Rare footage of FDR walking found in PA archives

A still from the video of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the 1937 All Star Game at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. (Source: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission)

Note: The video is at the bottom of this post

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission released never-before-seen video today showing an extraordinary moment in presidential history: a snippet of President Franklin Roosevelt walking.

Paralyzed by polio in 1921, Roosevelt was rarely photographed or filmed walking.

But Harrisburg native  James "Jimmie" DeShong - a pitcher  with the Philadelphia Athletics - caught Roosevelt with his 8 mm home movie camera as he climbed a ramp at the old Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. to watch the 1937 All Star game.

The president is wearing braces on his legs and holds an assistant's arm and a handrail as he climbs the steps. It is one of only two known extended film clips in existence showing President Roosevelt walking.

Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett, along with members of DeShong’s family, unveiled the rare film at the Pennsylvania State Museum today.

The discovery came just in time for filmmaker Ken Burns who is completing a documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History" which will air on PBS beginning September 14.

"We were thrilled with the discovery of a new piece of film footage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt walking. Any film of him struggling to get from one place to another is extremely rare, as the Secret Service either prohibited or confiscated cameras whenever FDR was making an attempt to propel himself from his car to anywhere else,” said Burns.

“The President wanted to minimize the public's knowledge of the devastating effects polio had had on him - he was completely paralyzed from the waist down and he could not walk without the aid of a cane and braces on both legs. The press in those days complied with his request not to be filmed.”

Burns said he will swap out a still photo and use the footage in his film.

DeShong’s daughter, Judith Savastio, donated the film and all of its associated copyrights, to the Pennsylvania State Archives to be preserved and interpreted and will make it accessible to the public.

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

-Amy Worden





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