On Beginnings and Endings, Part 2

“Great men are the ambassadors of Providence sent to reveal to their fellow men their unknown selves. To them is granted the power to call forth the best there is in those who come under their influence…No man was ever meanly born. About his cradle is the wondrous miracle of life. He may descend into the depths, he may live in infamy and perish miserably, but he is born great. Men build monuments above the graves of their heroes to mark the end of a great life, but women seek out the birthplace and build a shrine, not where a great life had its ending but where it had its beginning, seeking with a truer instinct the common source of things not in that which is gone forever but in that which they know will again be manifest. Life may depart, but the source of life is constant” — Calvin Coolidge, Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association, New York, January 23, 1921

 

Rutherford Birchard Hayes 

  • Born October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio. Father Rutherford and mother Sophia, Vermont shopkeepers, had left the Green Mountain State for central Ohio in 1817. Loss would strike early with father Rutherford’s death just ten weeks before the future President’s arrival. Raised by his mother, “Rud” and sister Fanny were the two of four Hayes children who survived childhood. Their two-story house on Williams Street in Delaware fell into neglect and was finally acquired by Standard Oil in 1921, which only afterward discovered its historical nature as a Presidential birthplace. Standard Oil put up the first $500 and offered to sell it back to the town if the remaining $7,500 could be raised. The effort failed to attract enough support and only $4,760 was raised. The home was demolished in 1926 and the lot turned into a gas station, as it is today. The Daughters of the American Revolution, at that same time, put up the plaque that serves as the oldest of now three markers in the town to “Rud” Hayes. An imposing 7-foot bronze of Hayes now stands at the corner of Sandusky and Williams Streets and a plaque in honor of Delaware’s now remembered son marks the connection. Hayes stock is certainly on the rise.
  • Rutherford B. Hayes died on January 17, 1893, at Spiegel Grove, Fremont, Ohio. The place that above all others would constitute home for Hayes and his family was the great house in Fremont, Ohio. Begun by the President’s uncle Sardis Birchard in 1859, to serve as a summer retreat to spend time with his nephew and family, it took five years to complete due to the scarcity of materials during the war. With three boys and four more to come, joined by one sister (though two boys would die in childhood), the Hayes clan needed space and lots of potential for exploration.
  • Something about Spiegel Grove reflects this irrepressible energy. There are lots of surprises to be discovered there too, more than you would think could be found in quiet Fremont. Sardis’ inclusion of a wrap-around verandah was especially delightful to his nephew and family. “Rud” spent the next twenty years adding on, making changes, planning further and installing new pieces to the place. The walnut and butternut staircase ascending to a 360-degree view of the property, put in as he prepared to leave the Presidency and retire, was part of how the house grew to meet transition. Where to fit his now 12,000-volume library became another impetus to expansion. It was during the last set of changes, in 1889, however, with the creation of more bedrooms and other spaces for the grandchildren, that former First Lady Lucy Hayes died. By then the 8-room original had mushroomed into a 31-room mansion. Hayes would stay and find comfort in the great house where so many joys had been shared. Like Tyler’s Sherwood Forest, a pet cemetery resides there too. He passed quietly among family and was first placed alongside her at the public cemetery in Fremont. In 1916, with the construction of the Hayes Museum near the home, they were reinterred together, with stones of Vermont granite (brought from the old Hayes homestead in Dummerstown, Vermont), beneath a wooded knoll on the grounds, a feature on the property they particularly loved.

 

James Abram Garfield 

  • Born November 19, 1831, in a log cabin built by his father Abram at Orange Township, Ohio. The last President to begin life between the walls of a cabin, Garfield would (like Hayes before him) never know his father, losing him in the first few months after his birth. His mother Eliza would raise him and the two would remain close for the rest of his life, Eliza surviving him by seven years. A testament to the changes of time, a replica of the Garfield cabin stands in Moreland Hills, the modern designation for old Orange Township, now a suburb of Cleveland.
  • As the appeal of “front porch” campaigns gained steam after early iterations by William Henry Harrison and others, Garfield built effectively on that concept. It seems to be especially a favorite approach among our Ohio Presidents, the campaigns of McKinley and Harding being even better known practitioners of this homely, approachable style toward voters. As such, the Garfield home in Mentor, Ohio, which the press called Lawnfield (as they camped out on the front lawn while covering his Presidential campaign), continues to this day as the clearest view into the man, his family, and at least some of the qualities that brought him to the White House. Bought in 1876, “Mentor Farm” (as the Garfields called it) transitioned in the future President’s hands from 8 to 20 rooms and it was from here that Crete (Lucretia, his wife) established the Memorial Library in his honor, a precedent taken up by nearly every President contemporary to him and since. A voracious reader, Garfield combined real scholarship with selfless public service. His tenure may have been cut short but his legacy lives.
  • James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881, at Elberon, New Jersey. Underscoring the agony that was the summer of 1881, we come to the site of a seaside cottage that now no longer stands, being torn down almost immediately after it failed to furnish the hoped for recovery of the President, shot eleven weeks earlier. Only a stone marker designates where the cottage stood, placed there through the lobbying efforts of twelve year old Bruce Frankel in 1961, who succeeded after four years of undeterred focus to remember the man once sincerely beloved by the nation. It is suitable that a boy gave the moving power to such a remembrance.
  • The imposing Garfield Memorial, rising as a sandstone sentinel above Lake Erie, in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery gives us a measure of how the nation once felt about him. Designed by George Keller, the Memorial was dedicated in the presence of former President Hayes, sitting President Harrison, and future President McKinley. Garfield’s body was solemnly interred within on that Memorial Day in 1890. Combined with Keller’s Gothic design, terra cotta panels by Caspar Bubel and a statue of Garfield by Alexander Doyle complete the story that endures here for all to witness.

 

Chester Alan Arthur 

  • Born October 5, 1829, in Fairfield, Vermont. Or, at least, we think so. Chester Arthur, it seems, draws controversy even still. The rumors at the time of his political notoriety that he was born on the Canadian side of the border continue to brood in the debate over where he was, in fact, born. The land on which the house originally sat was presented to the state of Vermont in 1903. The house, no longer there by that time, would be reconstructed in 1953, using old photographs of the original but, as often happens, further research found not only does this structure not correlate with the home in which Arthur was born (it was actually the second place the Arthur family lived following his arrival) but even the year was changed in his own accounts. His father, William, was an Irish immigrant to Canada who met and married Vermont-born Malvina Stone. “Chet” was actually the fifth of nine children, a preacher’s son.
  • Chester A. Arthur died on November 18, 1886, in New York City. He spent most of his life in Manhattan, living at 123 Lexington Avenue. It bears little resemblance inside or out to how it was when the President made this place home but, as often occurred when Arthur was involved, it once had a grand presence. It was where he took the oath of office when word of Garfield’s death came to his door on September 20, 1881. And it was in the privacy of his Lexington Avenue residence that he surrendered to the illness (what would later come to light as Brights’ disease) he knew was taking him to rejoin his late wife, Ellen, in eternity. Arthur is buried among family in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York. Ephraim Keyser, in 1889, crafted a fine bronze sculpture of an angel placing a bronze palm leaf over the dark granite sarcophagus that contains his body. A bronze of Arthur himself stands in Madison Square in New York, installed there in 1898.
  • He had made good, done better than nearly everyone expected and proved faithful to a trust America believed he did not possess. He demonstrates the transformative power of integrity, whether the Office changes the man or the man resolves to do what is right, whatever he has been in the past. President Arthur deserves better than he has received from historians. That, too, is beginning to change.

 

Stephen Grover Cleveland

  • Born March 18, 1837 in the Manse (parsonage) of the Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, New Jersey. Born to Reverend Richard and Ann Cleveland and named for the preacher who preceded Richard at Caldwell, “Big Steve” was (like his Presidential predecessor, Chester Arthur) the fifth of nine children. Like many minister’s families, they did not stay in one place too long: leaving Caldwell, they soon found their way to Fayetteville and then Clinton, before Grover ventured on alone to Buffalo. His uncle there, Lewis Allen, would prove instrumental in the trajectory of Cleveland’s life, convincing him to stay and make a future there. Friends who remain long after a President’s service is done are true friends indeed. Grover kept a devoted number of them and it was that nucleus which began the process to acquire and preserve the parsonage in 1907, while Cleveland was still alive. The site would open to the public in 1913 and continues as the most enduring location dedicated to Cleveland’s memory today. Like in Fillmore’s case, there is not as much in Buffalo (or any other of the many places, for that matter, with a Cleveland connection) as there should be to this honorable, big-hearted, and courageous man. Maybe that is about to change.
  • It strikes the observer as interesting, even curious, that Presidents of certain marked similarities, at times, seem to follow in pairs. Of course, contrasts abound…we have Adams and Jefferson, Buchanan and Lincoln, TR and Taft, Ike and JFK. But we also see the parallels: Hayes and Garfield, both Ohioan veterans, both fatherless but both raised by stalwart mothers; Arthur and Cleveland, both preacher’s sons, both adopted New Yorkers, both fond of good company and both bachelor-Chief Executives (Arthur, who remained a widower while, in Grover’s case, was only a bachelor at the start of his first term); and Harrison and McKinley, both Ohioan commanders of volunteer units, both operating variations of the homespun, log cabin-front porch motif, and both discovering what it was like to follow Grover Cleveland’s bulldog-like tenacity in the Presidency.
  • Grover Cleveland died on June 24, 1908, at Westland in Princeton, New Jersey. Named for the Princeton University Professor (Andrew F. West) who, more than any other, facilitated his move to Princeton, the house had been designed by Robert Stockton in 1856. The President, always on the look for where to settle his growing family next, obtained the residence in 1896, just before pulling up stakes in Washington for the last time. He would improve the place, endear himself to Princeton’s students, add a pool table on the ground floor, and thoroughly relish their new life near the University. Never having gone to college, Grover prized not only improving the mind and body but of constructing sound character. He knew it was not enough to be intellectual, the real test was in the quality of manhood and womanhood given proper place in the development of young people. Cleveland’s body rests in the Princeton Cemetery. Though his wife, Frances, married again, her body rests beside his at Princeton. On either side of them, are daughters Ruth (who perished in 1904) and Marion (who joined them there in 1977). Daughter Esther and sons Richard and Francis are buried elsewhere. It seems fitting that Grover and Frank are, as they were in life, surrounded by children.

 

Benjamin Harrison 

  • Born August 20, 1833, at “The Big House” on his grandfather’s property in North Bend, Ohio. The grand home no longer stands but a marker identifies where the property once sprawled overlooking the Ohio River on its winding path west. Benjamin’s grandfather, President William Henry Harrison, and father, John Scott Harrison, are buried near the old site atop Mt. Nebo. Grandson Benjamin, though born a Buckeye, would become a Hoosier, as he began a new life in Indianapolis in 1854, less than two hours to the northwest.
  • The rising lawyer chose the still wide open northern outskirts of Indianapolis for a new home that would encourage the migration north of the city’s leading citizens. On North Delaware Street, just past I-65, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is now virtually at the geographic center of Indianapolis today. Construction began in 1874 and was completed the following year, though originally without the front porch that would belong seamlessly with the home once it was added in 1896, only after Harrison had returned to private life. Continuing the “front porch” campaign tradition of predecessors like Garfield and successors like McKinley, Harrison actually gave his political speeches  for President to crowds gathered in the street in front of his home, demonstrating how to accomplish the same style without a literal front porch on which to deliver.
  • Benjamin Harrison died March 13, 1901 in Indianapolis. He passed away at home, in the quiet of his bedroom on the second floor of the beautiful house on Delaware Street. He, like John Tyler and Millard Fillmore, would lose his first wife and marry again. As such, his body rests a short distance away at the well-known Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, joined by first wife Carrie and second wife Mary.

 

William McKinley

  • Born January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. Sometimes, beginnings and endings experience a tumultuous separation before reunion brings the pieces again together. Such has been the case with President McKinley’s birth home. The six-room double house was rented by the parents of the future President to fit a family that would grow to nine children. The President’s father, born in Pennsylvania, worked in pig iron and labored to feed four boys and five girls before the McKinleys moved on to Poland, Ohio, when young William was nine. McKinley and his mother later returned only once to the site at which time he gave a speech to the crowds gathered there to welcome him. Almost everything changed about the house, the lot it rested upon, and the town of Niles itself. The home became a store then was split into two to make way for a series of banks on the site. The half in which McKinley was born moved to Riverside Park. The other half went to Franklin Alley to begin life as a shop for manufacturing rotary press parts. By 1901, Riverside Park had failed and the half-house there languished. The two would actually be rescued and rejoined in 1909 to find renewed attraction as a Presidential tour site at Tibbetts Corners thanks to Mrs. Lulu Mackey, at what is now the intersection of Robbins Avenue and Route 422. An enthusiast for all things McKinley, she gathered a wide collection of memorabilia from across the years relating to the 25th President, including artifacts from McKinley’s time in Canton.
  • The dedication of the McKinley Birthplace Memorial in downtown Niles by 1917, however, upstaged the home, which sadly, burned in 1937, four years after Mrs. Mackey’s death. As the original site of the home on Main Street passed through a series of banks, the original location was once again claimed for the reconstruction (along the original plan of the double-house) of a McKinley birthplace. The McKinley Birthplace Home and Research Center finally came to fruition in 2003.
  • William McKinley died September 14, 1901, in Buffalo, New York. Having attended the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, he decided to return later to provide an opportunity for the many attendees to see and greet him once more before the President’s departure. Entering the Temple of Music on the afternoon of September 6, McKinley left it wounded and when the medical tent there failed to furnish adequate care, the President was rushed to the home of John G. Milburn, a civic leader in Buffalo and leading attorney (who had been McKinley’s host during the visit) on Delaware Street. The press camped on the street, the police attempted to cordon off the area from the curious and McKinley succumbed to infection in the wound eight days later. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, just down the same Delaware Avenue in Buffalo at the home of Ansley Wilcox, would be administered the oath of office upon confirmation of McKinley’s death. The Wilcox House still stands and is open for tours. The Milburn House, however, is now no more. After being converted to apartments in 1919, it is now the parking lot for a local high school. A marker is the only sign of the history that happened there. Being the third President to fall by assassination, it would permanently change the status quo when it came to security provisions and Presidential protection. It would begin an aspect of the Secret Service’s work for which it is most famous.
  • The final resting place of President McKinley is in Canton, the city that was home for so many years. The sword-shaped design of the McKinley National Memorial, dedicated in 1907, was the work of Harold Van Buren Magonigle, the creator of the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City. A gently cascading pool running 575 feet was meant, in combination with the stairs leading up to the mausoleum, to symbolize the blade which had struck down yet another martyred President. The pool was removed in 1951 and yet the domed resting place of McKinley is no less moving a sight to behold today. It stands solemnly on a hill adjacent to the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.

 

Theodore Roosevelt

  • Born October 27, 1858, in Manhattan. The brownstone home at No. 28 East 20th Street had been occupied by the Roosevelts for four years when Theodore was born. They would continue there until 1872 when commercial properties began crowding out residential spaces, pushing them further uptown. Ultimately, that process would overtake No. 28 and replace it with a retail shop in 1916. The Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association would acquire the property after TR’s death in 1919. The move to restore and protect the birthplace became preeminently vital and it was one of the first women to become an architect, Theodate Pope Riddle, who replicated the home from its exact counterpart, No. 26 (still extant at the time but ironically demolished to make room for the Birthplace Museum) in 1922 and 1923. Rededicated in 1923, Edith Roosevelt and other members of the large family provided wonderful pieces for its refurbishment. It began the process that brought the birthplace site to its current 1865 condition, the year young TR watched from the windows to witness the sober advance of the Lincoln funeral procession.
  • Theodore Roosevelt died January 6, 1919, at his home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay (now Cove Neck), New York. The ground purchased by Roosevelt in 1884, with the vision to design a Queen Anne home there for his wife Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt to be named “Leeholm,” all changed with her sudden death that year and he sought solace in the Dakotas. Returning refreshed and remarrying Edith Carow in 1886 rekindled that original concept and TR, as with most of his projects, poured into its completion. Appropriating the Algonquin for chief, he designated the place the Roosevelt family would make home, Sagamore Hill. It would be the summer White House each year of his administration, placing the expansive residence in a unique role on the stage of history beyond the notoriety of its owner. It would be, after all, from where TR helped negotiate stages of the peace talks and settlement discussions between Japanese and Russian diplomats worked out at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for which he would be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. TR’s body rests at last nearby in the small Youngs Memorial Cemetery at Oyster Bay Cove.

 

William Howard Taft

  • Born September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Like Hayes before him, Taft’s ties to Vermont are only one generation removed, his father Alphonso coming from Townshend in the Green Mountain State. Like many a pioneering Vermonter, however, he went west. Alfonso would find opportunity in Cincinnati in 1838, and with it the 3-year old Greek Revival house up on Mount Auburn, high off the humid, mosquito-infested, sometimes unhealthy waterfront in town. There, “Bill” came into the world nineteen years later. The property reflected the beauty of the heights but also the mix of rural and urban living as Cincinnati’s development continued to creep up from the river. It would play host to many of Ohio’s foremost personalities of the Gilded Age, including fellow Ohioan James Garfield, underscoring the house shared more than one Presidential connection. It was in their father’s library that the family spent much of their time, no doubt inspiring the children with the love of books and self-improvement through the written word.
  • William H. Taft died March 8, 1930, at his home in Washington, D. C. Reaching his lifelong ambition to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1921, the only President to also serve in that capacity, found relief after an extended decline in health at his home, 2215 Wyoming Avenue NW, what much later has become the home of the Syrian embassy. A man who never really wanted the Presidency, he was a conscientious Chief Executive and left much more impact on the Office and the modern Presidency than is usually recognized. He deserves much better than the disappointment with which TR enshrouded him. As if being the head of two branches of government was not enough, he adds to them another, the first President to be buried at Arlington. The only other President is John F. Kennedy. James Earle Fraser completed the 14-foot dark mahogany granite headstone with gold leaf inscription in 1932. Taft is due for a new appraisal.

