Earned Wall Space

Poking around the basement in my mom’s house I unearthed a framed black and white portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The picture had been in a stack with other effects from one set of grandparents or the other. Certain this pic would probably end up in a dumpster, I packed it in my suitcase and brought it home. Our 32nd President is on display among other WWII pieces I’ve collected over the years.

What was it about Roosevelt, and his times, that earned him wall space during the Depression and war years of the United States? Today the idea of commemorating a political leader with a  wall display seems laughable. 

So again, why did my grandparents include FDR in their home decor?

Admiration may be one reason. FDR appeared bigger than life. The man seemed to have it all, looks, money, and a pedigree that stemmed back to the early Dutch Patroons in America. His distant cousin, who also acted as his uncle-in-law, Theodore Roosevelt, still loomed large in American memory. That Franklin Roosevelt wished to serve his countrymen in a time of economic collapse felt assuring.

The laissez faire policies of previous administrations made common widespread fraud, especially on Wall Street.The 1920’s had been a heady time of speculation on the Dow, with banks making reckless loans on high risk investments. When the party came to a screeching halt in October of 1929, the sitting Republican President, Herbert Hoover, shouldered all the blame.

That fact raises another strength of President Roosevelt.The public trusted him. While autocracies generated “cults of personality,” Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler, this candidate earned his place promising America a “New Deal.” He assured the country they had not failed, the system had forsaken them, and as their new President he meant to correct those abuses.

The choice to hang Roosevelt’s portrait came from genuine respect. The people elected FDR because he meant to serve America. 

This President brought energy and purpose to the Executive Branch reaching Americans personally in their daily lives. New Deal legislation quickly translated into action with legions of new programs all designed to get folks working again. The public felt a connection to the White House that perhaps hadn’t existed before that time. Mail arrived in a vast volume, most requesting a “hand up,” not a hand out. The correspondence frequently mentioned that any financial help would be repaid. Repaid.

FDR brought electric light to rural America, and chatted with the folks via the radio in his Fireside Chats. Bridges, schools, and other large engineering projects connected the nation as never before. It’s a sure thing your town or city still bears an imprint of FDR’s time in office.

So it is with gratitude that I have placed Franklin Delano Roosevelt on my wall. After all, it’s a family tradition.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle. Chumbley has also authored two historical plays: “Clay” on the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” concerning the evolution of racism and slavery in America.

gailchumbley@gmail.com