August 3, 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of Calvin Coolidge being sworn in as the thirtieth president of the United States.
To celebrate the centennial, there will be a multi-day celebration beginning with a gala dinner on August 2. On August 3, at 2:47 am there will be a re-enactment of Coolidge taking the oath of office. August 3 will also feature an official naturalization ceremony and a series of living historians who act out stories of Silent Cal from the view of those who knew him at Plymouth Notch.
The celebration occurs at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, an authentically preserved Plymouth Notch village owned by the State and operated by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. On a 1967 visit to Plymouth, Lady Bird Johnson presented a plaque that designated the Coolidge Homestead a National Historic Landmark.
The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Calvin Coolidge and perpetuating his memory, is presenting the centennial celebration in partnership with the State. Foundation President Matt Denhart said: “Though Coolidge was president a century ago, his values, accomplishments, and model of leadership deserve wide study today. This centennial year is a wonderful opportunity to showcase Vermont’s native son to Americans across the country. We encourage everyone to join us this summer in Plymouth Notch as we honor Coolidge and recreate the events of his unique and important Homestead Inauguration.” Vice President Coolidge was visiting family when word reached the Coolidge home of the death of President Warren Harding. It was around midnight that Colonel John Coolidge woke up his son and told him the news. After a telegram arrived ascertaining Harding’s death and a copy of the oath of office was found, John Coolidge swore in his son in a 2:47 A.M. ceremony in the sitting room lit by a kerosene lamp. His wife Grace was among the six to nine people present (historical accounts differ as to who was present).
The annual inaugural re-enactments feature interpreters who portray the unique event of a father swearing in his son as president of the United States and traditionally involve as many descendants of Calvin Coolidge as possible, notes Coolidge Ambassador and Foundation Administrator Tracy Messer. Great grandson Christopher Coolidge Jeter portrayed Coolidge and great granddaughter Jennifer Coolidge Harville played the First Lady in recent recreations. In most years the swearing in was recreated at 2:47 P.M. on the outside porch for the convenience of the re-enactors and to allow more visitors to see the event.
Rejoice Scherry, Historic Sites Regional Administrator for the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, said plans envision various living historians acting as the contemporary residents of Plymouth Notch who knew Coolidge and portraying life in the village following the swearing-in. As an example, she said a living historian might be heard saying, “Did you hear about our Cal who became president last night?”
Addressing the significance of the centennial, Scherry said, “This is the only instance where a father swears in his son as American President. It’s a statement on American democracy that allows for the immediate change of leadership and the continuance of government without the need for pomp and circumstance.”
Coolidge, Then & Now
John Calvin Coolidge was born on July 4, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, graduated from Black River Academy in Ludlow, and attended Amherst College. After graduation, he returned to Plymouth Notch to work on his father’s farm for the summer before studying law and moving to Massachusetts where he worked and became involved in politics. He was elected vice president November 2, 1920 and became vice president March 4, 1921 and president on August 3, 1923. Coolidge served out Harding’s term and was elected to a full term on November 4, 1924. He died January 5, 1933 from a coronary thrombosis. (People can visit the graves of the president and his family in a nearby town cemetery.)
As Coolidge Ambassador, Messer follows in the footsteps of his living history mentor Jim Cooke, who portrayed Silent Cal for many years. When he portrays the president, Messer said his role is “to share the life, legacy, and humanity of Coolidge through first-person presentations.” He has developed different presentations on different topics. “Vermont is a State I Love” is one that give audiences insight into Coolidge’s life and his appreciation for its people and landscape.
A new presentation “Mr. Coolidge Goes to Washington” was given in January 2023. It was centered on a general Coolidge background and a virtual walking tour of the places in Washington DC that are connected to President Coolidge. The virtual tour consists of a slideshow of 1920s postcards of places where Coolidge gave speeches and dedications and places he lived in addition to the White House. “There are ten examples of places between 1919 and 1929 that help tell the story of Calvin Coolidge,” Messer noted, adding the presentation was given to the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC. They learned about the Coolidge connections to places and also landmarks that are admired pieces of architecture made from Vermont marble and granite like the Jefferson Memorial and Supreme Court.
Messer travels throughout New England and beyond, giving presentations in which he combines a “a blend of wit and wisdom from Mr. Coolidge.” Noting Coolidge was known for one-liners, Messer cites the story of a state dinner where the lady seated next to the president told him she had accepted a bet she could make him say more than two
words. “You Lose,” Coolidge responded.
While known as a “man of few words, there are things people don’t know that surprise. He wrote all of his own speeches — gave about 80 in Washington, DC — and was the first to broadcast his inaugural address over the radio in 1925,” Messer said. Addressing the moniker of Silent Cal, Messer noted Coolidge gave “more press conferences than any other president. … When a student at Black River Academy and Amherst, he studied languages, including the compulsory English, Latin, and Greek but later taking French and Italian as well. He could be silent in five different languages,” Messer says, echoing the renown Coolidge wit.
Coolidge Foundation & Historic Site
The Coolidge Foundation was formed in 1960 by John Coolidge, the president’s son, and many Coolidge enthusiasts. The Foundation has grown to 25 directors, including two direct Coolidge descendants, and nine paid staff who carry out programs, with volunteers who assist various ways, such as reviewing scholarship applications and giving tours during busy times. The Foundation has expanded programming across the country to increase Americans’ knowledge of Coolidge and the values he promoted throughout his life. Programs include: the Coolidge Scholars Program, a national high school debate program, hosting school students at the historic site, conferences, symposia, lectures, and public events in Plymouth Notch and around the country. The Coolidge Quarterly, a website, and a collection of Coolidge papers and artifacts are among other projects.
The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site has often been called the “best preserved presidential birthplace in America,” Denhart noted. The Site includes the homes where President Coolidge was born and where he took the presidential oath of office as well as the 1924 summer White House, which operated as a summer office for the president and his staff on the second floor of the General Store. A modern Museum and Education Center feature award-winning educational exhibits and a short film that trace the story of Coolidge’s boyhood to his rise to the presidency. A general store, historic cheese factory leased to Plymouth Artisan Cheese, historic barns with period carriages, village church (owned by the Foundation), and gardens round out an awe-inspiring and bucolic site that is open to visitors from late-May to mid-October.
by Karen D. Lorentz