Bay Reflection

Vol. 8, No. 16
April 20-26, 2000
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The Easter We Saw Franklin Delano Roosevelt
By Alice Fisk Herring

It was spring in Washington, D.C., in 1941, just months before Pearl Harbor. I was a student at the University of Maryland in College Park, but my parents lived in the Dupont Circle area. When I found out that FDR often attended an Episcopal church, St. Thomas, in the general vicinity, I thought it might be fun to try to get a glimpse of him, and Easter Sunday seemed to be the best bet.

Just why did I want to see him? I didn’t necessarily believe or even care about his politics. It was that he was world famous — Mr. Charisma — with his infectious smile, his jaunty air, his warm, friendly fireside chats with words of encouragement such as the well-known “There is nothing to fear but fear itself” — which I believe brought us through the Depression as much as anything and now would take us through the difficult years ahead.

I enlisted my boyfriend, also a U of M student, to help me scout out the territory. A Sunday or two before Easter, we attended the church in question, which was located at about 17th and Church streets, just to the east and more or less behind Dupont Circle.

Tickets, we found out, were necessary to attend the Easter service, but these were only available to church members. There was little chance of seeing him anyway, we were told, as he was whisked quietly to his private wheelchair ramp and sat in a fairly shielded part of the church.

What a shock it was to find he was so disabled that he needed a wheelchair! On the news, we always saw him with a cane, yes, and a stalwart son beside to aid him. We knew he had suffered an attack of polio, but we didn’t realize he could only stand with steel braces supporting him. However when I found out, I thought, “Dumb me, I suppose everyone else already knows this,” but I never discussed it with anyone.

Undaunted, on that Easter day we decided to take the hour-long trip from the university to the church, using various methods of public transportation, changing buses several times and walking part way. We thought it might be worth it to hang around the church before and after the service, hoping for a glimpse of the great man. Besides, it was spring in Washington, D.C. Buds and blossoms were all around. Cherry blossoms covered the Tidal Basin. Like the words to the song “Love in Bloom” (which was currently popular) — “Can it be the spring that fills the air with rare and fragrant perfume? Oh, no, it isn’t the spring, it’s love in bloom” — I was in love. What could be better than going somewhere, anywhere, with my best beau?

But it was about to get even better.

We walked up P Street toward Dupont Circle because the P Street bus never seemed to come. As we came to 17th Street, no one else was around, no people, no traffic. Then our wondering eyes beheld a great shiny black open limousine with a man wildly waving his top hat at us.

Us. Just us. No motorcade, no crowds of people. There he was, FDR, beaming his famous ear-to-ear grin, just as if scores were watching! Just for two gawky college students. With all the weighty problems he must have had on his mind, he made the effort to give us that wonderfully enthusiastic greeting. What a moment that was, etched forever in time.

Love faded, my boyfriend and I married others. He may have forgotten me after all these many years, but I am sure he has not forgotten that thrilling moment. I know I have not. It will be mine forever.

Alice Herring, a former summer cottager at North Beach, lives in Millersville.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly