Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president elected four times (1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944). Sadly, he passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after being elected to his fourth term. Leading the country through an economic crisis and a world war usually puts Franklin Roosevelt near the top of most greatest presidents lists. No matter how one views Franklin Roosevelt’s time in the White House, his legacy has a permanent place in our nation’s capital in the form of a memorial.
The FDR Memorial (1997)
Dedicated in 1997, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. is far from a modest remembrance of an oft-admired president. At seven and a half acres, it is the largest presidential memorial on the National Mall. In many ways, the FDR Memorial is one of the most powerful and captivating memorials on the Mall. Its power lies in its grandeur.
Upon arrival to the FDR Memorial, the visitor is greeted by a solitary bronze statue of Roosevelt seated in his wheelchair, a stark reminder of the president’s personal struggle with polio. Then, the visitor travels through four main sections, each representing one of FDR’s four terms. The memorial’s pink granite, cascading waterfalls, bronze statues, and inspirational quotes tell the story not only of a president, but also of a nation.
But, technically-speaking, this is not the first memorial in our nation’s capital to honor FDR. Even more, the FDR Memorial might go against the wishes of Roosevelt himself. Despite the beauty and magnitude of the FDR Memorial, Roosevelt spoke of a much more modest memorial.
Photographs by PJ Creek
“…plain without any ornamentation”
The original memorial to FDR is located near the National Archives, the home of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. A rectangular piece of gray stone, the memorial is roughly the size of FDR’s desk. This simple memorial seems a fitting remembrance of the man who led our nation through the Great Depression. The following text appears on the memorial’s informational plaque:
“IN SEPTEMBER 1941 PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT CALLED HIS FRIEND, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, TO THE WHITE HOUSE AND ASKED THE JUSTICE TO REMEMBER THE WISH HE THEN EXPRESSED:
‘IF ANY MEMORIAL IS ERECTED TO ME, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I SHOULD LIKE IT TO BE. I SHOULD LIKE IT TO CONSIST OF A BLOCK ABOUT THE SIZE OF THIS (PUTTING HIS HAND ON HIS DESK) AND PLACED IN THE CENTER OF THAT GREEN PLOT IN FRONT OF THE ARCHIVES BUILDING. I DON’T CARE WHAT IT IS MADE OF, WHETHER LIMESTONE OR GRANITE OR WHATNOT, BUT I WANT IT PLAIN WITHOUT ANY ORNAMENTATION, WITH THE SIMPLE CARVING, ‘IN MEMORY OF _____________’.’
A SMALL GROUP OF LIVING ASSOCIATES OF THE PRESIDENT, ON APRIL 12, 1965, THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS DEATH, FULFILLED HIS WISH BY PROVIDING AND DEDICATING THIS MODEST MEMORIAL.”
Photographs by PJ Creek
How should FDR be remembered?
It’s interesting to consider how we remember our presidents. Massive memorials are constructed to honor the memory of admired presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. These architectural accomplishments craft a narrative of a president’s legacy. The FDR Memorial is an expansive tribute to a significant president.
Nevertheless, the question remains: How should FDR be remembered? If one takes FDR at his own words, the President wanted a small, modest memorial. Perhaps the fact that FDR thought of the construction of his own memorial points to another interesting question: Can a president accurately envision his own memorial? In any case, the original, desk-sized memorial located by the National Archives is a fascinating contrast to the seven football fields of granite that sprawl along the Tidal Basin.
Go to the original FDR memorial
White House Biography
National Park Service: FDR Memorial
Purchase a copy of the Periodic Table of the Presidents poster here.