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    14 facts to preface PBS Roosevelt documentary


    Library of Congress

    Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt ride in an open car while returing to the White House from FDR’s third inauguration in 1941.

    In honor of the upcoming seven-part documentary by Ken Burns that will start airing on PBS this Sunday, here is a condensed history of the Roosevelt family saga. Here are 14 facts (one for each hour that Burns’ documentary lasts) about Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor, which may have gotten skimmed over in your high school history textbook:

    1. In 19 of the first 45 years of the 20th century, there was a Roosevelt occupying the Oval Office.

    2. At the time he succeeded the assassinated William McKinley in 1901, 42-year-old Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president to assume office.

    3. After losing the 1912 presidential election to Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt nearly died on an expedition through the Amazon rainforest, which left him 55 pounds lighter upon his return to the U.S.

    4. Theodore Roosevelt is the first president to invite an African-American to dine at the White House. When former slave and civil rights leader Booker T. Washington was invited by Roosevelt to dinner, local newspapers slandered the president for his break in social customs.

    5. Theodore is the first American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to resolve a dispute between Russia and Japan.

    6. Warren Delano, Franklin’s grandfather, earned the family forunte in the opium and tea trade.

    7. All the Roosevelts were subject to personal tragedy. Theodore lost both his mother and wife on Valentine’s Day in 1884. Eleanor lost both of her parents and a brother before the age of 10, and Franklin lost his father as an adolescent.

    8. In 1918, Eleanor discovered Franklin was having an affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. Eleanor offered to divorce Franklin, but both were dissuaded when Franklin’s mother threatened to disinherit them.

    9. Giuseppe Zangara, an Italian immigrant, attempted to assassinate Franklin Roosevelt in February 1933. The five bullets shot by Zangara all missed Roosevelt, with one of them striking Chicago mayor, Anton Cermak, who died three weeks later of the gunshot wound.

    10. Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership from the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1939 after the organization denied African-American signer Marian Anderson access to perform in Constitution Hall. Roosevelt later invited Anderson to perform in the White House for Britain’s King George VI.

    11. Henrietta Nesbitt, the hired cook for the Roosevelts in the White House, was more regarded for her loyalty to the First Family than for her kitchen skills. Ernest Hemingway once quipped that Nesbitt’s cooking was “the worst I have ever eaten.”

    12. After contracting polio in 1921, Franklin Roosevelt spent the rest of his life supporting efforts to find a cure for the debilitating disease. The March of Dimes foundation, inspired by Roosevelt’s philanthropy, financed the research to develop the polio vaccine.

    13. Whenever Eleanor Roosevelt held a press conference, she would only invite female reporters to attend.

    14. While posing for a portrait, the last words ever uttered by Franklin Roosevelt were, “I have a terrible headache.” The president then collapsed and died in his vacation home.

    —Follow Kevin C. Reagan @KevinReaganUA

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