Museum receives rare footage of FDR walking

In a film from 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt walks to his seat at the All-Star Game in Washington. FDR's legs were paralyzed by polio.
In a film from 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt walks to his seat at the All-Star Game in Washington. FDR's legs were paralyzed by polio. (Pa. Historical and Museum Commission)
Posted: May 17, 2014

HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania State Archives released never-before-seen footage Thursday that captures what few Americans ever saw: President Franklin D. Roosevelt walking.

Paralyzed by polio in 1921, Roosevelt went to great lengths to hide his disability from the public throughout his long political career, and news organizations complied, leaving extremely little in the way of a visual record of him walking.

In the summer of 1937, Harrisburg native James "Jimmie" DeShong - who pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics - trained his home movie camera on Roosevelt as the president arrived at Griffith Stadium in Washington to watch the All-Star Game.

The eight-second snippet of footage shows Roosevelt, with braces on his legs apparent beneath his pants, and holding an assistant's arm and the handrail, climbing awkwardly up a ramp to his seat.

It is one of only two known extended film clips showing Roosevelt walking, state officials said.

Susan Corbett, the governor's wife, and members of DeShong's family unveiled the film at the Pennsylvania State Museum.

The discovery came just in time for filmmaker Ken Burns, who is completing a documentary on the Roosevelt family to air on PBS in September.

Burns said he was thrilled to learn of the discovery because it was known that the Secret Service would confiscate cameras whenever someone took images of Roosevelt struggling to move on his own.

"The president wanted to minimize the public's knowledge of the devastating effects polio had had on him," Burns said in a statement. Burns said he would swap out a still photo and use the new footage in his film.

DeShong's daughter, Judith Savastio, donated the film to the archives several months ago. It will be preserved and interpreted and made accessible to the public, state officials said.

Also in the nearly six minutes of footage, taken from the field, are New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig, Athletics and Boston Red Sox star Jimmie Foxx, Detroit Tigers legend Hank Greenberg, and others.

To see the video, go to www.inquirer.com/fdrvideo.


aworden@phillynews.com

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