The absent-minded Ambassador

From left: Charles Lindbergh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Elisabeth Morrow, Dwight Morrow. Taken in early 1931

Still engrossed as I am reading about Dwight W. Morrow, friend and Amherst classmate of Calvin Coolidge’s, I also found irresistible a couple of anecdotes about Morrow’s alleged absent-mindedness culled from the pages of The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section (vintage 1926):

One story, quite often related, discloses our new Ambassador to Mexico in the Grand Central Station in a deep and restless study, interrupted by an occasional search into his pockets. An acquaintance asked him if he had lost his ticket. “Worse than that,” the financier said, “I have forgotten where I was going.”

On another occasion, while pacing up and down during an earnest conversation with a distinguished businessman seated in his office, he is reported to have absently used the visitor’s bald head to knock the ashes from his pipe.

He is known to have stepped into an elevator of an uptown hotel and to have directed the operator to take him to the Bankers Trust Company.

Mr. Morrow left office one morning to catch a train. A few hours later he called his secretary in New York over the long-distance phone. “Springer,” said he, “why am I in Philadelphia?”  His secretary’s voice showed anguish. “You should have gone to Princeton, sir, to make a speech,” he replied. Mr. Morrow got to the college on time, but he barely made it.

Then there’s the story often retold within J. P. Morgan of Morrow riding a train. When the conductor asked for his ticket, Morrow couldn’t find it and restlessly searched every one of his pockets when all the time the ticket was clenched between his teeth. “I bet you thought I didn’t know it was there,” he said to the conductor. “Actually, I was just chewing off the date.”

And once, while taking a bath, he called out to his valet for a soap that lathered better – the problem turned out not to be the soap but the fact that he was still wearing his pajamas at the time.

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I would like to give Morrow’s old friend Calvin Coolidge the last word on these episodes. In his foreword to a 1930 campaign biography of Morrow, he writes:

It is said of him by the flippant that he thinks of others so much and of himself so little that when he takes a train he does not always know where he is going. But he never started for anything when he did not reach his destination. He always arrives.

2 thoughts on “The absent-minded Ambassador

  1. It may be you will want to read Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters Volume I 1930 -1939. It covers the time he was writing the Dwight Morrow bio. I believe he regarded that book as his least successful effort. Mrs. Morrow was a hovering presence dictating what could be said of her late husband. However, the fact that Morrow was a fascinating man comes through. When Morrow was sent to Mexico as our Ambassador, President Coolidge gave him a very simple charge: “Keep us out of war.” He did. Thereby, Coolidge passed up an opportunity to be one of our truly great presidents. There were similar missed opportunities in the 1920s.

    • Jim, thank you for the recommendation! I’ll try to get ahold of the Nicolson Diaries. And I understand you mean it as a compliment that Coolidge passed up the chance to be a “truly great” president in the sense of being a wartime president.

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