The FDR Memorial along the Tidal Basin was dedicated by President by President Bill Clinton on May 2, 1997. It is spread over 7.5 acres on the southwest side of the Tidal Basin along the Cherry Tree Walk in West Potomac Park. The FDR Memorial presents 12 years of the history of the United States through a sequence of four outdoor chambers – dedicated to each of FDR’s four terms as president.
On March 4, 1933, FDR (President Franklin Roosevelt) delivered his first inaugural address before 100,000 people. His speech gave many people confidence that they had elected a man who was not afraid to take bold steps to solve the nation’s problems. Eventually, Roosevelt would deliver a total of 4 inaugural addresses because he was elected to the presidency 4 times in a row!
The FDR Memorial also gives us a picture of a leader with a debilitating disease that motivated him to lead with infinite patience and never-ending persistence. In the entry area to the memorial, we are introduced to FDR in his wheelchair – because of polio he acquired at the age of 39 – right after he was elected to the presidency.
The FDR Memorial on the Tidal Basin is designed to celebrate each of the 4 administrations of FDR in 4 different outdoor rooms – each with water features- pools, waterfalls, fountains – and statuary.
At the height of the Great Depression, Roosevelt, then governor of New York, was elected for the first time as the 32nd president of the United States. In his inaugural address in 1933, President Roosevelt promised Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” You’ll see these famous words etched into the stone wall positioned next to the opening waterfall after you enter the first chamber.
There are some amazing sculptures placed among the water features. The effects of the Great Depression in the second of the four rooms depicts a “Breadline” (created by George Segal) showing sorrowful faces of want during a period of strife in America. Then there is a rural couple, depicting the farmers struggling through the ravages of the “Dust Bowl”.
Also, we meet Fala. Churchill never forgot his best friend, Fala, a Scottish terrier. FDR would have his presidential pup everywhere including aboard the Sacred Cow, the president’s plane.
Roosevelt’s third term was decisive. During this period, though his Fire Side Chats (radio shows he popularized the ideas of the “Arsenal of Democracy” as well as, the “Day of Infamy” – December 7, 1941 when the imperial Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor thrusting America into World War II. This third outdoor room showcases Roosevelt hatred of war but determination that United States would defend itself.
In the third room, large chunks of granite depicting the carnage of World War II are scattered about. On a large stone wall, Commander and Chief Roosevelt states, “I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”
In the final of the 4 outdoor rooms, we see a frieze of a funeral procession. After 12 years of service as president, Roosevelt passes on and the country weeps for their leader. Allen Drury stated, “So ended an era, and so begins another.”
Take a few minutes to walk through the trees towards the waters edge, there you are at the Tidal Basin, with great views of downtown washington, from different spots along the Tidal Basin are great photo ops of the Jefferson and MLK Memorials, and you can also see the White House.