April 1945: From his death in Warm Springs, Ga., to his burial in Hyde Park, New York, Franklin Roosevelt’s final journey.
News of FDR’s passing indelibly marked the Greatest Generation. Stunned by the loss of the only president many of them had known, huge crowds of mourners lined the tracks of his funeral train as it made its three-day journey through nine states. “The people did not wave,” Life reported. “They wept.” Klara takes us the entire route, furnishing information about the railways and their officials who shared logistical responsibilities, the locomotives and the lavish Pullman cars. However, the author focuses primarily on the train’s passengers: Roosevelt’s grieving widow Eleanor, twice-shocked to learn her husband’s long-ago mistress, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, was present when FDR suffered his cerebral hemorrhage; bleary newsmen charged with generating copy at every stop; FDR’s cousins Daisy Suckley and Polly Delano; his secretary Grace Tully and his famous dog Fala; presidential aide Lauchlin Currie, exposed years later as a KGB spy; Harry Truman, who used the train ride to confer with advisors to quickly come up to speed on the nation’s business and to prepare an address to Congress that would introduce him as the nation’s leader; speech writers, advisors and aides both to the old and new president, including the former director of the Office of War Mobilization and soon to be Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes. On the trip’s penultimate leg, the slow train followed an announced route through densely populated areas, carrying the president, the cabinet, nine Supreme Court Justices, dozens of congressional leaders and the heads of major federal agencies, a security risk unthinkable in today’s climate. In the manner of Bob Greene’s Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen (2002) or Jody Rosen’s White Christmas: The Story of an American Song (2002), similar, bite-sized slices of World War II–era home-front history, Klara charms as he informs.
A little gem.