Motion picture of the 1925 eclipse from an airship over one of the best vantage points at the time, New York. The view of the eclipse starts at 3:00 minutes into the video. Thanks to Mike Kentrianakis for sharing this incredible record.
Prepared ahead of the United States’ sesquicentennial in July 1926, the people of Poland marked the “sacred” occasion with a unique gift of 111 volumes of signed tributes to America. For the Polish, July 4th deserved celebration for liberty, equality, and justice around the world, not merely in the United States. The Polish people recognized the longstanding friendship that first bonded patriots American and Polish with the contributions of Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski, both in their early thirties, through our fight for independence but also the more recent deeds of courage and principle that helped liberate Poland after World War I.
Hearing of America’s cause, Kosciuszko and Pulaski separately made the treacherous journey from their homelands in 1776 and 1777 (respectively), knowing firsthand the contempt for freedom held by the nations that surrounded them. Even more so, because of their own resolute devotion to the same ideals their counterparts across the Atlantic were fighting to attain, these two men were undergoing the sentence of exile imposed on them for life. They could never again return to their native lands.
Pulaski, offering everything he could give, would write to General Washington, “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.”
Kosciuszko devoted his talents as an engineer in designing enduring fortifications, most notably the victory at Saratoga and the design of the defenses at West Point, that marveled the commanding General. Becoming a lifelong friend of Thomas Jefferson, Kosciuszko would compose his final will and testament naming Jefferson his executor. Koscuiszko would instruct Jefferson to use his estate for the liberating and educating of slaves to “which may make them good neighbours, good fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, and in their duties as citizens, teaching them to be defenders of their liberty and country, and of the good order of society, and in whatsoever may make them happy and useful.” Koscuiszko invested himself entirely in seeing the ideals of the Declaration come to fruition.
Pulaski transformed America’s cavalry forces into the equal of the best in the world. Encouraged to come to America by Benjamin Franklin, then at Paris, Pulaski would fight alongside Washington at Brandywine, endure Valley Forge, and lead the charge at the Battle of Savannah, where he would receive the wounds that would take his life.
These men embodied the spirit of America and claiming them as our own, we honor them in dozens of location names across this nation. We find these Polish brother-patriots along streets, in towns and villages, on our ships, in our counties and in the millions of Polish immigrants who have come here to help continue the work of liberty and self-government. Yet, the connection between the Polish people and Americans hardly ends there, we returned again to Europe in World War II to help liberate the nation of Pulaski and Kosciuszko.
While a second conflagration was yet future for the people who lived in 1926, our firm friendship would find reaffirmation and renewal with time. The sentiments gathered that summer of ’26 in an incredible 111-volume tribute to America by the Polish speaks something for all times and all places. It recognizes something that America herself is in danger of forgetting permanently, especially by those who have never known the perspective of generations who could only see the true greatness of her ideals from outside it.
Presented to President Coolidge on October 14, 1926, after the July celebrations had ended and the historic year was soon to close, a small delegation arrived at the White House at last ready to present the beautiful dedications and decorated offerings of 5.5 million Poles, one-sixth of that nation’s population at the time. From individuals and government institutions, elementary and secondary schools, academies and universities, this record of the sincere and deep love the Polish people have for America is now fully digitized in partnership with the Library of Congress, the Polish Library of Washington, D. C., the American-Polish Chamber of Commerce, Industry in Poland, and the Polish-American Society, completing a project that began in 2005. Receiving them ninety-one years ago, President Coolidge would in turn place these loving gifts in the care of the Library of Congress in November 1926.
These ornate and gorgeously assembled books, the first six of which are enormous, make some of the most stirring reminders of what, as Coolidge would say just the year before, “America is and what America has done.” This July 4th, as we enjoy time with family and relish the festivities, take a moment to read the words of some who see our ideals clearer than perhaps even we do ourselves. By doing so, we may find a devotion that honors the sacrifices of patriots from all nations who gave all they had for the principles of the Declaration so that these United States of America would endure.
