Few, if any, presidents were as beloved as Franklin Roosevelt.
Roosevelt came to office at a very volatile time in our nation’s history. He is credited with lifting our country out of the Great Depression, as well as rallying the country to defeat a murderous despot.
Roosevelt succeeded largely because of his intellect, his determination and his boundless charisma. Families would crowd around the radio during his “fireside chats” and were comforted and encouraged by what he said.
But few knew the lengths he went to conceal the fact that he could not walk. He had contracted polio at age 39 and his legs were virtually useless. In reality, he struggled to get in and out of cars, often used a wheelchair and even resorted to being carried or crawling on the floor when necessary.
The press did not photograph him during the times he was struggling to move. This was apparently never a stated policy; photographers just put their cameras down during those moments.
But a rare video has just been released that actually shows Roosevelt walking. How did this video come about? It was not taken by the press but by a tourist, who was unaware of this practice and who just kept his camera rolling.
In viewing this video, one is struck by how effective Roosevelt was in hiding his disability. He had undergone years of physical therapy and body building, and had developed the strength to swing his legs forward with his upper body strength. You also can see in the video that he supported himself by holding onto his bodyguard with one arm and a cane in the other. When he reached the podium, he clung to it and his bodyguard discretely left.
When one understands this about Roosevelt, he is even more inspiring. But it’s impossible not to wonder what he also might have accomplished if he didn’t (justifiably) feel the need to put so much time and energy into disguising his disability. And it’s fascinating to ponder if he would handle things the same way today.