A journalism professor found footage of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that was never meant to be seen. The short clip, discovered in a National Archives site in College Park, Md., shows Roosevelt being pushed in a wheelchair, a condition that was kept secret until his death.
The eight-second clip shows Roosevelt going down a ramp in his wheelchair on the U.S.S. Baltimore at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in July 1944. He contracted polio in 1921 when he was 39 years old, but kept his condition a secret throughout his four terms as president, the Associated Press reports.
"This raw film clip may be the first motion picture images of the president in his wheelchair, and it was never meant to be shown to the world," Ray Begovich, from Franklin College in Indiana, who unearthed the footage, said.
The clip shows Roosevelt coming out of a doorway and being helped down a ramp. The wheelchair itself is blocked by a row of sailors, but his head can be seen gliding past them.
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Begovich said he found the footage while doing unrelated research in the National Archives. The National Archives and the FDR Presidential Museum and Library could not confirm whether this is the only known footage of the president in a wheelchair, but admit it’s a rare discovery, Laura Diachenko, a spokeswoman for the National Archives, told the Indianapolis Star.
Begovich found the clip in a longer segment shot by the U.S. Navy during Roosevelt’s trip on the ship from July 19 to Aug. 12, 1944, where FDR traveled from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and on to Alaska, the Indianapolis Star reports. He gave the footage to the FDR Presidential Museum and Library in 2010 and says he hopes more people will find video clips of the former president in a wheelchair.
Roosevelt was determined to keep his condition concealed from public eye. According to the FDR Presidential Museum and Library, the president “requested that the press avoid photographing him walking, maneuvering or being transferred from his car.” For the most part, the press complied. The Secret Service was also ordered to “interfere with anyone who tried to snap a photo of FDR in a ‘disabled or weak’ state.”
Begovich hopes the footage will inspire future presidential candidates.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have another president who uses a wheelchair, openly, or who is blind or who is deaf?” Begovich said, noting how the president fought World War II and the Great Depression from his wheelchair while the world remained oblivious.