On Pranks & Purpose

The Coolidges encountering bears at Yellowstone, accompanied by the tall Colonel “Ed” Starling. Photo credit: Wyoming Tales and Trails

Colonel Starling, President Coolidge’s Secret Service agent, once remembered:

“He [Coolidge] was not particularly proud of being President; he hated arrogance and conceit in all its forms. It was as if he were a small boy whose daydream of being king had suddenly been made real by the stroke of a magic wand. He would almost tiptoe around, touching things and half smiling to himself. In his high shoes and his great galluses he was an odd sight in the White House corridors.

“Sometimes he [the President] would try to sneak out the East or the West entrance, just to fool me. Everyone on the staff cooperated with me and tipped me off, so I was always able to catch him. One day I turned the tables on him and hid in the police box on the East side. He came out of the engine room, up the East steps, and passed right by me. I fell into position behind him. When he reached the gate he turned around with a look of glee on his face, thinking he had at last eluded me.

‘Good morning, Mr. President,’ I said.

He turned and headed for F Street without saying a word.

Guess you wonder why I like to window shop,’ he said one day. ‘It takes me away from my work and rests my mind.’

“His appetite for pranks was insatiable. In the afternoon we sometimes left for our walk from the Executive Offices. If the mood suited him he would press the buzzer which notified everyone that he was on his way to the White House. Then, while ushers, policemen, doormen, and elevator operators were rushing about getting things ready and snapping to attention, we would stroll out West Executive Avenue and leave them…

“He never smiled when he was telling a joke or making a witty remark…

“The serious side of his job he performed so ably that the staff in the Executive Offices soon relaxed. Rudolph Forster was able to lead a normal life again. He had been busy all through the Harding years, for Harding had trouble with details and paper work, and Rudolph had to work overtime.

‘The little fellow wades into it like Wilson,’ he said. ‘He knows what he is doing and what he wants to do. He doesn’t do anyone else’s work either. He’ll be all right at this job. He does a lot of thinking, and he looks a long way ahead…’ ”

Happy April First!

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