 

Thomas Woodrow Wilson

  • Born December 28, 1856, at the Manse (Presbyterian parsonage) in the Gospel Hill district of Staunton, Virginia. Designed by Reverend Rufus W. Bailey, founder of Augusta Female Seminary, and built by John Fifer of Augusta County (the father of a future Governor of Illinois), the manse is a practical expression of the Greek Revival style, with straight, inflexible lines. The effort to acquire the birthplace as a Presidential site began after his death in 1924 through the trustees of Mary Baldwin College. Approval of the Presbyterian Church for its sale to the college came in 1925 and care for the site continued until the formation of an organization who would take on its preservation and Wilson’s legacy. The Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation began in 1938, restoration of the home began in 1940 and in 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the home with all the hope Wilson had embodied in life.
  • Woodrow Wilson died February 3, 1924, at his home in Washington, D. C. The first President to make Washington a permanent residence, Wilson chose Embassy Row, the line of diplomatic homes that often partakes of a very colorful history of occupants. Designed and constructed in 1915 by Waddy Butler Wood in the Georgian Revival style, the home was a continuous residence for Mrs. Wilson until her death in 1961, when she bequeathed it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As such, it contains quite a collection of materials. In keeping with the traditions of the Washington National Cathedral (in respectful imitation of Westminster Cathedral in London), the Wilsons are interred together (at least President and the second Mrs. Wilson, the first lies at Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Goergia) there. Wilson’s body was moved from the Bethlehem Chapel to the nave of the Cathedral in 1956, on the centennial of his birth. The couple now rest in what is called the Wilson Bay on the grounds.

 

Warren Gamaliel Harding

  • Born November 2, 1865, in Bloomington Grove, Ohio. The first President to be born after the War that pitted states North and South against each other, Harding began life in an inconspicuous farm house built in 1856. The house was torn down in 1896 and only a stone marker and sign remain beside State Route 97 to guide visitors to the site now. Harding would move to Marion less than an hour away and become a successful newspaper editor, the first member of the Fourth Estate to enter the White House. For all his shortcomings, he does not deserve the infamy heaped upon him. Much was accomplished of significant good in his tenure, on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. The Budget Bureau overhaul of federal finances, the resolution of unsettled issues left from the Great War, the beginning of a reversal of the segregation of the civil service imposed by Wilson, and the pardon of political prisoners jailed by the Justice Department, were just some of the matters taken up and handled by Harding and the team he assembled. It all began with the platform afforded by the revitalization of the “front porch” campaign method that Harding adopted with incredible success. His home at Marion provided what is perhaps the last great expression of this long-standing tradition. The beautiful home, in which the Hardings lived from 1891 to 1921 (when they left for Washington), was first opened in 1926 to display only a select few rooms and artifacts. In 1965, the home was restored to its 1900 appearance. Through the collaboration of the Harding Home Presidential Site, Ohio History Connection, and Marion Technical College, the home is currently being restored to its 1920 appearance and a newly constructed Presidential Library and Museum set to be opened in September of this year, just in time for the centennial of Harding’s Presidential landslide.
  • Warren G. Harding died on August 2, 1923, in Room 8064 on the eighth floor of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. On a grueling speech tour of Alaska and the West coast, Harding collapsed and rendered his last breath on that August evening while Florence, his wife, read to him. It became the sixth time a President had died in office, and the fourth time the stirring sight of a Presidential funeral train returned a son to Ohio. Lying in state in the Capitol, the journey brought Harding’s body home to Marion to await internment in the Marion Cemetery Receiving Vault. Both Hardings now rest in the last of the ornate tombs built for our Presidents. Completed in 1927 according to the winning design of Henry Hombostel, Eric Fisher Wood and Edward Mellon (chosen by national competition), the memorial imitates the circular structures of Greek and Roman antiquity. The Hardings were reinterred in the midst of the circle of pillars upon its completion and the site dedicated in 1931 not only by President Hoover but former President Coolidge. The sealed sarcophagi retain the open-air quality they requested, beneath the sun and stars where the two were content to be.

 

John Calvin Coolidge

  • Born July 4, 1872 (the only President born on that most auspicious of days), in the small living quarters attached to Cilley’s Store in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Named for his father, who owned and operated the store at the time, Calvin Coolidge would return frequently to the small village of his birth to rest and reconnect with the anchor of family memory, work on the farm, and life away from the illusions and delusions of politics. Sister Abbie would join the family almost three years later, in 1875. The next year, the family of four would move to a house just across the road, what would become the site of one of America’s most inspiring scenes in the early morning hours of August 3, 1923, when father Coolidge administered the Presidential oath of office to his son. The Homestead, as it would be called, received a lot of work inside and out over time. Coolidge’s father added the iconic front porch, attached the barn for the horses, built the 2-story front bay, and other improvements. Coolidge’s later additions would be removed to restore the home to its earlier appearance. The cheese factory, operated by the family, remains active and the Church, Wilder House (where Coolidge’s mother grew up), and Store continue to perpetuate the enduring nature of the Notch’s unique, intangible charm. Nestled as it always was between the hills (hence a notch), the surrounding land, preserved open and untouched by the President’s son John, includes the Wilder Barn, the Museum & Education Center (launched in 1972 and expanded in 2010), a blacksmith shop, the garden maintained by Coolidge’s stepmother as well as other remarkable things to explore along the way. Further down the road is the farm of Coolidge’s grandparents and, heading in the opposite direction, the cemetery where rest not only members of the Coolidge family but other pioneering inhabitants of old Vermont.
  • Calvin Coolidge died on January 5, 1933, at The Beeches in Northampton, Massachusetts. Having moved from the beloved half-duplex they had rented for most of their lives on Massasoit Street, the Coolidges in post-Presidency simply could not live as normal, inconspicuous citizens any longer where they had been. They had tried and finding the searing light of press and public attention unremitting, they decided to move. They would not so reorder their existence as to leave Northampton but they would seek a larger property with the isolation of woods and a gate to discourage the sudden appearance of visitors peering in their windows or tourists constantly driving by to stare at them…or worse, get out and want attention. So when a house set well off the street on Hampton Terrace with six acres became available, the Coolidges bought it. Nothing about the home was typical of Northampton, or the Coolidges for that matter, but it had privacy and space for all the possessions they now had to find room for after leaving the White House. The President would laconically declare: “It is easier to get into the White House than out of it.” Moreover, the new house had a view that could be enjoyed without advertising to neighbors or passersby that a former President was there at all. The Beeches gave them what they could never have on Massasoit Street: the return of peace and quiet. Coolidge would meet death preparing to shave that unseasonably springlike day in January. Grace would return from a short walk to town and find him already gone, ready to do what she had first seen him comically engaged in doing almost three decades earlier. Following simple services in Northampton, a small number of close friends accompanied the family to the northward trek back to Plymouth. There, understated as Cal wanted it, remains his headstone, with only the Presidential seal to indicate any important personage rests there. His body is flanked by wife Grace, son Calvin Jr. (who preceded them), and son John with daughter-in-law Florence joining his mother and father and the older members of the family, all together again in eternity.

