1935 Footage of FDR Made Head of His Library 'Gasp'

White House visitor Fred Hill recorded president walking in 1935
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 28, 2018 6:39 AM CDT
Updated Jun 28, 2018 6:56 AM CDT

For seven seconds, the footage shows an American president walking to a White House railing to wave at a crowd. But "when I saw [it] ... I gasped," says Paul Sparrow, director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, which has acquired the silent film of the 32nd president at the 1935 White House Easter Egg Roll. It's so remarkable because FDR, disabled by polio in 1921, wasn't keen on walking, which for him often required braces. Only a handful of short, blurry films show him doing so, per History. Indeed, cameramen were told not to record his stiff gait for fear it would make clear his disability, per the Washington Post. Apparently unaware of such a rule, New York tourist Fred Hill aimed his camera at Roosevelt as he walked with help from a cane and bodyguard, his wife and two nieces at his side.

Secret Service agents surely would've taken the film had they spotted Hill's camera amid the crowd of 50,000, says Roosevelt biographer Geoffrey C. Ward. "It's by far the clearest image I've ever seen of something that's obsessed me for 20 years," he adds, pointing to the careful "choreography" of bodyguard Gus Gennerich, who helps FDR to a railing, vanishes behind a pillar, and reemerges just as the president is ready to leave, per the Post. The footage stayed with Hill as he relocated to Reno, Nev., continuing to make home movies, and was discovered by his grandson in the 1980s. "I've kind of jealously guarded this stuff" but it "needs to go where it belongs," says Richard Hill, 66, who made the December donation announced Wednesday. "It's an important part of history that almost got away." (This FDR footage is rare for another reason.)

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