Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it brings together three things I love—Food, Family and Friends. This year I will be in Santa Barbara celebrating with my dad who always throws a great party peopled with an eccentric group of his friends, many of whom I have known for most of my life. It is sure to be a fun gathering with lots of delicious food, interesting conversation and much laughter.
Looking through Eastman House’s Thanksgiving-related photographs, I was delighted to find this print by Margaret Bourke-White. In 1938, while on assignment for Life Magazine, Bourke-White followed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Warm Springs Foundation, a treatment center for people afflicted with polio. I thought it was a particularly fitting image to share this Thanksgiving since one of my dad’s favorite stories involves the time he met FDR at Warm Springs. My dad grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the year he turned nine, while at summer camp, he contracted polio. He was lucky that doctors and nurses at the University of Michigan Medical Center, where he received care and where my grandparents both worked, were able to stop the disease from spreading, leaving only his left arm paralyzed.
Traditionally, FDR hosted an annual Thanksgiving dinner at Warm Springs but in 1940 they had to postpone the feast because World War II was heating up and Roosevelt was unable to attend. Ever dedicated to Warm Springs and the patients it served, FDR hosted the dinner in December of that year and my nine year old dad was present for the festivities. While he did not end up at the president’s table, my dad remembers with awe and fondness how, after the dinner, with the aid of his ivory handled cane, FDR stood and shook the hand of every person leaving the dining room. I am personally thankful for the inspiration FDR gave to my dad, who was struggling to overcome a frightening experience with a debilitating disease, and I am sure that one of the toasts this year at our Thanksgiving table will include a nod of thanks to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Jessica Johnston is an Assistant Curator in the Department of Photographs at George Eastman House. She manages numerous exhibitions and projects at the museum including our recent participation on the Flickr Commons.