Calvin Coolidge


August 1998

The highest point in Vermont is just two hours north of Plymouth Notch in the beautiful hill country of the Green Mountain State.  Plymouth Notch (population: 565) is where Calvin Coolidge was born and buried, although not at the same time.  Coolidge was known to be witty, although he never laughed at his own jokes, and he is famous for being taciturn.  In fact, they called him “Silent Cal.”  Years ago I visited his homestead in the Coolidge State Forest.  Hmm…  Coolidge’s home is in the Coolidge State Forest.  Lou Gehrig died of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  What are the chances of that happening!

While touring the grounds, my brother Laurence told me a story.

President Coolidge and his wife Grace attended a number of parties.  At one dinner, Dorothy Parker was seated next to Coolidge.  She turned to him and said, “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.”

Coolidge gazed at her a moment and replied, “You lose.”

Supposedly some time later, when it was announced that Coolidge had died, Parker remarked, “How can they tell?”

Actually, Laurence told me two stories.  Here’s the other one.

A senator once took Will Rogers to the White House to meet President Coolidge.  Rogers was probably the wittiest personality of early 20th century America.  The senator cautioned Rogers that the president never smiled.

Rogers took that counsel as a challenge.  Inside the Oval Office, the senator introduced the two men to each other.  “Will Rogers,” he said, “I’d like you to meet President Calvin Coolidge.”

Deadpan, as Rogers shook the President’s hand, he said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t catch the name.”

Coolidge became president upon the death of Warren Harding in 1923.  John Calvin Coolidge, Sr, a notary public and Cal’s father, administered the oath of office in the parlor of their home lit by a kerosene lamp.  (He refused to put in electricity.)  It was 2:47 in the morning.  Upon being awakened, Coolidge dressed, said a prayer and came downstairs for the rite.  Afterwards, he went back to bed.

Supposedly, Coolidge exited church one day and was approached by the usual crowd of journalists asking what the preacher talked about in his sermon.  Coolidge replied, “Sin.”

“What did the preacher say about it?” the reporters asked.

Mr Coolidge replied, “He’s against it.”

There was the time that the President and the First Lady were being shown separately around a government experimental farm.  When Mrs Coolidge came to the chicken yard, the rooster was busy going from hen to hen, mating expertly.  The First Lady asked her guide how often this occurred.  “Oh,” she was told, “dozens of times a day.”  Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President.”

When the President was told of this exchange, he asked, “Same hen every time?”

“Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.”

The President said, “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

In biology and psychology, the phenomenon of males, and to a lesser extent, females, exhibiting renewed sexual interest if introduced to new receptive sexual partners, was observed by animal behaviorist Frank Beach.  He named this response “the Coolidge effect.”

Now that Silent Cal was president, people naturally respected him and the office.  One time, Coolidge hosted some politicians for breakfast.  He poured some of his coffee and cream from his cup into his saucer.  His guests did the same thing, and waited for him to take a sip.  After a moment, the President bent down and placed his saucer on the floor for the dog.  His guests left with their saucers full.

Calvin Coolidge was a shy child, finding “comfort in animals, with whom it was possible to have a relationship without the strain of verbal communications.”  A man after my own heart.

This fondness for animals continued throughout his life and lucky him to find in his wife the same affection.

In those days of the early twentieth century, it was not uncommon for families to keep animals such as crow, woodchuck, fox, squirrel and even deer as household pets.  The Coolidges were no exception.  Animals were shipped to them from all over the world by friends, dignitaries and foreign leaders, appreciative fans and the general public.

They kept or received a variety of snakes, a baby bear, a rock bass, a badger, cats, many breeds of dogs, a raccoon, a wallaby, a pair of lion cubs, an antelope, a large white goose, a bobcat, canaries and mockingbirds, wombats, a mule, ducks and geese, a mare and a donkey.  Let us not overlook the pygmy hippo named Billy, or William Johnson Hippopotamus, given to the first family by Harvey Samuel Firestone, the tire guy.  The more unwieldy of the menagerie were given to the National Zoo.

The President enjoyed walking around the White House with Tige, an old black cat, draped round his neck.

Cal and wife Grace however favored a raccoon named Rebecca.  The press published photographs of the First Lady cuddling the critter and walking her on a leash.

Sounds like a one-day visit to the White House would yield far more wildlife sightings than we have on Mount Mansfield.  We are told there are plenty of deer, rabbit, porcupine, bear and of course, moose in these mountains.  Raptors like ravens, owls, falcons and other hawks hang here too.  Rats!  We didn’t see any.

We didn’t see any rats either.

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