As I mentioned in the previous post, the last day of the trick hit a glitch. The original plan was to slip across the Chattahoochee River into neighboring Alabama and explore the history of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver and The Tuskegee Airmen. However, the Federal Government in Washington is caught in a struggle between spending on Republican pet projects and President Obama's insatiable desire for incessant government growth. So they created a sequester. And instead of cutting subsidies for corporations or the chronically lazy, the sequester closed these two learning opportunities to us on Sunday.
Faced with such an obstacle we did what any football fans would do. "CHECK TWO, CHECK TWO!!! SET, HUT!!!!"
We called an audible. Take that, Washington.
Ironically, we took the opportunity to learn about one of the champions of government spending. A man named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
an Cordele to Columbus. We made a stop at the overlook at the Callaway Country Store. Breathtaking. The morning was cool and the mist clung to the mountains and the stillness of the Georgia morning was pure peace. There was no way this was July.
Easing up the road, we took in even more views at F.D. Roosevelt State Park. The visitor's center is a beautiful stone structure built by one of the groups created by Roosevelt's "New Deal". There are miles of hiking trails, a swimming pool, camping sites, cottages to rent - many outdoor opportunities. The park is beautiful. My favorite part was the stunning view
at Dowdell's Knob, Roosevelt's personal picnic spot when he was in Georgia. His stone grill is still sitting on the perch atop Pine Mountain. In this setting, he used table linen and real china to dine on many a glorious Georgia afternoon. Standing in that spot, Roosevelt the politician began to take a side role and Roosevelt the man stepped forward. This was a moment that I needed to prepare me for the next stop.
Warm Springs remains a quaint Southern town, much like FDR found it after he was stricken with polio. Touring the museum at the Little White House showed a side of Roosevelt I had never seen before. This was the man that my grandmother's generation revered well into this century - people who voted for Democrats no matter what and Republicans never at all - not because of anything either candidate in any given election said or did but because The Democratic Party was the Party of Roosevelt. I saw that Roosevelt's policies, while misguided and unconstitutional, were brought on by a genuine concern for people that were struggling through the Great Depression. Seeing him stopping to talk to Georgia farmers about their crops, their prices, their hopes and their needs really impressed me. Learning that this governor from New York chose to announce his candidacy, not in the Empire State but in a small town in the western woods of the Empire State of the South took me aback. And then seeing him swimming and playing in the pools in town with children that knew polio's scourge...that showed me his humanity.
This was not a ploy. I've seen ploys out of most of his successors - especially the current one. What Roosevelt did went far beyond what would be needed to secure Georgia's electoral votes. The vulnerability involved in a man trying to hide a disability swimming in a pool with disabled children who could not help but notice one major thing they all had in common outpaced any ploy.
The house. Wow. It's not imposing. It's not elaborate. In fact, there are two small houses out front so that his butler, maid and visiting dignitaries would have a place to sleep. The main house had only three small bedrooms - one for FDR, one for his secretary and one for Eleanor, who rarely visited. This bedroom was often used by the Roosevelt children who visited their father in Warm Springs. The small shacks along the perimeter offered shelter to the company of Marines that kept the home secure during the president's visits. The house sits as it did the day Roosevelt died, shortly after collapsing while sitting for a portrait in the living room.
Through the museum and the house, my 9-year-old son completed the scavenger hunt that is available in the visitor's center. It really helped him learn about the site and the people involved in the history there. It was a high point for him as he really enjoyed looking for the answers to each clue. It's a must for the youngsters.
After the house tour, the path leads to a one last exhibit - the Legacy Exhibit Hall. There you can see the text of the Jefferson Day speech FDR was scheduled to deliver the day after he died. Many items related to fundraising for the war effort are also on display. The emotional photo of Graham W. Jackson playing "Goin' Home" on the accordion as the train carrying the president's body departed Warm Springs is hanging on the wall and the song is playing softly over the speakers in the ceiling. But the most touching exhibit in the hall is the unfinished portrait - the very painting Elizabeth Shoumatoff was working on when FDR collapsed. The face on the canvas reveals a tired man. One whose personal illnesses, the stress of leading a nation through a depression and a world war and who knows what other stress had worn down. The once strong and athletic man was now tired, compassionate, visionary and hopeful, but tired. And in that moment my strong Antifederalist/Libertarian heart ached for the father of humongous government - not because I longed for his form of government but because I had connected with him as a man and I saw in his eyes the feeling that I could not help but have compassion for.
We left the museum and headed down the hill into town to tour the pools, which are included in the price of museum admission. My feelings there were mixed. The overall feeling is sad. The ramps and equipment communicate the terrible entity that made such a place necessary. But there was a happiness in knowing that such a place was available. The pools aren't in use any longer. They are filled once a year for a special event that is likely nearing the end of its run. Visitors can walk down the ramps into the pools and rinse their hands in the springs, which we did.
Overall, the pools were a sad place for the journey to end. So many events and sights would have been more fitting as a finale for such a great trip. But I'm glad that we experienced this place. The pools have been replaced by a more modern treatment and rehab hospital next door where the work continues of alleviating the pains of disabled people and working toward cures for the illnesses at the root of the issue. So, even in the somber moment, all things considered, there is hope in Warm Springs. I highly recommend a visit, even if...no especially if you do not agree with Roosevelt's policies. Allow yourself the opportunity to hear the stories, to see the evidence, to connect with FDR as a man.
And so we covered a wide range of history, from the earliest people to settle in what is now Georgia through major wars, agricultural advancements, treatment of disease, all the way up to the ongoing work of a living former president. We travelled over 1000 miles through 29 counties. We visited sites for three presidents from two different American nations. We saw a rat scurry out of a engine compartment of a car. We brushed gnats out of our faces. We kept pretty close quarters. We survived and grew together as a family.
And that last fact, of course, was the reason for it all.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire