The Story of Fala Roosevelt

I’m always happy to come across a young person who is interested in the history of not only our heritage, but also goes to great lengths to preserve what some might think of as having no value at all. The young man I’m referring to is Sid Carr. His interest in history goes back to his early youth. Even as a youngster, Sid realized the historic significance a particular edition of the Nashville Tennessean dated April 13, 1945 he just happened to come across. That old newspaper belonged to his grandfather, A.J. Carr of Livingston, and was pretty close to falling completely apart when Sid discovered it. The importance of that paper was the fact that along with headlines that read "STROKE FATAL TO ROOSEVELT," it contained a detailed accounting of the President’s death along with a full page of photographs taken during the time Roosevelt held office. Here is some information taken from that newspaper:

"President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly at 3:35 p.m. today (April 12, 1945) of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Commander Howard Bruenn, naval physician, made the announcement to reporters shortly after White House Secretary William D. Hassett called a hurried new conference to announce the death of the nation’s only fourth-term Chief Executive. Mr. Roosevelt died in the Little White House on top of Pine Mountain where he had come for a three-week rest. He was 63 years old. Dr. Bruenn said he was with the President this morning and he was in excellent spirits at 9:30 a.m. "At 1 o’clock," Bruenn added, "he was sitting in a chair while sketches were being made of him by an architect. He suddenly complained of a very severe headache in the back of his head. Within a very few minutes he lost consciousness. He did not regain consciousness and he died at 3:35 p.m."

"Reporters who attended a news conference held a week earlier had noted his gray pallor. This had been noticeable however for many months and had caused considerable comment among White House correspondents. Mr. Roosevelt’s voice also had become weak in recent months, and he frequently asked reporters to repeat their questions. This was attributable, according to those close to him, to a sinus leakage in the throat which caused slight constrictions."

"The President, the nation’s first Chief Executive to break the two-term tradition, had planned to stay in Warm Springs another week, then he was to return to Washington and spend one day before taking a train to San Francisco to open the April 25 United Nations conference to which he had given so much attention in the recent months prior to his death."

"Mr. Roosevelt died in the bedroom in his little white bungalow atop Pine Mountain where he had been coming for 20 years to take the after-treatments for infantile paralysis with which he was stricken in 1921. Long before his presidency, Mr. Roosevelt helped found the Warm Springs Foundation for polio victims. In recent months he had taken a deep interest in expanding it for servicemen afflicted with the disease."

Mr. Roosevelt is considered by many as one of the best, if not the best, President we’ve had. But one thing I especially admire about Mr. Roosevelt is the fact that he doted on his little dog, Fala, a Scottish Terrier. Because I’m a dog lover too, I decided to do some research about Fala, and here is what I learned about one of the most famous presidential pets. Fala slept in a special bed near the President’s feet, and each morning and also at dinner each night, Fala was given a bone by the President himself. Fala captured the attention of the public in the United States and followed Roosevelt everywhere, becoming part of Roosevelt’s public image. Given to the Roosevelts by a cousin, Fala knew how to perform tricks. His White House antics were widely covered in the media and often referenced both by Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. As a puppy, Fala was given obedience training by Roosevelt’s cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley. She taught him to sit, roll over, and jump. Fala moved into the White House on November 10, 1940. He spent most of his time there until Roosevelt died and was succeeded by Harry S. Truman in April 1945. Fala also traveled with Roosevelt to his home in Hyde Park, New York and Warm Springs, Georgia, Roosevelt’s favorite spa town. Fala was often with Roosevelt on the scene of important events. He traveled on Sacred Cow, the president’s airplane, and the Ferdinand Magellan, Roosevelt’s custom-made train car, as well as by ship. Fala was with Roosevelt at the Atlantic Charter Conference, Quebec, and the meeting with President Manuel Avila Camacho of Mexico in Monterey.

In 1943, Fala was the subject of a short series of political cartoons by Alan Foster entitled "Mr. Fala of the White House. At the time, Fala was the second most famous terrier in the U.S. next to Terry, the dog who played Toto in the Wizard of Oz.

In 1944, Fala was with the President on a sea trip to the Aleutian Islands. Rumors spread that Fala was accidentally left on one of the islands. During the 1944 presidential campaign, the Republicans accused him of spending millions of taxpayers' dollars in sending a destroyer back for Fala. The President answered the attack in his famous Fala speech while talking to the Teamsters Union. Roosevelt defended his Scottie, saying, that he, Roosevelt, expected such criticism aimed at himself, and that even his family expected negative talk about themselves. However, Fala had not been the same since the charge was made. The President’s description of Fala was that "His Scottish soul was furious."

There was another incident on a sea trip aboard the ship Tuscalosa in the West Indies. The sailors were trying to cool off on an extremely hot day. They were lying on the deck stretched out in a row with their bare feet lined up. Fala caused quite a commotion by moving quickly along the row licking and tickling their feet.

And yet another time, Fala was with the President on a fishing trip to Florida. As the fish were caught, they were thrown in a pile on the deck. Quite a pile accumulated. They were all flip-flopping in the air as fish do. Fala began to flip-flop too, and decided it was such a fun game, he did it for several days.

Fala attended Roosevelt’s funeral and then went to live with the widowed Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill. Mrs. Roosevelt often mentioned Fala in her newspaper column, "My Day." Following her husband death, she wrote: "It was Fala, my husband’s little dog, who never really readjusted. Once, in 1945, when General Eisenhower came to lay a wreath on Franklin’s grave, the gates of the regular driveway were opened and his automobile approached the house accompanied by the wailing of the sirens of a police escort. When Fala heard the sirens, his legs straightened out, his ears pricked up and I knew that he expected to see his master coming down the drive as he had come so many times. Later, when we were living in the cottage, Fala always lay near the dining-room door where he could watch both entrances just as he did when his master was there. Franklin would often decide suddenly to go somewhere and Fala had to watch both entrances in order to be ready to spring up and join the party on short notice. Fala accepted me after my husband’s death, but I was just someone to put up with until the master should return."

Fala died in 1952 and is buried next to the Roosevelts in the rose garden at Springwood.

I’m really glad Sid discovered his grandfather’s old newspaper and has kept it all these years. And I’m especially glad he was willing to share it with me. Otherwise I might never have learned about this special little dog who once shared the White House with his very kind-hearted master.


Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill were photographed at Teheran.

A series of photographs show President Roosevelt in his youth.  Evidence of the aged newspaper they were copied from shows in some of the pictures.

President Roosevelt and his dog, Fala, were photographed riding in a car while campaigning for re-election.

This photograph is believed to be the last one taken of President Roosevelt prior to his death.