The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

Sculpture of FDR and Fala at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Sculpture of FDR and Fala at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (photo from Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division).
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was dedicated on May 2, 1997, by President Bill Clinton, 40 years after the idea was first proposed to Congress. Using elements of stone, water, and unique landscaping, the memorial consists of five outdoor rooms that represent a prologue to the presidency and the unprecedented four terms won by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). Over four and a half tons of South Dakota red granite and 100,000 gallons of flowing water are used in the memorial.

The prologue room features a bronze sculpture depicting FDR in a wheelchair. The statue was not part of the original memorial. It was added in 2001 following a campaign by the National Organization on Disability to demonstrate that after contracting polio at the age of 39, Roosevelt spent much of his life in a wheelchair and should be shown that way. Others asserted that FDR went to great effort to conceal his disability. Private funds were raised, and the statue was added. The chair in the statue depicts the one the president designed himself from a kitchen chair and tricycle wheels.

The first room introduces FDR's first term as president, with a relief panel illustrating his first inauguration. The artist used actual film footage as his inspiration.

The second room focuses on the conditions that still faced FDR even four years after enactment of many of his New Deal programs. The Great Depression had become the worst financial crisis America had ever experienced. One sculpture, crafted by noted American sculptor George Segal, shows a line of men waiting for free bread in a city setting. Across the way, a farmer and his wife represent the struggles the American farmer experienced in the 1930s. And in a third structure, a man sits by his radio, listening to one of the many "fireside chats" that Roosevelt used to communicate directly with Americans.

Beyond these sculptures, the room honors FDR's social and public programs. With his New Deal, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration and other "alphabet" programs, Roosevelt helped Americans emerge from the depths of financial ruin. Five bronze bas-relief panels comprised of individual sections represent 54 New Deal programs, and five bronze freestanding cylinders covered with Braille and other textural elements strive to make the memorial accessible to all.

Between the second and third rooms is an open area that symbolizes the march to war. Room three features a scattering of blocks, representing destruction. Several blocks are labeled, "I hate war," from an FDR speech. A large sculpture of President Roosevelt sits nearby, with his faithful canine companion, Fala, by his side.

The fourth and final room includes a still pool of water and a low-relief panel showing FDR's funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue. FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, barely a month into his fourth term of office and shortly before the end of World War II. Here also stands a statue of his wife, First Lady Eleanor, the only depiction of a First Lady in a presidential memorial. Behind her hangs the emblem of the United Nations, to which she was a delegate after FDR's death. A timeline of FDR's life is carved into the steps of this room's amphitheater.

Last updated: April 13, 2020

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