While there are elements of the 1920s that baffle and even offend today’s hypersensitive climate, the fashion of that era remains as popular and alluring as ever. People across all spectra find the suits, dresses, hats, and accouterments of those Roaring Twenties (wherever they are seen) sends a vivid and powerful statement. It demonstrates the careful investment in personal improvement that drove much of that decade’s attitudes about appearance. Of course, every generation has vanity and covetousness but it was with a thought to those with whom we associate and interact that gave dressing up its place of importance in the social sphere. It exhibited a level of respect for others and the humble recognition that individual expression was not the fulfilling or all-encompassing virtue that it so often pretends to be nowadays.
It is again cool to dress up because of the clarity of place and purpose it inseparably provides. It shows you are worthy of being taking seriously enough for me to dress up, to invest quality in you not just the “gift” of my presence.
Calvin Coolidge, born in one of the most remote corners of the country – Plymouth Notch, Vermont – understood this exceedingly well. He understood the care which one shows for one’s appearance corresponds to the care one demonstrates for other people, especially the lowest and weakest among us. In defiance of every social convention, we console ourselves in the illusion that we are freer than our ancestors only to discover that our “freedom of expression” conveys both our contempt for other “free” individuals and also our indifference to that fact.
Some, when they learn that Calvin Coolidge selected what his teenage boys would wear each day, are horrified at so invasive a repression of personal freedom. While it is easy to fault this father for his severity at times, the importance he placed on one’s dress is missed in the shuffle. True, he was President of the United States, a role we still feel warrants formality, at least during “working hours.” Yet, when it came to his appearance, Coolidge made no such separation between the highest office in the land and his lifestyle. He refused to go anywhere (even as a younger man) not dressed at least one notch above the occasion. After the White House years, he even forgot his hat once and had to coordinate with his secretary to retrieve it, too embarrassed to step out of the car minus a complete outfit.
Wearing his grandfather’s frock as he worked on the family farm was as much an honor he felt due to its original owner as it was an expression that clothes declared role and purpose. It was the natural and suitable attire at work on the farm. When the press misunderstood the gesture and wrongly attributed it to a public pose, he would not wear the garment again but ever after wore what was not suited to chores but had been his chosen outfit all of his life: a daily rotation of formal dress shirts, suits, shoes, and ties. He would even appear with the gift of a headdress in South Dakota and ride in ten gallon hat on horseback without ever shedding the full suit.
We may laugh at what seems so absurd now about these instances but our cavalier disregard for public obligations and utter callousness for what is socially appropriate is no less ridiculous today.
His boys, John and Calvin Jr., would be expected to demonstrate that same courtesy and regard for others wherever they went, whatever the occasion. They were the children of the President of the United States. To the Coolidges, this had nothing to do with the specific people who occupied the office at any given time. This was not about making the boys’ parents look good. It was about the social debt the whole family owed the Office, the people of the country, and a standard of excellence in life as a whole. They were dressed up not to impress but to serve. It was for others not for themselves or some absolute right of expression that guided their care for appearance.
The Casual Revolution has certainly transformed society but as Mr. Boyer observes at First Things, with liberation does not come fulfillment. We are finding what Coolidge knew (and was obvious to most of his generation) had merit all along. Every time my family and I go in our 20s garb to introduce Coolidge, we see the electric response dressing up still means today.
Absorbed by the shattering of anything outside the ever-expanding scope of individual rights, the weakest and smallest are being crowded out at every turn. Some insecurely attack anyone who faults one’s appearance as if it were a fascistic intrusion on one’s very being. What this rock of offense exposes is the right of the strong to trample the weak without social consequence, no guilt imputed or redress due. This says, in effect: My comfort is paramount without a thought given or needed to anyone else, anywhere. A culture that has embraced complete moral egalitarianism has arrived at the brutal destination that no one is deserving of any respect or consideration. I owe nothing to anyone, we scream, so why not advertise (by my appearance) my indifference to that fact before all the world? I am more important than both you and this occasion.
When we rediscover that each of us lives not to him or herself alone, however, but has public and private responsibilities to others, we dress not to selfishly fulfill a god of absolute personal expression, who remains blindly unconcerned about the impact of our actions or the message of our appearance. Dressing up repays that honor befitting the occasion and due humanity. We dress to meet the one debt we owe more than any other: to love one another. We dress in recognition of the God who made us all in His image and calls us out of our indifference and indulgence to empty self, as Christ did, for our neighbor.