This weekend, August 4 at Plymouth Notch in Vermont, will mark the ninety-fifth anniversary of Calvin Coolidge’s inauguration as the thirtieth President of the United States. It took place in the early hours of August 3, 1923 (2:47AM to be exact), as the oath of office (derived from the U.S. Constitution in Article II, section 1, clause 8) was administered by none other than the new President’s own father, John Coolidge, a notary public. Gathered around the sitting room table illuminated by kerosene lamp, father and son with Cal’s Grace, were joined – according to the Coolidges themselves – by Erwin C. Geisser (Coolidge’s stenographer), Joe McInerney (Coolidge chauffeur), William H. Crawford (there on assignment to write an article about Coolidge for Colliers), and Porter H. Dale (U.S. Representative and soon-to-be U.S. Senator by special election). Geisser, McInerney, and Crawford had all been staying together at accommodations in Bridgewater, hurrying to the Homestead as soon as they heard the news of President Harding’s death, which had taken place around 7:30pm on August 2. It seems they heard it from the Perkins’ neighbor, Clarence Blanchard, awakened by the loud ringing of the phone next door at 11:30pm. So close he could overhear the message taken down by Nellie Perkins, the operator of the Bridgewater switchboard, Mr. Blanchard rushed to Furman’s Boarding House where Geisser, McInerney, and Crawford were staying to give them the news. Waking her husband Winfred, the “telephone man” (as Colonel Coolidge dubbed him), he was the first to arrive and deliver the message to the Colonel around midnight. With no telephone hooked up at the Homestead (and Florence V. Cilley asleep in the house behind her store), Mr. Perkins had to rush the eight miles from Bridgewater to Plymouth to hand-deliver the news.
On hand but, it seems, not directly present in that room were: Aurora Pierce, the housekeeper; Bessie Pratt, her helper that summer; and, arriving with Mr. Dale, Herbert P. Thompson (American Legion commander at Springfield), Joe E. Fountain (22-year old editor of the Springfield Reporter), and Leonard Lane (presiding officer in the Railway Mail Association), who carried a pistol as part of his job and with it guarded the President and Mrs. Coolidge that night. Of course, others were near, including: Captain Dan Barney drove the taxi taken by Dale, Thompson, Lane, and Fountain; and Miss Cilley, the operator of the store across the street. The Coolidge boys – John and Calvin Jr. – were already gone back to their summer vocations (John at Camp Devens and Calvin Jr. in the fields northeast of Northampton, around Hatfield).
Artist Arthur Ignatius Keller, struck by the drama of that night’s events, later painted a depiction of that Inauguration which had unfolded around the kerosene lamp. While Mrs. Keller and Grace Coolidge sat for tea, the President posed for the artist. While the likenesses were imprecise, Coolidge would later confirm “everything in relation to the painting is correct.” The story of that simple inauguration swept across the country and contributed not only to Coolidge lore but gave a preview of the homespun style and manner the country could expect from their new President.
Old Home Day gatherings are a great New England tradition and were a familiar event in the lives of Calvin and his family growing up on the Homestead at the Notch. It was a time to return to the place of one’s upbringing for those who had moved on or to reconnect with those who had left. This Saturday, up at Plymouth, will be the 2018 Homestead Inauguration reenactment. I have been honored with a part in the day’s events. If you can make it, come out and join us. I hope to see you there!