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FDR's Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Posted April 24, 2012

    Classic Railroads, Wartime Politics - What A Wonderful Story!

    A rainy weekend was on the way and I had exhausted my supply of eBooks in the queue. I was searching for something new to read and none of the current popular listings interested me. Almost desperate, as a lifelong rail fan I typed “train” into the on-line search function and got all sorts of hits on children’s books, especially Thomas the Tank Engine. But several pages in, I came upon one that caught my eye, FDR’s Funeral Train by Robert Klara. I did not quite make it into the same era as FDR, missing it by a bit over four years, but my parents, especially my mother, had wonderful memories of his years in office, wife Eleanor, and particularly the sad occasion of his funeral train. I took a look at the summary overview and thought this could be pretty interesting, about how the great eastern railroads of the time – Southern, Pennsylvania, New York Central – handled that sad event. What I read was all that and much more.

    Klara’s story begins with the logistics and security of FDR boarding his Presidential train [at an undisclosed location] bound for Warm Springs GA. If you are a rail fan, you’ll enjoy the detailed descriptions of Southern steamers, Pennsylvania GG-1s, and New York Central 4-8-4 Hudsons. There are detailed descriptions of Pullmans, diners, and everything else that was coupled together for presidential travel and even an amusing anecdote on multiple coupler breaks leaving Washington Union Station for Hyde Park. And of course there are excellent profiles of the railroaders that operated and staffed the presidential trains.

    As FDR’s train heads south en route to Georgia, Klara weaves into the story an unexpected sense of the pressures of office as the war wears on and other issues of the times. There are detailed profiles of those who surrounded the president and their respective roles in the story that unfolds. Well researched narrative details what happened in the president’s final hours in Georgia, and upon his passing, the extraordinary plan-on-the-run efforts to deal with the many issues that followed to bring the president home and continue the business of a two-front war, not the least of which was swearing in a new president.

    The long slow train trip back to Washington, and then on to New York City to upstate New York, is a superb backdrop to facilitate Klara’s discussion of the many heartfelt gestures of a mourning nation, illustrating the sense of nationalism of that age. The travel from Washington to Hyde Park and back also provides the framework to highlight the extreme issues new president Harry Truman had to quickly assimilate and act upon, not the least of which was learning about a most top secret weapon and its potential use to shorten the war...while aboard the train.

    There are also very touching and sensitive discussions on Eleanor and their children throughout the story, examining sub-dramas that accompanied their husband’s or father’s death. All of the Roosevelt sons were deployed at war, but only one got home in time for the funeral.

    FDR’s Funeral Train provides a superb compilation of everything surrounding President Roosevelt’s death and the transition to the Truman administration. It’s a delight to read, especially for somebody who is simply searching for a book…about trains.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2013

    Excellent read!

    Enjoyed this book very much.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 2, 2012

    Highly recommended.

    This book is not only of value for those interested in U.S. History. The author also gives us a lot of information about the days when passenger trains were the favored method of long distance travel for many people. The book also talks about President Truman's reliance upon cronies who did not serve him well and who used their government positions to engage in petty graft. That aspect of Truman's Administrations is oftentimes soft pedaled by many historians.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2014

    Great History Lesson

    I have been reading historical fiction and non-fiction mixed in with my other reading tastes for many years. I decided this sounded like a subject I would really get into since I knew of FDR, but not of his death.

    For most of my life I have heard my mother sing the praises of FDR, but I never really knew just how much he was loved until I read this book. Not being from the time period I was fasicanated by the love and respect the citizens showed their President.

    It is amazing for the average person to read the just what goes into to protecting a President and what goes into to planning a President funeral.

    There are parts of this book that after a while I found a bit tiresome, but if you are a train enthuses you will love those parts. You find a while new appreciation for FDR and Eleanor in this great historic book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2014

    This is the kind of book that a history lover savors.  Having be

    This is the kind of book that a history lover savors.  Having been a fan of FDR history, I was astounded at the new things I learned as I read this detailed account of the event, the people, and the trains surrounding this great man's death.  Mr. Klara made this event alive to me, and I felt as though I were a guest on that train.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2010

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    Posted August 8, 2011

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    Posted December 9, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2011

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