Newly discovered footage offers rare glimpse of FDR walking at the White House

Extremely rare footage has surfaced that shows President Franklin Delano Roosevelt walking at a White House event in 1935.

The footage, which was recently deposited at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, shows the immense effort it took the President to walk just a few halting steps.

Roosevelt, who contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39, subsequently required leg braces and assistance to walk. His disability, however, was kept from the American public as the White House imposed strict rules on how he could be photographed or filmed. “No images of FDR in his wheelchair or being helped in and out of cars were permitted; no visual record was to be made of the arduous effort it took him to move just a few steps on his rigid braced legs,” explained Geoffrey C. Ward, Roosevelt historian and Library Trustee, in a statement.

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The 1935 footage was captured during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on April 22 of that year. The silent black-and-white film was shot by Frederick Hill, a Nevada rancher, who was attending the event with his wife and two children.

Armed with his movie camera, Hill was apparently oblivious to the White House rules and pushed in behind a group of news cameramen to film FDR slowly walking along the mansion’s portico. The smiling president leans on a cane in his right hand, while his left hand grips the arm of his bodyguard, Gus Gennerich.

“The larger-than-usual crowd on the lawn that day may account for the fact that the Secret Service fails to see what Hill is doing; had they seen that he is filming the President in motion they would have asked him to hand over the camera and removed the film before handing it back,” Ward noted.

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In the film, Roosevelt grabs a railing with his left hand before waving to the massed crowds with his right hand. After greeting the crowd, FDR slowly makes his way back inside the White House, helped by Gennerich.

The architect of the New Deal and Commander-in-Chief during World War II, FDR is the only U.S. president to have served more than two terms. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945, at the age of 63, during his fourth term in office. 

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