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

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The April 1945 journey of FDR's funeral train became a thousand-mile odyssey, fraught with heartbreak and scandal. As it passed through the night, few of the grieving onlookers gave thought to what might be happening behind the Pullman shades, where women whispered and men tossed ...

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

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The April 1945 journey of FDR's funeral train became a thousand-mile odyssey, fraught with heartbreak and scandal. As it passed through the night, few of the grieving onlookers gave thought to what might be happening behind the Pullman shades, where women whispered and men tossed back highballs. Inside were a Soviet spy; the newly widowed Eleanor Roosevelt, who had just discovered that her husband's mistress was in the room with him when he died; all the Supreme Court justices; and incoming president Harry S. Truman, who was scrambling to learn secrets that FDR had never shared with him.

Weaving together information from long-forgotten diaries and declassified Secret Service documents, journalist and historian Robert Klara enters the private world on board that famous train. He chronicles the three days during which the country grieved and despaired as never before, while the new president hammered out the policies that would help win the Second World War and wrote the speech that would galvanize a country in mourning.

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Editorial Reviews

“FDR put steel in the spine of a nation stunned and bewildered by the disaster of Pearl Harbor, promising, “We shall gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.” The depth of feeling his death aroused and the sorrow that surrounded the train bearing his body to the capital and finally to the banks of the Hudson River is recalled and captured by Klara…This slim volume recreates vividly a sense of what America was like in 1945 and puts us aboard the melancholy train.”--(Brian John Murphy, Fairfield, Connecticut)
Kirkus Reviews
April 1945: From his death in Warm Springs, Ga., to his burial in Hyde Park, New York, Franklin Roosevelt's final journey. News of FDR's passing indelibly marked the Greatest Generation. Stunned by the loss of the only president many of them had known, huge crowds of mourners lined the tracks of his funeral train as it made its three-day journey through nine states. "The people did not wave," Life reported. "They wept." Klara takes us the entire route, furnishing information about the railways and their officials who shared logistical responsibilities, the locomotives and the lavish Pullman cars. However, the author focuses primarily on the train's passengers: Roosevelt's grieving widow Eleanor, twice-shocked to learn her husband's long-ago mistress, Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, was present when FDR suffered his cerebral hemorrhage; bleary newsmen charged with generating copy at every stop; FDR's cousins Daisy Suckley and Polly Delano; his secretary Grace Tully and his famous dog Fala; presidential aide Lauchlin Currie, exposed years later as a KGB spy; Harry Truman, who used the train ride to confer with advisors to quickly come up to speed on the nation's business and to prepare an address to Congress that would introduce him as the nation's leader; speech writers, advisors and aides both to the old and new president, including the former director of the Office of War Mobilization and soon to be Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes. On the trip's penultimate leg, the slow train followed an announced route through densely populated areas, carrying the president, the cabinet, nine Supreme Court Justices, dozens of congressional leaders and the heads of major federal agencies, a security riskunthinkable in today's climate. In the manner of Bob Greene's Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen (2002) or Jody Rosen's White Christmas: The Story of an American Song (2002), similar, bite-sized slices of World War II-era home-front history, Klara charms as he informs. A little gem. Agent: Gary Heidt/Signature Literary Agency
From the Publisher
“Klara revives a long-forgotten event with precision and pathos, allowing readers a coveted Pullman berth for a ride through three of this country’s darkest yet most formative days.”

—Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life


"A riveting, sumptuously detailed look inside a luxurious, mysterious private train swaying from one presidency to another—the picture windows in its last car showcasing a bronze coffin to thousands of trackside mourners ignorant of the vivid tensions in the cars ahead."—John Stilgoe, Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape, Harvard University and author of Outside Lies Magic: Discovering History and Inspiration in Ordinary Places


“Robert Klara’s FDR’s Funeral Train is a well-written and vivid account of America’s greatest national mourning since Abraham Lincoln was shot.  Every page here is illuminating.  At times Klara practically transports the reader back to 1945.  A major new contribution to U.S. history.”—Douglas Brinkley is author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America


"No fan of FDR and his presidency can afford to pass up this book.  Robert Klara takes you inside FDR's funeral train, and into the minds and hearts of those who made the president's last journey with him.  Klara offers a unique, never-before-told perspective on the sudden transfer of power, the players who wanted to grab some of that power and the widow whose grief was tinged with the bitter taste of betrayal.  A remarkable story by a true storyteller."—Lorraine Diehl, author of The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station


"No one in 1945, friend or enemy, was unmoved by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, after his dozen critical years in the White House.  FDR's Funeral Train vividly recalls the nerve-racking week behind the headlines, when his family and his government rose above a trainload of personal problems to help the nation across the chasm left by his demise.  An exciting addition to the Roosevelt bookshelf, Klara’s book is overflowing with the stuff that every history reader craves – fresh, original research."— Julie Fenster, author of The Case of Abraham Lincoln and FDR's Shadow


"With great skill and riveting detail, Robert Klara uses a three day train journey to provide readers with a fascinating glimpse into the inner-workings of the Washington elite in the days after FDR's death. This fast-paced narrative is filled with vivid portraits and plenty of intrigue. It also manages to shed new light on a critical moment in our nation's history."—Steve Gillon, author of 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America and Resident Historian, The History Channel  


"An intriguing account of FDR's last journey and a must read for all those still caught up in the romance and mystery of rail travel"—David B Woolner, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute and Associate Professor of History, Marist College

"FDR's Funeral Train is a fascinating tale well told.  Hop aboard with the skilled storyteller Robert Klara.  You'll be glad you did."—James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys


"Klara charms as he informs. A little gem."—Kirkus (starred review)


“Evocative account of the sometimes awkward juxtaposition of those who had served and now mourned one president and those who were eager to begin working for, and influencing, another.”—Asbury Park Press


“A riveting tale of how several railroads brought Franklin D. Roosevelt’s body home.”—Trainstalk


“A book that reveals much of the heretofore hidden angst and intrigue that had accompanied a dead president on his final journey back home.”—Charlottesville Daily Progress


"Klara, a veteran reporter, has put together a thrilling piece of history. Sixty-five years after FDR’s death, Klara has managed to provide a fresh look at history as well as the political landscape of the 21st century."—The Daily Beast

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780230619142
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/16/2010
  • Pages: 244
  • Sales rank: 303,031
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Klara is an editor and writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, American Heritage, New Jersey Monthly, and The Christian Science Monitor. Klara has been a staff editor for numerous magazines, including Town & Country and Architecture, and has also worked as a researcher for legendary author Gay Talese. He lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents


Pine Mountain

The Mainline

The West Hall

Twelve Long Hours

The Train of Secrets

Car No.3

Where the Sundial Stands


"We do not fear the future"


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • 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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    Posted December 7, 2010

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    Posted August 8, 2011

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    Posted December 9, 2010

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    Posted June 11, 2011

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