 

On Beginnings and Endings, Part 1

“Great men are the ambassadors of Providence sent to reveal to their fellow men their unknown selves. To them is granted the power to call forth the best there is in those who come under their influence…No man was ever meanly born. About his cradle is the wondrous miracle of life. He may descend into the depths, he may live in infamy and perish miserably, but he is born great. Men build monuments above the graves of their heroes to mark the end of a great life, but women seek out the birthplace and build a shrine, not where a great life had its ending but where it had its beginning, seeking with a truer instinct the common source of things not in that which is gone forever but in that which they know will again be manifest. Life may depart, but the source of life is constant” — Calvin Coolidge, Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association, New York, January 23, 1921

 

George Washington

  • Born February 22, 1732, at Wakefield on Pope’s Creek Farm, Westmoreland County, Virginia.
  • Wakefield, begun prior to 1718 by his great-grandfather John Washington, was (like many homes) added on to over the years until it became the ten-room “ancient mansion seat” of Washington’s memory. It burned down on Christmas Day in 1779 and was never rebuilt. The foundation markers can still be seen a short distance from the standing structures today. The farm on Popes Creek near the salt marshes of Westmoreland County was also the ancestral burying ground for the earliest Washingtons in America.
  • George Washington died December 14, 1799, at Mount Vernon, Virginia, where the family’s mausoleum can be visited today.

 

John Adams

  • Born October 30, 1735, at the modest clapboard house of Deacon John Adams (1692-1761) in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts.
  • The original house built by Joseph Penniman in 1681 was purchased with six acres surrounding it by Deacon John in 1720 who, apparently, built a new home on the site in 1720. The President’s brother, Peter, inherited the farmhouse upon their father’s death but in 1774, John and Abigail purchased it from Peter and rented the residence out during the Revolutionary War, living in a house next door. The house was given to John Quincy Adams by his parents in 1803 and passed down through the family until the next century, when it was sold to the city of Quincy.
  • John Adams died July 4, 1826, at Peacefield (dating back to 1731), the property he purchased in 1787 while still in Great Britain, which the family moved into the following year. John and Abigail have moved from their original site of rest in Hancock Cemetery (in Quincy, across the street from the United First Parish Church) to be interred within the basement crypt of the the Church.

 

Thomas Jefferson

  • Born April 17, 1743, at Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia.
  • The Shadwell property originally belonged to his father, Peter, who, reportedly won it over a bowl of punch. Thomas inherited the property in 1764 and considered this his home until the residence burned in 1770, destroying with it many of his papers and nearly all his books up to that time. A home would be rebuilt on the site but he would not again live there.
  • By 1768-69, he was already at work clearing the hilltop and manufacturing the first bricks that would go into Monticello. He would marry Martha Skelton in 1772 and she would join him in the completed South Pavilion portion of the famous residence until her untimely death in 1782.
  • Thomas Jefferson died forty-four years later on July 4, 1826 at Monticello, Albermarle County, Virginia, the residence he had designed, constructed, reworked and finished over the process of 40 years. A replica of Jefferson’s tomb marker rests below Monticello. The original obelisk, now restored after extensive chipping by souvenir hunters, resides on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia. The original marble epitaph is also on the University grounds at Jesse Hall.

 

James Madison

  • Born March 16, 1751, in Belle Grove (Port Conway) along the Rappahannock River, Westmoreland County, Virginia.
  • The home, which no longer stands, was house in which the President’s mother, Nelly, grew up. Surrounded by a plethora of extended family, Nelly made the journey to her mother and stepfather’s home to give birth to her firstborn baby. While a historical marker identifies the site, a plantation house was built there in 1790 which now serves as a Bed & Breakfast. While young James likely spent a good many hours at the ancestral home at Port Conway, it was his father’s project further inland overlooking the mountains, Montpelier (Mount Pleasant), that would become his home.
  • Madison’s father, James Sr., completed the main house in 1764. Young James, as a teenager, recalled moving furniture to the new place. With his father’s death in 1801, he inherited the home. It acquired a grander presence under James Jr.’s oversight, who added wings on either side and expanded Montpelier in two basic stages: (1) 1797-1800, while serving as a powerful Congressman yet just newlywed to Dolley Madison; and (2) 1809-1812, while serving as President and First Lady. His mother enjoyed the residence from her own side of the expanding house and received her guests from there.
  • James Madison died June 28, 1836 at Montpelier, Orange County, Virginia. He is buried on the family plot joined, at last, by his wife Dolley, who was initially interred in Washington, D. C., where she moved following the President passing, upon her death in 1849. Montpelier was sold by Dolley due to debts but, like Jefferson’s Monticello, was rescued by the generosity and concern of private citizens (the DuPont family in the former case and Uriah Levy in the latter).

 

James Monroe

  • Born April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
  • The family estate, just five miles from the Washington family’s holdings, had been held for nearly a century when the future President arrived. Monroe would not remain on the family’s land, however, but leave Westmoreland County and make his own way. It was Andrew Monroe who first arrived in America from Scotland in 1650, after reportedly serving as a Cavalier during the English Civil War. The future President seems to have walked away from his Tidewater roots and never looked back. As such the presence of the family home and land they once held is now erased by time. A replica of the kind of house homesteaders like the Monroes would have known is underway near the birthplace of the fifth President.
  • His home at Leesburg, dubbed Oak Hill, would keep him close to his friends, Jefferson and Madison at Charlottesville, for a time. But he would be forced to give it up with his wife’s death in 1830 and move to New York City, staying with one a daughter until his death the next year.
  • James Monroe died on July 4, 1831 in New York City. After original internment in that city’s Marble Cemetery, he was relocated in 1856 to his final resting place above the James River in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery just before war broke out between the States. Protecting the simple granite sarcophagus is an ornate Gothic-style cast iron cover of stunning detail, wrought by German immigrant Albert Lybrock and installed in 1859.

 

John Quincy Adams

  • Born July 11, 1767, in the Penn’s Hill cottage at Braintree (now Quincy) inherited in 1761 by his father John from John Quincy’s grandfather, Deacon John.
  • Family legend declares that Abigail personally scrubbed the stones on the floor of the room in which he was born — the day before his arrival. His father’s birthplace is merely 75 feet away. It was from this house that Abigail wrote some of her best known letters to John, who also drafted the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution in his office in the northeast corner of the residence. John Quincy would return here and live for a short time with his own family and then rent out the property, passing it down to descendants until being given to the city of Quincy in the 1940s.
  • John Quincy Adams died on February 23, 1848 two days after collapsing on the floor of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D. C., while serving as a U. S. Representative. Like his parents, however, he was relocated with his wife Louisa from Hancock cemetery to the basement crypt of the United First Parish Church in Quincy.

