BY 7 O'CLOCK on Saturday night, April 14, 1945, thousands of men, women and children were lined up, wherever they could find a perch, along the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks through Baltimore. They were waiting solemnly, some tearfully, to view the coffin of Franklin D. Roosevelt as his funeral train passed through the city on its way from Warm Springs, Ga., to Hyde Park, N.Y., where he would be buried. It was raining.
The president had died April 12. Most Americans heard the news first over the radio at about 5:45 p.m. "Eastern War Time." John Daly on CBS: "We interrupt this program [it was "Wilderness Road"] to bring you a special news bulletin from CBS World News. A press association has just announced that President Roosevelt is dead."
Other Baltimoreans got the news by buying the Evening Sun's "Extra," on the streets early in the evening. And still others, downtown working and shopping that Thursday evening, got the news from the Howard Street display window of Hochschild, Kohn.
The store had set up a small news deck with a newscaster broadcasting the war news, which came out loud and clear throughout the Howard and Lexington street area. One who was there that afternoon wrote, "Hundreds stood before the window, watching and listening to the newscaster. The big news of the day had been of the Allied advance toward Berlin. Then the ticker on the tape machine started to move again, bringing fresh news. With every jerk of it came another letter to add details. Four words written in chalk on the newscaster's black bulletin board gave the crowd the late news:
" 'Mr. Roosevelt is dead.' "
That was Thursday evening. All day Friday came the numbing details -- of the death, of the funeral plans and of the nation's mourning. Businesses announced they'd be closed Saturday.
So it was that on Saturday evening the crowds gathered silently to pay final tribute. They started congregating as early as 7, though the funeral train would not pass through until 11 p.m. It moved slowly through Arbutus and under the Wilkens Avenue bridge, then north under the Frederick Avenue bridge. There were actually two trains; the first consisted of 14 cars, the second of 12. The rear section of the final car in the second train was lighted, and in it was the casket, draped in an American flag and plainly visible. At each of the four corners a uniformed serviceman stood at attention, forming an honor guard. In minutes the train was moving into Penn Station.
It did not stop, and there was no ceremony.
But Mayor Theodore McKeldin and other officials were there on the platform, forming a reception of quiet respect. Close to the tracks was Rep. Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. He was holding the hand of his 12-year-old son, Franklin Delano Roosevelt D'Alesandro, born on March 4, 1933, the date of Roosevelt's inauguration.
Passing through Penn Station, the train moved over the Broadway bridge and then under the Edison Highway bridge. One man who had been standing on the Edison bridge, braving the rain, was heard to say, "I know of no better reason for standing in the rain."
Then he turned to stare after the train, and for a few long moments watched it disappear slowly into the darkness.