Franklin D. Roosevelt’s travel arrangements and event logistics as president could be quite complicated. Stricken with polio at age 39 in 1921, he was by-and-large confined to a wheelchair to get around, although he perfected the art of “walking” to a podium to speak, with one hand gripping the arm of an aide or his son and using a cane with the other hand. When you look at the photographs taken of FDR, you’ll notice that most of them show him in a seated position for various events.
Wilson Birthplace Dedication: On May 4, 1941, President Roosevelt arrived in Staunton, Virginia to dedicate the Woodrow Wilson birthplace. Earlier in his career, FDR had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson administration. Wilson was born in the church manse at the top of the hill overlooking Staunton. Wilson’s father served as a Presbyterian pastor there at the time of Wilson’s birth.
A Chair for the President: Because of Roosevelt’s disability, the organizers of the event knew they would need to provide a comfortable chair for the President to sit in during the opening ceremonies. Here’s what the local newspaper reported:
“Staunton exploded with a frenzy of preparation in May 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to town to dedicate the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace. One of the simplest of arrangements was that of acquiring a chair the President could sit in during the ceremonies. A committee making arrangements for Roosevelt’s visit found what they considered a suitable chair in the office of the president of National Valley Bank. The bank said it was not only pleased to have FDR use the chair, but would donate it to the birthplace.”