 

Andrew Jackson

  • Born March 15, 1767, in the Waxhaws region close to the border between North and South Carolina. Still very unsettled country, the exact site of his birth remains a bit of a mystery. He believed he was born on the South Carolina side while an aunt, present the day he was born, claimed the North Carolina side. The Scotch-Irish Jacksons, like many a frontier family, had to work hard just to stay alive. His father, would in fact die weeks after young Andrew’s birth.
  • Chosen by Jackson’s wife Rachel, the site on which their famous home in Davidson County, Tennessee, is located began with the upgrade after 1819 from log cabin to an eight-room two-story Federal style home. After the unexpected death of Rachel in 1828, he placed her tomb in the garden she loved. Commissioning David Morrison to design their limestone tomb and rework the residence in 1831, Jackson invested constant care in the layout and landscaping of the space around her. The residence would be enhanced with a columned portico, single story wings and, in 1831, receive the Greek Revival reconstruction that now finishes it. The iconic entrance portico concealed the more modest materials behind it — simple brick and mortar construction with slanted tin roofing. Appealing to the grander imagery of Virginia’s Presidential homes, Jackson’s Hermitage gives us Tennessee hospitality with frontier simplicity.
  • Andrew Jackson died on June 8, 1845 at The Hermitage, in what was still rural country outside Nashville, Tennessee. This residence becomes, in a sense, the frontier equivalent of Mount Vernon. They are buried together in what was Rachel’s garden.

 

Martin Van Buren

  • Born December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York, he was the first President born under the independent United States of America. Born to Dutch homesteaders along the Hudson, in a village right out of Washington Irving’s prose, Maarten helped operate his father’s taproom and sell the family produce. Never quite shedding his Dutch accent, English would remain his second language.
  • Like other Presidents before and since, Van Buren would return to the people from whom he came, coming back to Kinderhook after his term of office completed. He would acquire Lindenwald in 1839, while still in Washington. Named for the line of American Linden trees that still frame the residence, Lindenwald would become his permanent haven in retirement. He not only befriended Washington Irving but the author would apparently compose a substantial portion of his History of New York while a guest at Lindenwald. The only President to live during both the Revolution and the American Civil War, Van Buren would be not only the central catalyst behind Andrew Jackson’s political coalition, the Democrats, but also an advocate for the abolition of slavery and sharp critic of President Lincoln in the last years of his life.
  • Martin Van Buren died July 24, 1862 at Lindenwald, his home in Kinderhook. He is buried beside his wife Hannah, both located among their fellow townspeople in the Kinderhook Reformed Church Cemetery.

 

William Henry Harrison 

  • Born on February 9, 1773, at Berkeley, the Harrison family’s ancestral home in Charles City County, Virginia.
  • Built in 1726, the house was also the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, not William Henry’s grandson but the ninth President’s father and a signer of the Declaration. Berkeley would be targeted by Benedict Arnold’s troops and later occupied by soldiers under General McClellan’s command. Cementing Berkeley’s legacy as a place well acquainted with martial history, General Daniel Butterfield composed “Taps” while at the plantation.
  • William Henry Harrison died April 4, 1841 at the White House, the first President to die in office. In the solemn procession that followed, barges covered in black crepe brought the President’s body down the Ohio River to his requested resting place on Mt. Nebo in North Bend, Ohio, affording views not only of his adopted state but also Indiana and Kentucky. There he remains beside his wife Anna and other members of the Harrison family who ventured, like he did, into the west.

 

John Tyler

  • Born March 29, 1790, at Greenway in Charles City County, Virginia, seventeen years after the birth of his neighbor and running mate William Henry Harrison. A modest story and a half structure, Greenway was built in 1776 by the President’s father, Judge John Tyler Sr., and still stands today. Sold by the President in 1829, who then relocated nearby to Sherwood Forest, it remains in private hands. Interestingly, the house was originally known as Walnut Grove when bought by, of all people, the future President William Henry Harrison, the year Tyler was born. Harrison never lived in the house, however, and sold it again after three years.
  • Tyler’s move from Greenway to Sherwood Forest by 1842, so named to designate his status as an “outlaw” (like Robin Hood) in the eyes of the establishment Whig party, provided an way to deliver a parting shot to his political opponents. Tyler improved a number of the components of the home during his long retirement, even constructing and installing the storm windows found there during restoration work in the 1970s. Long the home of Tyler’s many children and grandchildren, it remains open to visitors.
  • John Tyler died January 18, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia, taken ill following his role in the  failed peace commission, vote for Virginia’s secession, and before he could take up the seat to which he had been elected in the Confederate Congress. Lionized by President Davis as a hero of the Confederate States, Tyler was interred with the Confederate states flag in place of a United States flag, the only President so accorded. His body rests near the marker of President Monroe in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.

 

James Knox Polk

  • Born November 2, 1795 in Pineville, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The log cabin, built in the early 1790s long ago vanished with the property once worked by Samuel and Jane Polk alongside their children but a careful reconstruction in 1967 according to eyewitness descriptions, with cabin materials and contemporary techniques has restored a structure to the area where President Polk was born.
  • By 1816, Samuel had moved the family to Columbia in a brick house he had built for them while the President was away at college. Polk would live there until his marriage to Sarah Childress in 1824. The house in Columbia to which they moved and spent most of their life together long ago burned down and is now commercial property.
  • James Knox Polk died June 15, 1849 at Polk Place, Nashville, Tennessee. Bought in 1847 but still under reconstruction when the former President died of cholera, Mrs. Polk continued to live in the mansion until her death in 1891. Revered by both sides during the War between the States, Polk Place remained untouched by the fighting. Not until Mrs. Polk’s death was the property’s future jeopardized and, sadly, it was demolished in 1901 and is now the site of the Capitol Hotel in Nashville. The Polk’s great niece, Sallie Fall, would salvage everything that was saved from the loss and helped ensure the preservation of the Polk home at Columbia.
  • Polk’s tomb has likewise been the subject of controversy. Buried originally on the lawn of his residence at Polk Place, Polk’s remains would be relocated in 1909 to the grounds of the state capitol in Nashville. Only in recent years has the effort to bring the tombs of the President and First Lady to rest at the Polk home in Columbia finally, it seems, achieved the legislature’s support.

