Michael Horsley was in the middle of a long day scanning glass plate negatives at the National Archives’ Digital Imaging Lab in College Park, Maryland, when a single caption leapt out from among the hundreds whizzing across his monitor: “Laying the Keel of U.S.S Battleship No. 39 Arrival of Asst. Scty [sic] F.D. Roosevelt, & Others.” In that instant, Horsley’s brain fired that there was something there, and he asked his colleague to go back through the images that had passed by to find it again.
Horsley got a closer look at the image. A man in the foreground on scaffolding, watching a group of dignitaries pass below. “Striding confidently in the front of the group,” Horsley writes on the Archives’ blog, NARAtions, ”was a smiling figure wearing a stylish derby hat with his head cocked staring straight at the camera.” Could it be the future president? Horsley knew that at some point Roosevelt had contracted polio and used a wheelchair thereafter, but he wasn’t sure when that had occurred. Could this photo show Roosevelt walking? […]
When Horsley googled “FDR” and the “Brooklyn Navy Yard”, he was able to confirm the then-assistant secretary’s Navy Yard visit during the keel-laying ceremony on the day the photograph was taken, March 16, 1914. The figure was FDR. […]
The stories of this man and this ship would intersect again, less than three decades later, when Roosevelt took to the airwaves to announce to the nation the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the ships that sunk that day was the Battleship Arizona, or “Battleship No. 39,” as it is labeled in the picture.Read more. [Images: National Archives]