New, and Long Overdue

Article excerpt

Two landmarks have been added to the Washington area that should be around for a long time. One is a monument of beauty, the other a museum that entertains, and both promise to educate.

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The first is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in West Potomac Park, dedicated to our 32nd president. Roosevelt was the only president to be elected four times, and he led the nation through the Great Depression and World War II.

His term of office began on March 4, 1933, and ended April 12, 1945, when he was cut down by a cerebral hemorrhage. The war in Europe ended three weeks later and the war in Japan ended in August with the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Roosevelt's legacies were many. For the first time, government was willing to help ease citizens' ills, with programs from Social Security to the Tennessee Valley Authority. FDR's dream of a United Nations was also fulfilled.

The 7 1/2-acre memorial is historic because it's one of only two presidentials memorials devoted to the same family. Just 2.1 miles west of the FDR Memorial is Theodore Roosevelt Island, dedicated to Franklin's fifth cousin, the 26th president. FDR parlayed the connection as much as he could, adopting Theodore's pince-nez, lusty exuberance and most important, the philosophy that government can be an active force for social justice. He even married Eleanor Roosevelt, the daughter of Theodore's brother Elliott. ("There's nothing like keeping the name in the family!" Uncle Teddy boomed.)

Politically, on the Mall, the Democrats have FDR while the Republicans have Abraham Lincoln. (George Washington would probably be a Republican today, while Thomas Jefferson would be a Democrat.)

Off the Mall, the Dems can boast the John F. Kennedy Memorial Center for the Performing Arts and the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove. The Republicans have the woodsy Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Island. (The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, dedicated to our Democratic 28th president, was not welcomed even by his widow; she died the day it was dedicated. Still, its name is bandied about more - just by radio weather watchers - than perhaps any other.)

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial has four outdoor "rooms" with waterfalls, FDR quotations, statues and bas-reliefs. It's the first presidential memorial to feature a first lady - Eleanor Roosevelt is honored in statuary for her work as first U.S. delegate to the United Nations.

Ironically, it was her discovery of her husband's affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer, in 1919 that started her on the road to independence. When Roosevelt was stricken in August 1921 with polio at Campobello Island, Maine, his mother, Sara, wanted FDR locked away, an invalid country squire living the rest of his life at her Springwood mansion in Hyde Park, N.Y. But Eleanor nursed him to recovery and stumped the state, keeping his name in politics until he could run for governor (and win) in 1928.

Some say FDR caught the virus while swimming in rancid waters a month earlier at a Boy Scout jamboree at Palisades Park, N.J., though no one will ever know. The polio first paralyzed his back, legs, arms and hands, but eventually all feeling came back except to his hips and legs. He became severely depressed, but fought back by building up his arms and shoulders. He never walked unaided or without braces, though up to the day he died he was still looking for a cure. …