With sirens shrieking, a swarm of motorcycles shot down Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, and turned west on 57th Street. After them sped a black limousine with secret service men standing like supernumerary footmen on its running boards. A truck full of trunks followed. It was Thursday, March 2, and Citizen Franklin Delano Roosevelt was moving to the White House.
Thursday, March 2, and New Orleans was completely recovered from its Mardi Gras hangoverrecovered as if struck by a douche of cold water, for that morning all Louisiana banks had been closed by proclamation. Hundreds of distracted visitors found they could not get funds to get home. Distracted thousands, natives and visitors, cursed Huey Long's Governor Allen, who the night before had entrained for the inauguration, who with his expense money in his pocket had dictated the proclamation and left it to be issued after his departure.
All Thursday afternoon an inauguration-bound train roared through mist and cold rain, through vistas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Citizen Roosevelt and captains of the Democratic host were speeding to the reward of victory at the polls.
But Citizen Roosevelt had no lust to gloat over the wintry country he was soon to rule. At his side sat little child-faced William Hartman Woodin, soon to be master of the greatest treasury in the world. At his side sat professorial Raymond Moley, raised from the classroom to the councils of the great, but they had few thoughts of pomp and circumstance. The ruthless pressure of events gave them time to consider but one hard fact: that in four days the bank deposits of twelve states had been seized by the frozen hand of Depression.
When Citizen Roosevelt reached the Presidential suite of the Mayflower Hotel, slips of yellow paper were already accumulating: "Boise, Idaho . . . Acting Governor Hill today declared a 15-day bank holiday. . . ." "Salem, Ore. Governor Meier today proclaimed a three-day bank. . . ." "Phoenix, Ariz. Governor Mocur today declared. . . ." "Carson City, Nev. A four-day legal. . . ." "Austin, Texas. . . ." "Salt Lake City. . . ."
Came Friday morning and Citizen Roosevelt awoke from the sleep of the elected to hear that 22 states and the District of Columbia were in the depths of banking restrictions and moratoria.
The New York Stock Exchange opened with trading quiet but prices firm. An hour later the quiet was broken. Shorts took fright: how long could the Exchange remain open? No time at all if great New York banks closed. And when exchanges close prices are usually higher at reopeningsaid those with memories of 1914. The market began to boil, prices to mount, traders to chime in, eager to own stocks if currency was going to depreciate, bank deposits to be tied up.