In our last post we said you’d see where the trivia was going. One of the answers to “What Vice-Presidents Assumed the Presidency upon death of the President?” and “Which of the above men lost a son while in the White House?” is the topic of this post. It is none other than Calvin Coolidge. Known to many as “Silent Cal” for his brevity of answers, Calvin Coolidge was actually a lawyer and a very skilled public speaker. He was typically a New Englander in his manner, not one to participate in small talk. He holds the record for meeting more often with reporters than any President before or since. His 1924 address to Congress was the first one ever given over radio. He was the first President to appear in sound film.
While we were touring a church next door to the Adams National Historic Site Visitors Center in Quincy, MA we talked with our guide and learned he was an actor. He performs one man plays about several Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge for example. When he heard we would be in Vermont, he said we’d be near the home of Calvin Coolidge. He told us this was one of the best restored Presidential birthplaces. He also mentioned that he was hired to do the interactive displays at the Visitors Center.
Born and raised in the small farming community of Plymouth, Vermont Calvin Coolidge grew up loving the farm and the community. He attended Amherst College and opened a law practice in Massachusetts. Gradually he moved up the political ladder. Coolidge became Governor of Massachusetts and gained nationwide attention during the Boston Police Strike of 1919. In 1920 he was made Harding’s Vice Presidential running mate. He was known for being a decisive leader. He assumed the Presidency when President Warren G. Harding died from a heart attack. Coolidge was visiting his home in Vermont when the news reached him on August 2, 1923. As his father was a Justice of the Peace he gave his son the Oath of Office using the family bible in their living room. It is thought that another oath ceremony was most likely done when he returned to Washington, DC.
Plymouth, VT was about 30 minutes from Winhall Brook Campground. The first time we drove up there we were just out exploring and arrived at the Calvin Coolidge State Historical Site and Museum about 4pm. Since they closed at 5pm we decided to just visit the Notch Cemetery and return another day for the tour.
We knew from having watched the old Masterpiece Theatre series Backstairs At The White House that Calvin Coolidge Jr. died from what today would be a preventable cause. He developed a blister on his foot (per the series from learning to dance) and the blister became infected. In the days before antibiotics this often led to septicemia which was the cause of his death.
Our return trip about a week later was on an overcast day with very threatening skies. We arrived with just enough time to buy tickets and join the scheduled tour. We began at the General Store once owned by President Coolidge’s father. The family lived in a small apartment in the rear. This is where Calvin Coolidge was born. As the family became more prosperous they built a larger home, sold the store, farmed and raised livestock on this site. They attended church at Union Christian Church located next door to the store. Calvin Coolidge’s father helped establish a dairy cooperative and cheese factory here too. The Vermont Cheese Coop still makes cheese today. We bought Hunter cheese and other goodies.
As a young man Calvin Coolidge admired Thomas Edison. His father arranged for him to meet the famous inventor for an hour. Upon meeting the future President, Edison was so impressed and that he spent the entire day with him. The Coolidges entertained many famous people at the Plymouth home during his Presidency. The picture to the below shows them with Henry Ford, Harvey and Russell Firestone and Thomas Edison. Many tourists came to Plymouth in hopes of meeting the President. They would mail letters back home with the Plymouth postmark as souvenirs. The postmistress at the time was paid a $50/salary plus a portion of postage sold. Because of the tourist business her income skyrocketed to $1500 in just one summer.
President Coolidge liked to spend summers in Vermont. If you’ve ever been in DC in August you know why! He needed a place for his staff to work. Being the ever practical man, he put up folding tables in a room above the store normally used as the community social hall. This became the Summer Oval Office. When the President was not there the room featured a band called the Old Time Plymouth Dance Band with Coolidge’s 80 year old Uncle John on violin. (He is second from the right in the photo below). I love human interest stories and was fascinated by this one. An agent from the William Morris Agency heard the band play and arranged for a nationwide tour. The band had a special clause inserted in the contract … the tour would not start until spring planting was completed. After shows in thirteen states Uncle John became homesick and returned to Vermont. The remaining shows were cancelled.
Calvin Coolidge was elected on his own merit in 1924. The Coolidge administration enjoyed a period of relative calm after the Harding Teapot Dome scandal and due to the prosperity of the Roaring 20s. He is best known for being able to represent the desires of middle America and for streamlining governmental expenses. He saw to lowering and for all but the richest 2%, elimination of federal income taxes while reducing the national debt. He had an ongoing fight against farm subsides and vetoed legislation at least twice. He was against the federal government taking on flood control measures even after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. He was in favor of civil rights. President Coolidge sought but did not obtain a federal anti-lynching law. He signed the Indian Citizenship Act giving American Indians citizenship along with the right to pursue cultural customs and retain tribal lands. As for foreign policy he is best known for the Kellogg-Briand Act in which the USA, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Japan renounce war as national policy when dealing with each other. We all know how well that worked. It did however serve as a framework for post WWII international law. Under his administration the US government continued to refuse recognition of the Soviet Union. He declined to run for a second term in 1928.
We went back to the Visitors Center to see the film about Calvin Coolidge and the exhibits. The exhibits showed Calvin and Grace Coolidge at the White House and enjoying their favorite sport, baseball. We came not knowing a great deal about this man and left feeling like we’d just visited a man instead of a place. We hope this post tweaks your interest in making a visit for yourself.