As the 32nd President between the years of 1933 and 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) had to face many obstacles, both personal and political. In his first term as president, the country was struck by a horrible economic depression, which continued into his second term. His third term was met with the United States’ involvement in the Second World War (WWII). President Roosevelt never completed his fourth term, due to his failing health and subsequent death before the end of WWII.
FDR was the only President to serve more than two terms of office. Throughout his service to the country, FDR waged a private battle with polio. His legs were paralyzed by the disease, making him the only U.S. President to serve in office while in a wheelchair. FDR shows the importance of strength of character, not body. Although he kept his disability secret as much as possible, we now know that this was one more obstacle that FDR refused to let stop him.
To this very unique president, a unique memorial was built. Geology at the FDR Memorial helps to tell the story of the strengths of FDR’s charater and his administration. The granite rocks that create the structure of the memorial were chosen because granite is one of Earth’s most common stones, and FDR was the champion of the common man. Learn more about FDR and his memorial by visiting the links below:
The FDR Memorial began construction in 1994, and dedication followed in 1997, with the addition of the Prologue Room and a statue of FDR in a wheelchair in 2000. The memorial sits low and spreads out over 7.5 acres, but there was enough granite used to build an 80 story building! Since it sits between the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River, large supports were needed to reach bedrock so that the 6000 ton memorial would not sink into the reclaimed land. Have you ever visited a marshy trail that uses a boardwalk so visitors avoid sinking into the mud? Well, imagine the entire FDR Memorial on a giant boardwalk so it doesn’t sink into the soft sediments.
Unlike the grand, white marble structures of the Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson Memorials, FDR is remembered in an open-air memorial made of Carnelian granite from South Dakota. Granite is one of the earth’s most common types of stone, and FDR was seen as the champion of the “Common Man.” The reddish color is also similar to the stone buildings at the Roosevelt’s estate in New York. Since there was no East Coast quarry large enough to supply the memorial, granite from South Dakota was used instead. Different minerals come together to form the strong granite building blocks for the memorial, just as the citizens of the United States came together through incredible hardships under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, regardless of their differences.
Although there are benches made from California Academy Black granite, most of the granite is from South Dakota. The intrusive igneous Carnelian Granite is full of interesting geology. The variety of colors and textures in each granite block shows changes in the cooling speeds and chemistry of the magma that formed the granite. Some blocks have areas with tiny mineral crystals that cooled quickly. In most cases, interlocking crystals of clear quartz, pink feldspar, and various dark minerals cooled slowly, and are large enough to identify with your naked eye. You may even be able to see some Fool’s Gold, or Pyrite, in the Carnelian granite. What do Fool’s Gold and FDR have in common?
The story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidency is told through 7.5 acres of stone walls, quotations, bronze artwork, and waterfalls. Click on the photos to the right to learn more about each element of the memorial.
The memorial is divided into 4 outdoor rooms, each dedicated to a term of office.
Lawrence Halprin, the designer/architect, paid special attention to the shape, size and placement of each granite block. While he was visiting the quarry in Milbank, South Dakota he saw a large uncut block and requested it to be saved for a very prominent spot in the memorial. You can find this huge rock right next to the larger than life statue of FDR in the Third Term Room. It represents the strength and stability FDR brought to a country that desperatly needed it. What else do the rocks in the third term represent?
FDR was known for his charisma and motivating words. On almost every wall you will find lines from his Inaugural Addresses, radio broadcasts, or other speeches. One of his most moving quotations was written in pen on the bottom of a typed draft for a Thomas Jefferson birthday celebration speech on April 13th, 1945. Jefferson was one of FDR’s heroes. Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 and was never able to give the speech. Yet those words are carved forever in granite near the waterfall in the Fourth Term Room.
Five American artists were chosen to illustrate the events of FDR’s presidency with bronze artwork. The bronzes vary from realistic statues of the President, First Lady, and Depression Era Americans, to bas reliefs of FDR’s Inaugural parade and funeral procession, and to abstact murals of the era’s many social programs. In “Social Programs” the artist shows negative (concave) images on the columns creating the positive (convex) images on the wall to illustrate programs like the WPA, CCC, and TVA.
Water plays an important role in the FDR Memorial not only because the memorial sits between the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River, but also because water played an important role in FDR’s life. He grew up near the Hudson River and enjoyed swimming and sailing as a boy. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I, and as President during World War II held many meetings with foreign leaders on ships. Interestingly, FDR believed that swimming cold water caused his polio; later, FDR built a polio treatment center at Warm Springs Georgia where he received physical therapy in the natural hot springs water there.
Visit the FDR Memorial online.
Stop 1: The Geology of the Washington D.C. Area
Stop 2: The History of Washington D.C.
Stop 3: Finding D.C.’s Foundation
Stop 4: A Watery Past
Stop 5: GeoStory of the Lincoln Memorial
Stop 6: Remembering War
Stop 7: Stories in Stone at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Stop 8: Thomas Jefferson Memorial - A Place of Controversy
Stop 9: Washington Monument - The Nation’s Most Unique Rock Collection
Stop 10: Who Cares for the National Mall
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