The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site and the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of President Coolidge’s historic Oath of Office
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY REJOICE SCHERRY
On August 3, 1923 at 2:47 AM, Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as U.S. President at the Coolidge Family Estate in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. In the wake of President Warren G. Harding’s untimely passing, the Vermont-born president rose to the occasion with courage and confidence. It was the first and only time that a U.S. President has taken the oath of office in the state of Vermont to this day. The historic transition of power brought worldwide recognition to Coolidge’s fabled family homestead, which was later converted into The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site.
In celebration of the Centennial Anniversary of Coolidge’s oath, we at VERMONT Magazine reached out to Rejoice Scherry, the Regional Historic Site Administrator of the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, to provide an overview of the on-site programming during the centennial season and beyond. Both the Historic Site and its partner, the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, will be hosting events all summer to mark the Coolidge Centennial. Regardless of whether you are a native Vermonter or a traveling tourist, there’s never been a better time to enjoy an unforgettable visit to the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site!
A Historic Celebration
On the actual anniversary of President Coolidge’s oath of office (the night of August 2-3), the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site and Coolidge Foundation will host a number of events. The events are open to the public, and the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation is also bringing 100 high school students, who will learn about the President and his New England roots. “We feel it is important for young Americans from every state to learn about Coolidge,” said the Coolidge Foundation’s Director, Matt Denhart. “That’s why the Foundation is sponsoring so many young people on this trip to get to know the President and Vermont.”
On the evening of August 2, the Coolidge Foundation’s Vice-Chair, former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, will host a Coolidge Centennial Gala under a white tent in honor of President Coolidge. Following the Gala, there will be a marathon reading of the Coolidge autobiography, which will conclude at 2:47 AM. At that moment, the State and the Coolidge Foundation will mount a captivating reenactment at the exact location where President Coolidge signed the oath: the Coolidge Homestead.
According to Scherry, President Calvin Coolidge was vacationing in his hometown of Plymouth Notch on the night that President Warren G. Harding passed away in San Francisco. “It was completely unexpected. No one had planned for that kind of circumstance, so there was no federal justice to administer the oath.” Instead, the oath was administered by Coolidge’s father, John Coolidge, a respected Vermont politician who was certified as a notary public. “John Coolidge was a very interesting person,” notes Scherry. “He served in the Vermont State Government, and he was also close friends with William Stickney, the former Vermont Governor. President Coolidge was deeply influenced by watching his father’s political service as a young boy, and it inspired him to move forward with his own political aspirations.”
On the morning of August 3, the Coolidge Foundation will host a naturalization ceremony for new Americans. “Coolidge said that ‘he who holds American citizenship is the peer of kings,’, and so nothing could be more appropriate than this event,” says Amity Shlaes, who chairs the board of the Coolidge Foundation.
Rejoice Scherry adds that the reenactment serves as a reminder of the statewide, national, and global impact of President Coolidge’s legacy. It also serves as the basis of a special temporary exhibit, which will be held at the Presidential Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site throughout the 2023 season. “We’re taking what happened here in Vermont with the oath of office in 1923 and bringing it to an international scale,” says Scherry. While the main theme of the exhibit is Coolidge’s oath of office, the exhibit also focuses on how Coolidge’s transition into power compared to the ascension of other 20th-Century world leaders. “We’re going to examine Mussolini’s self-declaration, and we’re going to compare that with a Tongan Queen under the British protectorate. We’re also going to include the Emperor of Japan and the Empress of Ethiopia. We have a gorgeous, gold-and-diamond shield that her Regent gave Coolidge in 1927. It’s a magnificent artifact that represents her coronation and reflects Coolidge’s commitment to global diplomacy efforts.”
A Timeless Tour
The temporary exhibit honoring Coolidge’s oath is located in the Coolidge Museum
& Education Center, which was dedicated and opened to the public in 2010. The Coolidge Museum & Education Center serves as the main entrance and reception building for the entire historic site. It also features a museum shop and multiple permanent exhibits, including an interactive, multimedia exhibition: More than Two Words: The Life and Legacy of Calvin Coolidge. Scherry says that visitors who come to the interactive exhibit can speak into a microphone and ask a computerized hologram of Calvin Coolidge a series of fascinating questions. “It’s a fun way to explore the history on a more immersive level,” says Scherry. “There is also a series of historic objects, many of which were worn or used by President Coolidge himself.”
Although the Coolidge Homestead is well-known for serving as the site of the oath of office, it also played a pivotal role in the childhood of young Calvin Coolidge. He honed his willpower and discipline by hauling wood and tending to the animals, and he spent many afternoons at his grandparents’ nearby farmhouse. Today, the rooms are furnished in the same manner as they were in 1923. The authentically-furnished homestead perfectly sets the scene for the first reenactment on August 3 at 2:47 AM, as well as a second reenactment, featuring Coolidge reenactor Tracy Messer as Calvin, on August 3 at 2:47 PM. “Guests who come to the historic site on August 3 can witness the reenactment play out in a completely identical setting,” says Scherry. “The originality of the artifacts is astounding. There’s a level of authenticity here that is unheard of at any other Presidential site, down to the finest details. The pen that he used when he signed the oath of office is on the original table, and the original oil lamp that lit the room on that night remains in our possession, as well.”
No visit to the President Calvin Coolidge Historic Site is complete without a trip to the Plymouth Cheese factory, which was built by Colonel John Coolidge in 1890. Although the original factory ceased operation in 1934, The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation purchased the former site of the factory from the Coolidge family. As a result of their collaborative partnership with the Vermont Cheese Council, they were able to reopen the business, which now produces delicious, distinctive, granular-curd style Vermont cheese. The equipment from the original factory is now located on the second floor of the building, paying homage to the longstanding roots of the celebrated Vermont business.