 

Zachary Taylor 

  • Born November 24, 1784, at Montebello in Orange County, Virginia. The large Taylor family, en route to destinations in Kentucky and, perhaps, further west stopped here to rest and restore the health of ailing members when little Zachary was born. An inconspicuous log cabin or temporary structure was the shelter that first welcomed the future President into the world. Nothing now remains but a historical marker of the approximate location. Taylor, a relative of the Madisons of Orange County, would go on with the rest of his father’s family to settle at Springfield just east of Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Died July 9, 1850, at the Executive Mansion, Washington, D. C. Placed temporarily in the vaults of the Congressional Cemetery, President Taylor’s body was brought to the family burial grounds at Springfield outside Louisville. In 1926, the remains of both he and his wife were removed a short distance away and again interred in a mausoleum constructed at a national cemetery named for him.

 

Millard Fillmore 

  • Born January 7, 1800 in Cayuga County, New York. Nothing marks the site where the log cabin once stood in which Millard Fillmore was born except, perhaps fittingly, a picnic pavilion and historical marker at Summer Hill above Moravia. A replica like the Fillmore’s log cabin can be explored down the hill within Moravia, however. The single extant house, a charming little home, built by Fillmore in 1826 stands in East Aurora, New York. Here the President’s son Powers was born before the family moved on to Buffalo. But, rescued from oblivion by artist Margaret Price, the wife of Irving Price of Fisher-Price Toys, in 1930. It now houses Fillmore family mementos and memorabilia from their early years, life in Buffalo, and the Presidency.
  • Millard Fillmore died March 8, 1874 in his sprawling mansion dominating Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York. He had begun life intensely impoverished but had reached the very heights of national leadership by his determination to pull himself up from that squalid beginning…to learn, to educate himself, and thus be of service to those around him. He is buried alongside his family in the unassuming Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, marked by an unadorned obelisk.
  • Like Grover Cleveland after him, Fillmore would come to Buffalo and thrive in public service. Unlike Cleveland, however, Fillmore would return to Buffalo and give back freely and abundantly to the cultural and economic institutions of the city. He founded the University of Buffalo and contributed in many more unseen ways to the betterment of his adopted hometown. Yet, his residence became a series of hotels following his death. Only a plaque on the wall of Statler Hotel, where his home once stood, commemorates his existence today. Regrettably, there is little sign of his immense heart for the people of Buffalo and little evidence of his incredible civic generosity. He lives, however, in what he gave not in what he received.

 

Franklin Pierce 

  • Born November 23, 1804, born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Apparently born in a log cabin over what would become Lake Pierce put up to shelter the family while a permanent home was completed that same year by the President’s father, Benjamin, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Pierce lived in his father’s homestead until 1834, when he married Jane Appleton. While in college, he would meet and begin a lifelong friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose family he took care of in his will.
  • The residence would stay in the family until 1925, when it was given to the state of New Hampshire. The future President and his wife would move on, however, to Concord, where he would set up his law practice and begin his rise as an ambitious, engaged Jacksonian Democrat. The Presidency would test the very limits of the talents that brought him to office.
  • Franklin Pierce died October 8, 1869, in Concord, New Hampshire of advanced cirrhosis. After the loss of his wife and already deprived of their three sons, he passed alone without family and was buried beside Jane and two of his boys at Old North Cemetery in Concord.

 

James Buchanan 

  • Born April 23, 1791 in a log cabin near Cove Gap, Pennsylvania. A replica of the cabin has been relocated to Mercersburg, where the James Sr. mover his family to begin farming  there soon after James Jr.’s birth. They soon moved into town and found success there. Buchanan would go on to become one of the most credentialed candidates for the Presidency in 1856. He had just about done it all: U. S. Representative, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, U. S. Senator, diplomat to Russia and Great Britain, Secretary of State and, in the end, President. By virtue of his resume and connections, he had all the signs of sure success.
  • James Buchanan died June 1, 1868, at his home, Wheatland, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Built in 1828, Wheatland passed to Buchanan in 1848 and thenceforth became his landing place. Two and a half stories, of handsome brick construction and Federal style design, Wheatland manifests the work of skilled minds and hands. It can still be visited today. Buchanan’s body rests in the Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster.

 

Abraham Lincoln

  • Born February 12, 1809, near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Born on the Sinking Spring homestead in a log cabin, Lincoln would spend his first two years there until moving on to another farm at Knob Creek. The log cabin would be dismantled and repurposed long before his political career reached notoriety. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park manages both sites, with a symbolic cabin inside covered facility built in 1911. So as not to hamper visitor traffic, the cabin has been reduced in size from its original scale.
  • Abraham Lincoln died April 15, 1865, at in Washington, D. C. Shot at Ford’s Theatre, Lincoln would be carried across the street to Petersen House, where he would die nine hours later. After laying in state within the Capitol Rotunda until April 21, a funeral train would bring his body to Springfield, Illinois, where he would briefly rest at the state capitol before final internment in Oak Ridge Cemetery beside his sons and, later, his wife. A 117-foot granite obelisk with elaborate statuary and other components, added over subsequent years, completes the imposing mausoleum of the sixteenth president.

 

Andrew Johnson

  • Born December 29, 1808 in a basic single-story log cabin with a loft above located on the frontier near Raleigh, North Carolina. Born in truly abject poverty, Johnson would learn to read while working his own tailor’s shop. After an inconspicuous history following Johnson’s connection with it, the cabin, removed there since 1975, is now located in Mordecai Historic Park close to downtown Raleigh.
  • After attempts to make things work in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama, Johnson found Greeneville, Tennessee and instantly loved what he saw. He would bring his parents there in the late 1820s and soon meet his wife, Eliza, who changed his life. The Greek Revival twin-story brick house they purchased in 1851 and made home is now the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. It required extensive renovation after their return to the house following the war, as it met the venom and anger of both sides during his years as war governor. Vandalism, with the vilest messages on the walls of nearly every corner of the structure, met them when they came back to it for the first time from Washington in 1869. Johnson doubled down his determination to obtain vindication from those who had poured their hostility on them. He would run and win election from the Tennessee legislature to the U. S. Senate in January 1875, the very body that had nearly impeached him.
  • Andrew Johnson died July 31, 1875, at Carter Station, Tennessee. En route to Ohio to confront the political situation unraveling there, he stopped at the farm of one of his daughters and suffered a series of strokes from which he did not recover. His body was brought back to Greeneville and placed upon the top of Signal Hill outside town, property acquired by Johnson back in 1852. It would transfer to the National Park Service in the 1940s as a National Cemetery.

