A Week Before His Election in 1932, FDR Toured the Area
By Anne O’Connor
With a week to go before the election, the Democratic nominee for president toured the region in an open car and spent two nights visiting his alma mater.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was greeted by cheering throngs and luminaries from the Democratic Party as he rode in the back seat of a touring car through industrial communities in Massachusetts, Maine and a corner of Vermont the weekend of Oct. 29 to 31, 1932.
More than 2,000 people turned out to hear him on Saturday night, Oct. 29 in Ayer, where he spoke from the car. He was no stranger to the town, he said. He taught Sunday school at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church while he was a student at Groton School.
The Ayer speech was a happening. “A ballyhoo wagon played ‘Happy Days Are Here Again,’” the Daily Boston Globe reported.
A ballyhoo is an excited commotion meant to publicize something. The song became Roosevelt’s campaign song and the unofficial theme song of the Democratic Party.
His campaign speeches, often written out in newspapers, show him to be a supporter of immigration, labor reform and creating government programs to employ people thrown out of work during the Great Depression.
Roosevelt also supported the repeal of prohibition. Rumors still circulate that his two-night stay at the Groton School included a medicine chest containing medicinal alcohol.
Prohibition began when a constitutional amendment banning alcohol went into effect in 1920.
There was a loophole. A doctor could prescribe alcohol which patients then purchased at a pharmacy. Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Ayer was the only public place where FDR spoke in the area, but that did not discourage his supporters from getting a glimpse the governor of New York.
Fitchburg dignitaries met Roosevelt in Williamstown. By the time they reached the city limits Saturday evening, they formed a motorcade of motorcycle officers and 20 automobiles, according to the Fitchburg Sentinel.
Applauding crowds lined the streets and filled the sidewalks on the main road through the city and during a swing through the French-Canadian neighborhood of Cleghorn. The Guy Fontgallant Midget Guards, a drum corps, performed.
On Monday, Oct. 31, the Lowell High School Regimental Band was not so lucky. According to the Lowell Sun, pupils were dismissed too late to see the candidate as he motored through the city around 9 a.m. on his way to Portland, Maine.
“Thousands acclaim Roosevelt. Journey is long ovation,” the headline read.
He did not stop in Lowell but he did receive a bouquet of flowers from McManmon Nursery on Lawrence Road.
Roosevelt spent most of the whirlwind weekend at Groton School where he made a radio speech. In it he called for “self-denial, as in war, to protect future of children rising to citizenship,” according to the New York Times.
The almunus stayed at Parents’ House. A corporation of parents purchased the former boarding house that so they would have a place to stay, according to Doug Brown, the archivist at Groton School.
After motels began to open it was no longer needed, he said. The school now owns the building which houses single faculty members.
In 1932, people guarded their personal information closely. Groton School, a private school, kept the lives of its families private, Brown said. To his knowledge, there is nothing in the archives about the visit.
The Times provided some details about the weekend. Days before his father’s visit, 18-year-old Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., “centre on the Groton School football team,” broke his nose during practice.
FDR’s namesake seemed more concerned with missing a game than with his father’s big game, the paper reported.
Young Franklin remained under treatment in Boston over the weekend, according to the Times. John, FDR’s youngest son, was in Groton to see his father.
Some newspaper accounts say he saw both boys at the school.
Mrs. Roosevelt, not given her first name of Eleanor by the Globe, arrived in Groton the day before her husband, the Globe reported.
For most of FDR’s political life, the media, at his request, kept a secret.
At the end of his quick New England trip in October 1932, Roosevelt spoke to 15,000 people in Boston. He entered the stage on the arm of his son James, the Times reported.
Left unsaid was why FDR was on his son’s arm.
In 1921, at the age of 39, the future president became ill while at the family camp in New Brunswick, Canada. The doctors diagnosed polio. His lower extremities became paralyzed.
He never walked any distance without help again. At his request, most reporters and photographers did not photograph him walking or getting out of the car, according to fdrlibrary.org .
The media silence in Groton extended beyond this courtesy. The local newspaper, the Turner Public Spirit, included a notice that Roosevelt would speak in Ayer.
It did not cover the speech and did not give the results of any of the state or federal elections a week later.
No Groton newspapers from the era are in the public library or at the historical society but the town diary for 1932 is available. In it, the diarist recorded happenings of note around town.
There is no mention of Roosevelt’s visit.
On Nov. 8, Roosevelt defeated Republican Herbert Hoover, with 479 electoral votes to the incumbent’s 59.
The town diarist wrote, “November 8, National Election Day. The voting resulted in the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president.”
No mention is made of his ties to Groton.
If the country had voted as Groton did, Hoover would have remained in office. Hoover’s ticket garnered 772 votes to the Democrat’s 404 votes.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.