On Saturday, May 20, 2000, the March of Dimes held their second annual "Walk Through History" at the Little While House Historic Site in Warm Springs, Georgia. The walk began in front of FDR's famous Georgia home. Here, participants began a three-mile walk through a very special portion of history. It was here that the President would come for treatments in the warm water for his polio. The walk took everyone through the grounds of the Little White House onto the back roads of the modern day Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute For Rehabilitation, over to Georgia Hall (the first hospital building built in 1934), around by "Camp Roosevelt" (home of his personal Marine guard) where many physically challenged individuals stay for special events each year and ending at the picnic area of the Little White House for lunch. Over $32,000 was raised on that day, substantially more than last year.
Steve Layne and Jerry Raville
Coinciding with the walk was a symposium on post-polio syndrome being held at the Roosevelt Institute. Everyone attending was invited to visit the President's little cottage and the historic pools where he found relief from his polio. It was one of these visits that introduced me to the editor of your newsletter. Carolyn was busy reminiscing about her days as a patient at the foundation in the early 1940s, when her husband and I entered the foyer. She was looking through the photo tour of the servant's quarters and guest house which cannot be seen by wheel chair or scooter. After she had finished viewing the interior pictures of the other buildings I started to show them through
through the house and attempted to take them back into our past to a time when a fellow polio could be President of the United States of America with powers to run the country and fight wars, and yet chose such a simple place to live. Back to the time of his death and those who were here to say goodbye to a moment frozen in time.
We were halfway through the house when she asked me to share with you a bit of what makes the Little White House Historic Site such a special place in the world, especially to those who have endured the effects of polio. I could see in her eyes that this simple little cottage held a very special place in her heart and I hope that you all can come and visit here some day and experience it for yourselves.
After hearing that the waters from the warm springs here in Georgia had cured someone of polio, FDR traveled here in 1924. His doctors noticed marked improvement in only three weeks. Two hears later he bought the springs and resort that surrounded them. In 1927 he began the task of turning the resort into "The Warm Springs Polio Foundation." In those days he stayed in different cottages on the grounds of the foundation. In 1931, while Governor of New York, he began construction on the Little White House. It was completed in April of 1932 and he moved in on the first day of May. The house was small and unpretentious. It was just what he wanted.
From 1932 to 1945 he did his best to spend time here in the spring and fall. After 1941 the war prevented long stays at Warm Springs. One year he was unable to come at all. It was in March of 1945 that the train brought him to his Georgia home for the last time.
His health was bad. He knew it. His doctors knew it. His advisor knew it and even the press knew it, but they just couldn't believe or accept it. The Secret Service took one precaution, and that was to assign a bodyguard to Vice President Truman.
Once at home in the Little White House, Daisy Bonner, his cook, made a point to feed the President food that he liked and thought would build up his health. This seemed to be working. His color was better and his appetite improved. His blood pressure was always high, but even it showed signs of slight improvement. Only the President himself knew that his time here on earth was quickly coming to an end.
April 11, 1945, the day before radio networks broadcast the terrible announcement of his death, and papers put out extras all over the world, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a trip up to Dowdell's Knob (his favorite picnic spot on Pine Mountain) to gaze down over a beautiful valley and to pray and meditate. Later that evening he was at the foundation watching Graham Jackson rehearsing numbers for the minstrel show that was scheduled for the following day. Graham, with his accordion strapped over his shoulders, was playing from the "New World Symphony" the beautiful notes of "Goin' Home." As FDR listened, he took the sheet music and asked Graham to change one line near the end of the song. We know that Graham changed it because we have the sheet music in our files here at the Little White House. Graham didn't sing it at the minstrel show. There was no show!
April 13th, two days later, he sang it before the multitude of polio patients and staff assembled in front of Georgia Hall. There were there to say farewell to their beloved friend Doc Roosevelt for the last time. The hearse that carried the President's body had stopped at the tall white columns that marked the entrance to the foundation before proceeding to the train station at Warm Springs. Ed Clark, LIFE Magazine photographer, had just arrived from an all night drive from Nashville, Tennessee, and snapped the picture that went around the world
world showing how America felt at that very moment. Tears streaming down the face of Graham Jackson as his fingers moved over the keyboard of the accordion and as he slowly pumped it in and out. His voice filled with sadness as he sang the line that the President had changed two days earlier:
"Pray for peace from day to day;
Goin' to toil no more, Goin' home."**
The staff of the Little White House has hundreds of stories like this and as a guide of two years at this site I'm proud to say that we all love to relate them to our guests, individually or in groups. In an age of voice mail, email, faxes and all types of impersonal communication, your questions about this moment frozen in time, hopefully will always be answered by a real live human being. We think our favorite president and polio patient would approve of this with his whole heart!
**The lines originally read:
"Nothin' lost, all's gain, No more fret nor pain;
No more stumblin' on the way, No more long-in' for the day;
Gwine to roam no more!
Mornin' star lights the way, Res'less dream all done;
Shadows gone, break o' day, Real life jes' begun."
After FDR changed it, it read:
"Nothin' lost, all's gain, No more fret nor pain;
Pray for Peace from day to day;
Goin' to toil no more; Goin' home."
Steve Layne has been employed as a tour guide at the Little White House since July of 1998. As you can tell, Steve loves history, enjoys meeting people and loves to make each guest's visit to the site a memorable one.