 

Ulysses Simpson Grant 

  • Born April 27, 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio. Rented by Grant’s parents, the simple home was not yet five years old when Grant was born here. They were soon on the way to Georgetown, Ohio, and subsequent history.
  • Grant’s frequent moves and military service meant that several locations enjoy a connection to President Grant from Galena, Illinois to White Haven in St. Louis to the Adirondacks cottage at Mount McGregor. In this way, he arguably identifies less than many Presidents do with a particular region of the country. Though born in Ohio, he seems to fit anywhere, North or South, East or West.
  • Ulysses S. Grant died on July 23, 1885 at the Adirondack cottage given for his use at Mount McGregor, New York, days after completing his Memoirs. Working against time as throat cancer sapped his strength, Grant finished the project and ensured, with Mark Twain’s help, that the book would generate the necessary money to provide for Julia and his family. With Julia’s assurance that Grant wanted to be laid to rest in New York City, work began on the expansive monument in Manhattan that now holds the President and First Lady in twin red granite sarcophagi inside a majestically domed mausoleum.

Happy President’s Day, 2020! 

 

On Getting the Girl

Cal-and-Grace-from-VHS

Calvin & Grace Coolidge. Photo credit: Vermont Historical Society.

Author, journalist and Vermont historian Mark Bushnell over at VTDigger has written a marvelous piece about the courtship of Calvin and Grace Coolidge. It may come as a surprise to many that the Coolidges courted at all but not only that, Cal maintained a prolific correspondence with Miss Goodhue between their frequent outings together. The story of their first seeing each other has often been recounted but, as Mr. Bushnell makes clear, there was much more to what happened next. So much has been written about the differences between Calvin and Grace, we rarely get to reflect on their similarities and even rarer, do we see the quiet man’s deep feelings for the girl he very much loved.

They met in the spring of 1904 with the introduction of Robert Weir, Coolidge’s roommate and the steward of Clarke School, where Grace taught. It was Weir who delivered the potted nasturtium from Miss Goodhue and intensified Calvin’s determination to explain his appearance the first day they saw each other. He had begun shaving by the window with face covered in lather while the hat on his head held an unruly lock of hair in place as he leaned in comically before the mirror (no doubt striking an image that would later be reminiscent of those lanky boys in Norman Rockwell illustrations). As alluded to elsewhere, the advice of Northampton shoemaker, James Lucey, was no doubt working its influence by the fall of 1904, as Calvin ramped up his efforts, writing Grace around 10 letters every month. “I just bought 100 stamps so look out,” he teases her in one letter. Commenting on the nasturtium sent to him, he asks her, “What shall I do with so many blossoms with no one to help me look at them?” The letters are preserved by the Vermont Historical Society in Barre and well worth a visit to view the collections there.

Self-conscious embarrassment and awkward interactions played no less a part in this budding romance than it has and will time and time again for all who seek to begin a life together. It simply confirms that Calvin was just as human as the rest of us. Grace’s  Burlington and Northampton friends were split when it came to the quiet man from Plymouth. Some could not comprehend his reserve, others understood him right away. Grace saw in him what many never even glimpsed. Her childhood friend, Ivah Gale, after several hours alone on a carriage ride with Cal was thoroughly convinced. The man didn’t talk but neither did he have to. Ivah liked him. The Coolidge family instantly adored Grace when she was brought up to Plymouth to meet them. Grace’s mother, on the other hand, never quite acclimated to Coolidge. But even that too, was all human.

Mr. Bushnell writes, “Calvin seemed willing to endure almost anything to woo Grace. He accepted her invitations to go on picnics, which he disliked because of the ants, the mosquitoes and the mess. So people who lived in their neighborhood were treated to the romantic sight of Grace lowering a pair of wrapped sandwiches out her window on a string down to Calvin.”

The formal address in each letter to “Miss Goodhue” dropped in December 1904 and thenceforth Calvin (who likewise shed the “Coolidge”) wrote “My dear Grace.” He proposed in the summer of 1905 and, by October, they were married in the home of Grace’s parents in Burlington. Nor did the letters end with the wedding, a tradition he never neglected even once they remained a phone call away and rose to the heights of public life. One of Calvin’s last letters to Grace reads, in part, “I have thought of you all the time since I have left home.” Whenever they were apart, he felt it keenly. A man of intense privacy, he was not the kind to parade what he felt for the observation of others. He nevertheless possessed a deep well of sentiment, keeping his love for Grace personal and intimate, and not for the world to see. Captain Wilson Brown, the President’s naval aide, once snatched sight of them, following one of the many elegant socials in the White House during their tenure, performing an exaggerated bow and curtsy in a playful minuet as they returned to the family rooms on the second floor of the old mansion. What they had was theirs and theirs alone. He cherished her to the very end whatever others perceived, at times, as indifference on his part. Grace knew the truth. She was his world. He guarded her safety and well-being above all other considerations. As a man known for his economy, he splurged unapologetically when it came to her: constantly window shopping and acquiring hats, dresses, and accessories for her, usually in the fashion popular in their first years together. Nor was she the kind to expect it and ask for more. Unlike some First Ladies, she prized being out of the limelight, remaining free of the power plays that so often enamor political couples. Together they would have been content with the simple, quiet life among family and their menagerie surrounding a fireplace or sitting out on the porch in rocking chairs. They may have begun as a union of city and country mouse but they relished the happiness of what they had together without any of the finery and ostentation.

Mr. Bushnell guides us through the almost year and a half of the Coolidge’s courtship and brings to light some of the qualities in Calvin that certainly won Grace’s heart and began the foundation for a marriage that, through all the difficulties, stood strong and commends to us the beauty of their partnership and the resilience of their example. Theirs would be no easy life, even at the pinnacle of power, and grief would intrude upon them more than once, but they would hold not only to their faith but to each other. The rains would return from time to time, as they did on their wedding day, but just as Cal put it, “I don’t care anything about the rain, so long as I get the girl.” She, then, made it worth every moment.

6208551256_2f914d6dc6_b Coolidges on Mayflower