Today marks an obscure but interesting anniversary for President Coolidge’s eldest son, John. Mr. Ehrmann over at The American Spectator has a fascinating piece about the occasion drawing from both familiar and new information on the Coolidge family. The degrees of separation between John and Bruce Willis are closer than they appear.
President and Mrs. Coolidge spent the Christmas of 1928 with H. E. Coffin and his wife on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Here is Coolidge as he goes hunting, first for deer and then for wild fowl with Mr. Coffin and Colonel Latrobe. The video, with sound, begins and ends with beautiful singing by the party accompanying the hunters on ox carts.
Originally considered as the location of the “summer White House” that year, Swannanoa Country Club, near Afton, became the site for the President’s and Mrs. Coolidge’s Thanksgiving stay in late November through early December 1928. Decked out in his ten gallon hat, presented to him by South Dakotans the summer of ’27, with his green mackinaw jacket given to him that summer by the people of Wisconsin, completed with a pair of hunting breeches and high-laced boots, Coolidge is ready for the next round of trapshooting.
Here Coolidge is back in Swannanoa from an unsuccessful quail hunt outside Stuarts Draft on December 1, trapshooting 19 out of 25 traps. It was on his way back from hunting that he noticed a young lady struggling under a heavy load as she walked up a steep hill. He ordered his driver to stop and the Secret Service accompanying him to offer the car, asking whether they could drive her wherever she needed to go. The young lady was so petrified that she ran down a side road and “escaped” the President’s kind gesture.
Nevertheless, the stay was enjoyed by both Coolidges and would eventually lead to his proposal the following year to set aside a country retreat for future Presidents that enabled them to escape from the world of Washington and, out in nature, reconnect to America and reality. While Swannanoa was suggested, President Coolidge chose a location closer to Washington and thus less costly to maintain, the hill country of Bluemont, fifty-five miles southeast of the nation’s capital.
Hoover dissatisfied with the limited fly-fishing prospects did not enjoy the site. As Mr. Carthon Davis notes in his fascinating piece on Coolidge’s stay here, neither did FDR, who selected a new spot in the Catochin Mountains of Maryland dubbed “Shangri-la,” renamed ten years later, “Camp David.” As Davis observes, however, it all started with the successful visit to this beautiful state in 1928, with Coolidge among the quail, traps and hospitality of Virginians.