Residents recall January 1942 visit

Thomas Studley left Hingham for boot camp on the morning Eleanor Roosevelt visited. Thomas Studley left Hingham for boot camp on the morning Eleanor Roosevelt visited. (Robert E. Klein for The Boston Globe)
By Constance Lindner
Globe Correspondent / June 9, 2011

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John Thomas was just 2 years old when Eleanor Roosevelt came to his Hingham neighborhood on Jan. 6, 1942. But he heard the details of the visit many times from his mother.

Two limousines pulled up to the Stoddard Road house, just across from the Thomas home, according to the story told by Florence Thomas, and men in dark suits began walking up and down the street.

Roosevelt had been invited by photographer Frances Cooke Macgregor, who lived at 7 Stoddard Road, to collaborate on their photo essay, “This Is America.’’ Macgregor’s publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, had suggested the collaboration with Roosevelt, and Macgregor made the visit a condition of acceptance.

Later that day, the two women attempted — unsuccessfully — to sit in unnoticed on a League of Women Voters meeting, visited Hingham’s new ammunition depot, chatted with the minister and sexton of Old Ship Church, and returned to Macgregor’s home, according to Alexander MacMillan, a member of the Hingham Historical Society.

There, the first lady sipped bouillon while listening on the radio to her husband’s State of the Union address, in which he said the nation has been “compelled to learn how interdependent upon each other are all groups and sections of the population of America.’’

Just four nights earlier, Thomas Studley was serving ice cream sodas at his job at a Hingham drugstore when his chums stopped by, talked about enlisting, and asked if Studley wanted to join them. So on the morning of Roosevelt’s visit, Studley, Eddie Howard, and Al Osborne took the first train out of town for boot camp at Fort Devens.

“My mother drove us to the station that morning,’’ Studley, now 91, recalled in a recent interview, “and I was just thinking the other day, Eddie didn’t know he would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. . . . There are some days you never forget.’’

When it was time for Roosevelt to leave, Florence Thomas was standing in her front yard and holding John in her arms. As the first lady made her way to the limo, she nodded in acknowledgement to the surprised Mrs. Thomas.

Florence Thomas later obtained a copy of “This Is America’’ and often wrote notes to go with the photographs, said John Thomas, now 71 and living again in his childhood home. Such good memories were associated with the book that he bought two copies 15 years ago. The book is out of print, and copies go for as much as $300.

Thomas recalls that his mother also talked with him about the familiar people and places in the book. One of the photos, however, needed no explanation: It shows 2-year-old John sitting at the dinner table with his family.

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