the White House with only family and a few close friends and staffers present. Then most of those in charge in Washington board the trains headed for Hyde Park.

Here we learn who was with him in his last moments (hint: it wasn’t Eleanor). We get a glimpse into the fall of one 12-year presidency and the rise of the Truman presidency—on whose watch the war will end, not with a whimper, but a bang. He learns about what will cause that horrific bang on the funeral train.

This is a cozy book, a rather short work covering the events of just a few days in history. It’s full of facts and emotions but never goes beyond the bounds of historical reference or good taste. Klara does a good job confining his narrative to the event at hand, and I appreciated that. I learned a lot and highly recommend it.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes. (Although I would recommend The Hidden White House more highly.)

You might also enjoy:
The Hidden White House
Destiny of the Republic

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