Rare Film Shows FDR Walking

Never-before-seen footage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt walking shows a revealing moment in the life of one of the most powerful presidents.
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Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a president who kept the United States moving forward through the Great Depression and World War II. In an attempt to minimize awareness of FDR’s paralysis from polio, his Secret Service famously prohibited and even confiscated cameras whenever the president needed to move. At the time, the press largely complied with the request not to film him.

Now, though, virtually unprecedented footage of President Roosevelt walking has been donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission by the daughter of Major League Baseball pitcher James (Jimmie) DeShong. Deshong shot the 8-second clip on his 8mm home movie camera in 1937. The footage reveals FDR wearing braces and holding an assistant’s arm and a handrail as he walks up a ramp in Washington, D.C.’s Griffith Stadium. Only one other known film clip shows the president walking.

Along with the historic footage of President Roosevelt, several Major League baseball all-stars and executives can easily be identified in the film, including Joe McCarthy, Charlie Gehringer, Spud Chandler, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx.

The clip will also appear in filmmaker Ken Burns’s upcoming documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which will air on PBS in September 2014. “When the film was discovered, we had already completed our series, but once we saw this terrific find, we asked PBS for permission to do a re-edit on the broadcast master of Episode Four so that we could include it,” Burns said.