by Shannon Butler

This week marks 75 years since the death and funeral services of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our neighbor and fellow history nerd. We thought we would take a look at the events surrounding this sad yet important anniversary.

On the evening of March 24th, 1945, FDR ventured home to his beloved Hyde Park. His appointment book was blank for the next few days which meant he could simply enjoy the quiet comfort of his family’s home and perhaps work on his stamp collection or do some bird watching (two of his favorite hobbies). We know that he had a meeting with the director of his presidential library, Mr. Shipman before returning to Washington D.C. on the morning of the 29th. He had a few quick meetings during the course of the day before getting on a train to head south to what he considered to be his second home, Warm Springs, Georgia.

By this point in the President’s life he was incredibly ill and frail. His heart was failing him and his blood pressure could not be controlled (at least once, it had reached 260/150). The stress of the war and the conditions of serving as President for as long as he had (just over 12 years) were clearly taking a toll on his health. FDR’s condition was clear after he returned from the Yalta conference in February of 1945 and addressed the House while seated, which was something he had never done before (he had always endeavored to stand with his braces locking his polio stricken legs in place). His doctors, Admiral Ross McIntire, Dr. Howard Bruenn, and his protective daughter Anna, all insisted that he take it easy and spend more time resting.

The next two weeks at Warm Springs would be quite enjoyable and restful, exactly what the doctor had ordered. He had with him for company his usual crew of secretary Grace Tully, a correspondence secretary named William Hassett, as well as his two travel companions (and cousins) Daisy Suckley and Lauro Delano. On the night of April 9th he was joined by an old friend, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd who brought with her a Russian artist named Elizabeth Shoumatoff to paint FDR’s portrait.

On the morning of April 12th, FDR sat near the french doors in what he had called “The Little White House” to begin work on various papers he had brought along. Sitting nearby were his cousins, Lucy, and the artist Shoumatoff who worked on her painting. Around 1:00pm, Daisy noticed that the President appeared to be fumbling for something. She walked towards him and asked, “Have you dropped your cigarette?” He looked up at her and replied “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.” Those are the last words he would speak. He had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and would remain unconscious until about 3:35 PM when he finally passed away. He was 63 years old.

Eleanor Roosevelt, who had been attending various meetings in Washington when she received news of her husband’s passing. She quickly excused herself and returned to the White House where she informed a shocked Harry S. Truman that his future was about to change. She then took a plane down to Georgia and arrived around midnight. The following morning, April 13th, the President’s remains along with all of those who had been with him at Warm Springs (with the exception of Rutherfurd and Shoumatoff, who had left not long after his stroke) left the station headed for Washington. The entire journey north was met with thousands of Americans along the railroad who stood mournfully and watched as the train went by.

Before he had died, FDR made it clear that he did not want to be lying in state in the Capitol, not with all of the soldiers dying in war. On April 14th, a simple funeral was held in the East Room of the White House. There was a funeral procession through the streets of Washington attended by some 300,000 onlookers, before the coffin was placed back on the train for the final trip to Hyde Park. On the morning of April 15th, the President’s remains were brought from the train landing along the Hudson (originally placed there by his father James Roosevelt), up the hillside to the rose garden where he had wished to be buried. A graveside service was held before everyone made their way two miles north along the Albany Post Road to St. James Episcopal Church for the final spiritual service.

For further Reading check out:

FDR’s Last 100 Days: FDR at War and Peace by David Woolner 

FDR’s Funeral Train by Robert Klara 

Also please visit our partner’s websites:

Dutchess County Historical Society – Exhibit on FDR’s Death 

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum – Day by Day