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4:30pm ET, 4/16


Ceremony to unveil FDR statue -- wheelchair and all

A statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a wheelchair will be unveiled at a memorial in Washington  

In this story:

A hidden condition

Grandson once opposed statue


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When it opened in 1997 in Washington, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was hailed for its creative design and common touch.

Advocates for the disabled, however, complained that the sprawling, outdoor monument suffered from a major fault: It failed to show the president, a polio patient for much of his adult life, in a wheelchair.

On Wednesday, all that changes.

President Clinton will unveil an addition to the 7 1/2-acre cocoa-colored memorial that includes a statue of the clearly chair-bound World War II-era leader. The statue is part of a new room at the start of the memorial, located along the Tidal Basin near the National Mall.

"This is a great victory for the disability community," said Alan Reich, president of the National Organization on Disability. "But, you know, it's also a larger victory for the many people who in their lives in one way or another triumph over adversity."

A hidden condition

The memorial depicts scenes from FDR's four terms as president. One statue shows people standing in a Depression-era line. Another statue shows the 32nd president in a seated position by his dog, Fala, but a cape covers much of his body.

The memorial's commission deliberately omitted any depiction of Roosevelt in a wheelchair on the grounds that it was in keeping with the president's efforts to conceal his condition from the public.

Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921 when he was 39. He went on to serve as governor of New York in the late 1920s and as president from 1933 to 1945.

Anxious to appear as a strong leader, Roosevelt rarely made reference to his condition. His sons helped him walk at public appearances, and he sometimes stood at lecterns aided by heavy metal braces.

Reporters hardly ever wrote of his disability. Only two photos exist of him sitting in his wheelchair.

Grandson once opposed statue

Roosevelt, who died in office in 1945 while on a trip to Warm Springs, Georgia, insisted he wanted to be remembered with just a simple stone memorial.

Family members believe he would be pleased that, with the changing times, a person no longer has to hide a handicap in order to succeed. For some, in fact, his condition could prove an inspiration.

David Roosevelt, an FDR grandson, initially opposed the new statue. He's changed his mind.

"I hope that when young people -- a young person who goes to visit the FDR Memorial who perhaps is in a wheelchair herself or himself, when they first see the entrance and when they see FDR in a wheelchair, they will say, I can do that, too," he said.

Historians also say that showing FDR as he really lived does justice to the man.

"I don't think you can understand FDR without understanding up front that while he was president for 12 years, he could not walk across the room," said presidential biographer Geoffrey C. Ward. "It makes all of his achievements greater."

Statue To Be Added To The FDR Memorial
July 2, 1998

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (National Park Service)

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