Summer Reading — Books Fit for the Season, Part 2
- Thursday, June 03, 2010
7. Robert Klara, FDR's Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan)
"There is something almost terrifying in the transition of a presidential train into a funeral train." So wrote reporter Thomas F. Reynolds of the Chicago Sun as the nation grieved the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The nation was shocked by the President's sudden death, but Roosevelt's deteriorating health had been a closely-guarded secret. Then again, anyone who saw him in the weeks preceding his death had the sense that they were looking at a dying man.
In FDR's Funeral Train, Robert Klara takes his readers back into 1945 and the tumultuous world-changing events that took place as the Allies were pressing forth to win the victory in Europe, the stage was set for dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was trying to stay alive. His death, assumed to be from a massive brain hemorrhage, set in motion one of the strangest and most unprecedented series of events in the nation's history.
In a brilliant move, Klara takes his readers on the Presidential train that was so quickly transformed into a funeral train. FDR's Funeral Train is one of those books that surprises on page after page, revealing the great vulnerabilities the nation experienced during the days before and after Roosevelt's death. Virtually the entire government of the United States rode on a single train to the funeral at Hyde Park — a single train that carried almost all the nation's leaders while the nation was at war.
The cast of characters in FDR's Funeral Train includes Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and a host of others. Additionally, Klara offers fascinating details about such things as the Presidential railroad cars and the habits of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The book resists being put down.
Ferman White, a foreman for the Southern Railway, clocked off his shift at Atlanta's sprawling North Avenue Yards around 4:30 p.m. On his way home, White decided to stop and buy some groceries. It was in the store that he learned the news, and raced to the nearest phone. White had one thought on his mind as he called the roundhouse. It was a piece of knowledge that few men in Atlanta possessed and one that White guarded closely. On a layup track in the yards, a special train-the president's train-had been parked for two weeks. It would not, White knew, stay parked for long now. Charles Craft, another foreman, picked up the phone. "Charley," White shouted into the receiver. "We'll need two light Pacific [engines]. What you got in sight?" "The 1262 and 1337 are on the cinder pit," Craft answered. "Get them going," White said.
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