For FDR, ‘the greatest tribute — utter silence’

“Franklin Roosevelt, honorably discharged from all his wars, rode slowly through Charlotte’s sorrowing thousands last night….

“Stretching the length of the railway station and packing the streets that opened out upon the tracks, the people… paid him the greatest tribute they knew — utter silence.

“As the crowd awaited the arrival of the train, they stood quietly and talked in low tones. And as it came slowly through, the only noise was that of the soldiers as they brought their rifles smartly to the salute.

“When the train had passed, and only a glimpse could be caught of the great American flag that covered the copper casket in which lay the body of the fallen chief, the crowd, still without a discordant word, turned and went away.

“As some 40 singers from the various churches… began singing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ and ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee,’ hats went off all up and down the tracks.

“Farther down the tracks at the other end of the station, a Negro group sang spirituals. For Negroes were there, too, hundreds of them, paying their tribute to the man whom hey looked upon as the best friend they ever had in the White House.”

— From “Sorrowing Charlotte Thousands Pay Final Homage to Roosevelt” by LeGette Blythe, Charlotte Observer, April 14, 1945

Blythe, a prolific newspaperman and historian, was the grandfather of Will Blythe, author of “To Hate Like This Is to be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry” (2006).

FDR train pauses at ‘Noplace in the Carolinas’

“The funeral train plunged through the darkness [on April 14, 1945], changing engines and crews again at Salisbury, North Carolina, where 8,000 people (including 145 honor guards from Fort Bragg), stood in silence — and presented still another floral wreath. Sometime after midnight, the train rumbled through Greensboro. The countryside between the big cities was land that one journalist [Jim Bishop]  later termed ‘Noplace in the Carolinas.’ With a schedule to keep, the funeral train simply could not stop in such locales….

“The exception was a place — never identified — where the railroad tracks slipped into a narrow cut of earth with farm fields abutting the crevasse on either side….. The locomotives chuffed to a halt beneath a tall wooden water tank….

“As the fireman wrestled the filling spout over the hatch of the first tender, an elderly black sharecropper — awakened by the hiss and clang below — wandered over to investigate. He peered down  and saw the train paused in the ghost light, its windows all dark except for those of the last car, where he saw the flag and knew what it meant.

“Shocked and humbled, the man began to sing ‘Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane.’ His sonorous baritone boomed across the moonlit fields, drawing other farm hands out of their shanties. One by one they added their voices to the chorus. One of the engineers looked up, certain he could hear singing from somewhere above and away….”

— From “FDR’s Funeral Train” by Robert Klara (2010)

Klara’s book is authoritative and engaging, but I was disappointed he didn’t make use of reporter LeGette Blythe’s deadline account of the funeral train passing through Charlotte. I’ll post an excerpt tomorrow.