Five facts for Pokemon Go players when visiting the FDR Memorial
There’s a Laprus on the National Mall.
It’s at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial. Of all the presidential memorials in Washington, Roosevelt’s is the newest, dedicated in 1997. It is in prime cherry blossom territory come springtime and is a major tourist draw all year. It’s also large.
Over seven acres of space, the FDR Memorial encompasses all four of his terms across 13 years. There’s a lot to see—and a lot to miss! Make sure you don’t overlook these five elements of the memorial:
Born into an old-money, New York patrician family, Franklin Delano Roosevelt led a life cushioned from major hardship. At 39 years old, however, he was stricken by polio, a disease most often associated with infants, and with it came a diagnosis that meant he would never again walk on his own.
Roosevelt made every human effort to hide his condition from the public at large, often lugging burdensome crutches on his legs, using his arms to hold himself upright. Fascinatingly, the American media were largely happy to play along, leading the designers of the memorial to choose to depict FDR seated with a fabric cape covering all of the wheelchair he sits in—after all, it’s how Franklin wanted to be seen.
Others, especially advocates for those with disabilities, complained. They pointed out that the Americans creating the memorial can handle seeing a leader in a wheelchair—seeing the man as he really was.
The ultimate compromise gives us the Prologue antechamber, seen first, that shows Roosevelt in a wheelchair of his own design. Behind is a quote from his wife, Eleanor, explaining the patience and determination that Franklin gained as a result of his illness.
Water plays an important role in this memorial, as it did in FDR’s life—and, indeed, for that of a laprus.
Each of the four open-air “chambers” of this memorial is a representation of that term of his administration and has a corresponding water feature. In the first chamber, a waterfall makes a terrifically loud sound when up close. President Roosevelt dealt with some greatly consequential issues in a time of great fear and uncertainty. Let the memorial make you sense the scale of what’s being memorialized!
There are three considerations when choosing stone with which to build a great work of civic art:
- Strength of the stone itself
- Where the stone is from
In the case of the FDR Memorial, the stone is Carnelian granite from Milbank, South Dakota. Its reddish color is beautiful in twilight and the design required so much of it that it took 18 months for all of it to reach Washington!
Note how the orderly structure of the stone in the first two chambers (the Great Depression years) gives way in the latter rooms to randomly strewn blocks representing the chaos of the Second World War.
Bronze casting is a millennia-old technique for creating enduring works of art. In this memorial, you see in the third chamber a colossal bronze sculpture of President Roosevelt. He is shown seated in a wheelchair but, as mentioned above, his cloak hides it.
…but not entirely. If you look behind the sculpture, you can spy on the rear legs very small caster wheels under the back legs of the chair!
5. Please Touch!
Not many memorials and sculptures in the city invite guests to touch and climb, but the FDR Memorial is an exception! Given Franklin’s disability, the designers of the memorial made sure it was 100% handicap accessible, the first presidential memorial in Washington so designed.
In the second chamber, next to the stepped waterfall, is a series of five pillars as well as five panels on a wall. This section of the memorial is so that those with visual impairments can experience this great memorial. Feel free to touch the braille and various faces and scenes depicting life under Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and all the new government departments and programs created to deal with the depression.
Remember, a memorial is first and foremost a work of art, one that is best approached as something to be experienced. Happy Pokemon hunting, and enjoy the art!