“The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site is unique in the fact that guests who do not wish to book a formal tour can enjoy an experience that is very self-guided,” notes Scherry. Guests can acquaint themselves with the general history of the site by beginning their self-guided tour at the museum and visitor center, then enter into the historic village and explore on their own time. “One could decide to learn more about Florence Cilley and her friend, Ruth Aldrich, who ran the tea room and guest cottages in Plymouth Notch, or they could choose to look more at the life of President Coolidge.” As a young man, President Coolidge watched his father, John Coolidge, lead the town meetings in the Village. “He observed how people interacted and achieved compromises while building a life together, which served as the basis for all of his political accomplishments moving for- ward.”
Fun and Festivity
The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site and the Coolidge Foundation will host several additional events throughout the 2023 season. From July 2 – July 4, 100 high school students from around the country will converge in Plymouth Notch under festive white tents to debate the merits and the demerits of the Coolidge Presidency. They will compete for the Coolidge Cup, a prestigious national cup hosted by the Coolidge Foundation. Those interested in lending a helping hand can apply to serve as a citizen judge in the tournament. “If you are interested in civics, getting to know these young people and seeing them learn is an exhilarating experience - and it is the perfect way to mark the Fourth of July,” says Coolidge Foundation President Matt Denhart.
On July 4, The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic site and the Foundation will celebrate both President Coolidge’s birthday and Independence Day. Past events have included readings from the Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge by the Coolidge Foundation, cemetery services at the gravesite of President Coolidge at the Plymouth Cemetery, special exhibits by the Plymouth Historical Society, and celebratory marches led by the Vermont National Guard.
The summer’s events also include student and professional music concerts, which will be held in a large room at the Coolidge Museum & Education Center. The concerts incorporate a mixture of jazz standards and classical repertoire, and they are played using First Lady Grace Coolidge’s beautiful, antique Baldwin Piano. “It was the first piano to be flown on an airplane,” says Scherry. “It was also played by Rachmaninoff. The instrument could stand alone as its own historic artifact, but we’re letting the students play it regardless of their skill level. We like to encourage them to explore their love for music.”
On October 7, The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site will come alive at the peak of fall foliage season for the annual Plymouth Notch Antique Apple Fest. “We have hay rides, and we
have an on-site farmer who can tell stories to guests and show them around the grounds,” says Scherry. “We also have apple tastings and samplings, craft demonstrations, and musical entertainment, and the Coolidge Foundation will host a 5K.” Those who prefer walking have the option to participate in the “I Do Not Choose to Run” walk, which takes its name from Coolidge’s decision to not run in the 1928 presidential election. “It’s been very popular over the past two years, and we’re very excited for this centennial anniversary season.”
ALL THE DETAILS:
To sign up for the Gala hosted by former Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, please contact Colleen Stamos of the Coolidge Foundation at email@example.com.
Please contact Coolidge debate director Jared Rhoads at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in judging the Coolidge Cup.
Those interested in participating in the 5K should contact Jared Rhoads at
Brave Little State of Vermont
Calvin Coolidge’s ties to the Green Mountain State came full-circle with the riveting speech that he gave in Bennington in 1928 in the aftermath of a tragic flood
John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born on July 4th, 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. He lived the first four years of his life in a small cottage, which was attached to the back of a general store and post office that his father owned and operated. His family then moved across the street from the post office to a large white house, where he remained through the duration of his boyhood. This house is known to this day as the “Coolidge Homestead.”
Coolidge’s father John Calvin Coolidge, Sr. was a well-respected community figure in Plymouth who was actively involved in Vermont politics. In the early years of Coolidge’s childhood, John Sr. served in the Vermont House of Representatives (1872-1878), as well as a variety of local municipal positions. He also dabbled in an eclectic assortment of private professions that ranged from woodcutting and blacksmithing to store ownership and insurance brokerage.
Future President Coolidge was an industrious and disciplined boy who idolized the stoic nature of his stalwart and upstanding father. Throughout the course of his boyhood, Coolidge took pride in his household tasks and chores as a family farmhand. At the age of thirteen, he followed in his father’s academic footsteps and enrolled at the Black River Academy in Ludlow, Vermont.
After graduating from Black River Academy, Coolidge attended a speech given by President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 at the dedication ceremony of the Battle of Bennington Monument. Coolidge felt a sense of deep connection and admiration for President Harrison. As the words of the ceremonious speech echoed in Coolidge’s ears with resounding gravitas, his deep-seated passion for politics grew even stronger than before. He went on to pursue a career in law and rise through the ranks as a politician, using the lessons of hard work and persistence that he learned during his childhood in Vermont as fuel for his political aspirations.
Years later, Coolidge’s life came full circle when he visited Vermont as an acting U.S. President in 1928. In the aftermath of a cataclysmic flood, Coolidge left a permanent mark on the Green Mountain State’s political history with his pivotal “Brave Little State of Vermont” speech. Record rainfall in Vermont during the months of October and November of 1927 created river floods that wreaked devastating destruction in many communities across the state. While Vermonters everywhere struggled to rebuild in the aftermath of the disaster, Coolidge returned home and embarked on a statewide tour to assess the extent of the damage. In the face of heart-wrenching adversity, Coolidge managed to capture the indefatigable spirit of his home state in a stirring and poignant address he delivered to a crowd in Bennington 37 years after he heard President Harrison speak at the dedication of the Battle of Bennington Monument. In the closing remarks of his speech, Coolidge stated the following:
“I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little State of Vermont.”
Even in Vermont’s darkest hour, Coolidge knew that the citizens of his beloved home state were resilient enough to face any seemingly insurmountable challenge and emerge triumphantly. Nearly a century later, his words ring just as true as the day he first spoke them at Bennington.