Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Happy Days Are Here Again" or Where to Find Happiness in a Red State

"Happy days are here again" is inscribed on a shot glass along with a picture of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that I bought last weekend. The cashier in the FDR Museum gift shop said, "There are two stories behind this shot glass, you know." I knew the first one--that was the song title of FDR's presidential campaign, and it is still played at Democratic conventions and election celebrations. The second story had slipped my mind--Prohibition was repealed during FDR's presidency. "Oh, yes," I told the cashier, "I have a photograph of my grandfather, who ran a tavern, with a portrait of FDR proudly displayed behind the bar." She said, "Oh, my, that gives me goosebumps!"

So, there is a soft spot in my heart for Roosevelt and all he did to lead the country out of Prohibition, the Depression, and through World War II. He died unexpectedly of a stroke on April 12, 1945, just as the Allies were racing to Berlin. The newspaper that day shows the map of Europe. We had already taken Wuerzburg; the Nazis still held Nuernberg. The headline proclaims: "57 Miles From Berlin." This paper is one of the many interesting artifacts at the FDR "Little White House" and Museum in Warm Spring, Georgia, about an hour and half south of Atlanta. The FDR State Park and the Roosevelt Warm Springs Rehabilitation Center are also nearby.

In fact, it was the natural warm springs that drew Roosevelt here to Georgia in 1924 in hopes of finding some relief from his polio. He bought the property, built pools and a treatment center, and then had a small house built. It was completed in 1932, when FDR was governor of New York. He continued to go there often during his four elected terms as president, which is when it became known as "The Little White House." And is here that he died.

The house, guest house, and servants' quarters are all preserved exactly. It's hard to imagine a president of the United States staying often in such humble surroundings. It reminds me very much of a modest vacation cottage one might rent in Wisconsin or Michigan--a tiny living room, three small bedrooms, dining room, kitchen and foyer, certainly not more than about 1,000 square feet. The interior is pine paneling and floors. There are four single beds. There is a large semi-circular patio off the back, overlooking the Georgia pine woods. Except for the Marine sentry shacks and one for the Secret Service, nothing would indicate a president lived there. That and FDR's indoor wheelchair.

There is a nice little FDR museum and a separate room dedicated just to the day he died. The museum has some great memorabilia, from FDR's swimming outfit to his 1929 Ford convertible that he drove himself. It was specially outfitted with hand levers for the crippled president. It's actually a real nice overview of FDR's personal life on a smaller scale. Photos of FDR are displayed with some of the artifacts, making them even more real. The so-called "Unfinished Portrait," for which FDR was sitting the very day he died, is on display, along with the cook's lunch menu for the day and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Although it is well off any beaten path, there were quite a number of visitors there on the Sunday I was, many of whom were foreign visitors. One of the displays in the museum shows three presidents who have visited the site (all Democrats, of course): President Kennedy, President Carter (who launched his campaign there), and President Clinton.

With such a huge historical Democratic presence in the county, I wondered how they voted nowadays and if FDR still had influence there. I came home and looked up the last presidential results, the one won by Democrat Barack Obama in 2010. Georgia is, of course, a "red" (Republican) state these days. Warm Springs lies in Meriwether County (pop. @ 22, 000). Obama earned 47% of the votes, losing narrowly to McCain. It's hard to fathom how that happened, and I'm pretty sure FDR isn't happy about it.