Rare film footage featuring President Franklin D. Roosevelt walking to his seat at a baseball game helps dispel the myth that he completely hid his disability and shows the courage it took to go about his daily life, experts said Friday.
The clip shows FDR, who was paralyzed from the waist down by polio in 1921, grasping a rail with one hand while being supported on the other side by an assistant. FDR used a wheelchair because he could walk only with braces on his legs and the support of a cane.
Former Major League Baseball player Jimmie DeShong shot the film at the 1937 All-Star game in Washington. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg announced it had acquired the clip from the family of DeShong, a native of the city.
Filmmaker Ken Burns calls the footage "one of the very best pieces of film that so clearly shows what a brave struggle it was for FDR to move." Burns plans to incorporate it into his forthcoming documentary on the Roosevelts, which is slated to air on PBS this fall.
The press generally did not film FDR struggling to move under his own power, as the Secret Service did not want to publicize the president's vulnerability, according to historians.
But experts say he tried to minimize images of his paralysis to make the public more comfortable and to ensure that other nations didn't view him as a weak leader. "Thousands of people saw him walk like that quite frequently, in person. That was no secret," said Ray Begovich, a journalism professor at Franklin College near Indianapolis who has researched FDR's public image.