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Rare footage shows FDR walking at 1937 Major League Baseball All-Star Game

By Haley Draznin, CNN
updated 4:03 PM EDT, Fri May 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eight-second video shows President walking in braces with the help of an aide
  • The footage is one of two known extended clips in existence showing him walking
  • Former MLB pitcher James "Jimmie" DeShong shot the film on a home movie camera
  • Filmmaker Ken Burns says film "clearly shows what a brave struggle it was for FDR to move"

(CNN) -- A rare video showing a walking President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was paralyzed from the waist down by polio in 1921, has been donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The video, only the second such clip in existence, shows the President, his legs supported by braces, moving gingerly while holding on to an aide's arm and grasping a handrail, making his way up a ramp. He was at Washington, D.C.'s, Griffith Stadium at the 1937 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, according to a museum statement.

"The fact that he is on an incline and that it is very windy makes his walking even more arduous," filmmaker Ken Burns, who is using the footage in a documentary that will air this fall, said in a statement. "The wind even presses his pants against his withered legs and you can clearly see the braces underneath."

Burns said footage of Roosevelt struggling to move is rare because the Secret Service either prohibited or confiscated cameras at the time to minimize the public's knowledge of the devastating effects that polio had had on him. The media complied with the request.

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Photos: Presidential hobbies Photos: Presidential hobbies
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt smokes a cigarette and sits in the driver\'s seat in Hyde Park, New York, on July 4, 1937.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt smokes a cigarette and sits in the driver's seat in Hyde Park, New York, on July 4, 1937.

"This remarkable eight seconds provided to us by the Pennsylvania State Archives is one of the very best pieces of film that so clearly shows what a brave struggle it was for FDR to move," Burns said. "This ... helps deepen the American public's understanding of the strength and fortitude this badly disabled man brought to the task of seeing our country through two of the worst crises in our history -- the Depression and World War II."

Major League Baseball pitcher James "Jimmie" DeShong of the Washington Senators shot the film on his 8 mm home movie camera.

DeShong's daughter, Judith Savastio, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, donated the film to the Pennsylvania State Archives to "conserve, preserve, interpret and make it accessible to the public," the statement said.

Bob Clark, deputy director of the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, called the film significant because it offers a rare glimpse into how the President managed his disability.

"What you see with this film is, even going to a baseball game was difficult for him," he said. "The people at the stadium saw a man with paralyzed legs, getting out of his car, locking his braces so his knees were rigid, and doing a difficult walking maneuver to get to his seat. ... What the film shows is that FDR was not hiding his disability."

Robin Glass, director of Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, where the President retired, added: "To me it shows the public the strength and determination of FDR to live a normal lifestyle and not be limited by a crippling disease. It speaks volumes about such a determined man."

FDR was stricken with polio at 39. The President attempted to conceal his disability from the public during a presidency that spanned most of the Great Depression and World War II.

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