The Sunday New York Times waits its turn to be read in our house. It was not until Saturday the 21st that I came upon the Times article of the 15th about Milton Kronheim.
The article told New Yorkers many things that District Liners already know about Milton. It dwelled with special fondness on the excellent food that Milton serves to his in-group guests at noon each day. It also described the small dining room in which the food is eaten. Every inch of its walls is filled with pictures of famous and near-famous people whom Milton has known in his 90 years. One paragraph in the article said:
"Behind Mr. Kronheim's place at the lunch table is a picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt taken in November, 1944, shortly after his election to a fourth term as president.Mr. Roosevelt, splattered with rain, is seated in a car outside Union Station in Washington. He is slumped over, apparently in pain."
That final sentence is inaccurate. Mr. Roosevelt was not in pain. I was.
Roosevelt was in high spirits. He had just returned from Hyde Park, where he had voted and awaited the election returns. He was in the back seat of an open "touring car," with Vice President Harry S Truman beside him.
Arrangements had been made for the car to stop at a selected spot outside Union Station so that Roosevelt could address the nation by radio. Then the car would make its way to Pennsylvania Avenue, and thence to the White House, with thousands of people lining the Avenue to cheer the president as he passed.
I was news director of the radio station then owned by The Washington Post. Eugene Meyer had summoned me to inquire how I proposed to cover the event.
I told him that inasmuch as our station had no network affiliation and no "remote" equipment, we would have to get telephone lines installed for our microphones along the route. Our big problem would be coverage from the plaza in front of Union Station.
I was brand new in The Post organization, untried as yet, and desperately eager to avoid failure on my very first important assignment.
The telephone company installed our lines. However, the one at Union Station was about 90 yards from the spot where the open car would stop! That was the closest they could come.
Our engineers strung together 100 yards of cable - which was just about all we owned.
The networks had their mikes on a "mike board" that would be placed across the president's lap after the car stopped. They declined to let us add our microphone to their board. The only way we could pick up FDR's remarks would be to "hand-hold" a mike in front of him.
As the critical moment approached, I stood in the front row of the crowd, microphone in hand, awaiting the arrival of the president's car. The Secret Service man beside me eyed the mike and said, "If you're thinking of stepping forward with that thing when the president stops here, forget it. Do not, I repeat not, try to move past me."
I began to develop the same kind of stomach pain Charlie Brown gets when Lucy fails to catch a fly ball because she's been watching an airplane.
My engineer whispered, "What are you going to do?"
"Get shot, probably," I said.
The president's car pulled up. The crowd roared its welcome. I moved past the Secret Service man and held the mike in front of FDR, who was saying to Truman, "Take off your hat. They want to see what you look like."
From somewhere behind me, I heard the anguished voice of my engineer. "Hold it a second," he said. "Somebody stepped on the cable."
The president heard, too, and a puckish grin formed on his face. "Does that mean I have to wait?" he asked.
"If you could, sir," I blubbered. "Just a few seconds."
He waited. In a few seconds, the engineer called out that he was ready.
Roosevelt leaned forward. He didn't slump over, he leaned forward. Solemnly, he asked, "May I proceed now, young man?"
My throat was dry. I nodded, and FDR proceeded to deliver his speech. A Post photographer snapped a picture.
Decades later, I unearthed the negative and had a dozen prints made for Washington notables who appeared in the background, surrounding the president's car.
Truman had retired to Independence by then. I wrote to ask whether he would autograph the pictures for each of the intended recipients, and he wrote back to say of course he would. I sent the pictures. He signed each of them for us and sent them back.
Milton's now hangs in its special place on the wall of his dining room. I thought the Times might like to know whose stomach was in turmoil at the moment that picture was taken.