Our swing through the southeast included visits to sites associated with two U.S. Presidents—Jimmy Carter and Franklin Roosevelt. It’s refreshing to think about Presidents of the past, on this day especially when a former president will be arraigned on criminal charges. They may have had flaws, but their vision and strength of character brought the country through dark times. Both men valued contact with “ordinary Americans” in rural Georgia and never lost their sincere interest in and connection to them.
We spent a night at the Plains (Georgia) Historic Inn, in Plains, Georgia, which Jimmy and Rosalynn helped refurbish and which was loaded with charm. Each of the seven rooms is decorated in the style of a decade from the 1920s to the 1980s. (It would be a perfect place for a mystery story. The old building’s squeaky floors provide a challenge to anyone trying to sneak up on a victim, and the building’s former use as a funeral home—complete with a special, still-working elevator to move caskets between floors—imparts the right ghostly vibe.) Ellen, the innkeeper, was most welcoming, had breakfast options available, and went above-and-beyond by returning the raincoat I left in the closet. The rooms contained presidential-related memorabilia and some have views of Plains’s Main Street, possibly three blocks long.
The Jimmy Carter National Historical Park includes the visitor’s center, housed in the Carters’ high school (pictured), with numerous displays of their lives and times, plus an excellent video. The Plains Depot museum commemorates its role as Carter’s 1976 Presidential campaign headquarters. The boyhood farm, two and a half miles outside town, showed what life was like in 1938, when Carter was 14. Lots of work, starting before dawn and lasting until suppertime. It prepared Jimmy to be hands-on with his aid to Habitat for Humanity. He knows through experience which end of a tool is the working end.
When Carter was a teenager, his uncle in the Navy wrote him letters about his experiences, inspiring Jimmy to attend the Naval Academy. When he first applied, his would-be Senate sponsor said his high school was too small, he’d never make it. So Carter went to Georgia Southwestern College in Americus for a year, excelled, and tried again. Once more, the school was deemed too small, so he went to Georgia Institute of Technology for another year, and again he excelled. More senatorial foot-draggin. After church one Sunday, Carter and his father visited the Senator, unannounced, and talked to him until late that night. Finally, the Senator said, “If you’ll just go home, I’ll put his name in for the next Annapolis opening.” A good lesson in persistence! The news that he has entered hospice care has prompted a lot of reexamination of his career, including how, as a Navy lieutenant, he saved a Canadian nuclear reactor from a catastrophic meltdown.
Warm Springs, Georgia, was a favorite retreat for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as the 88-degree spring-fed pools there (now empty and in need of renovation; model pictured–sorry about the reflections!) allowed him some relief from the debilitating effects of polio. In 1927, he founded Roosevelt Warm Springs rehabilitation center to treat polio patients; it continues today as a comprehensive rehabilitation center for people with disabilities. The photographs of him playing with the kids in the water show his love of life, children, and his indomitable spirit.
We also toured the FDR State Historic Site visitors’ center and Little White House. The visitors’ center museum houses a variety of memorabilia, including FDR’s 1938 Ford convertible retrofitted with hand controls, and a large display of canes sent him by supporters. The Warm Springs retreat gave FDR a chance to visit with neighbors in the area’s rural communities and learn about their problems, which inspired some elements of the New Deal. When we were there, in recognition of the concept of service to the country, the museum included an exhibit about military chaplaincy, including commemoration of “The Four Chaplains.”
The Little White House was built in 1932 to make his recuperative stays more feasible, given the demands of the governorship of New York, soon to be superseded by those of the Presidency. The house still displays the chair where he died April 12, 1945, mere weeks before the end of the War in Europe, which he’d worked so hard to bring the country through successfully. That afternoon, he was posing for a portrait by Madame Elizabeth Shoumatoff, and the “Unfinished Portrait” is a highlight of the museum.
Also in this Georgia-Alabama travel tips series:
Brushes with Literary Fame (Lee, Capote, O’Connor, and more)