Doggone it!

A recent post at sheds a long overdue light on scientific research into the importance of dogs in politics. If only Mitt Romney had known about this earlier! And now we know one more reason why Calvin Coolidge often was seen accompanied by dogs – the clever Vermonter must have known about the payoff in popularity even then.

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Anniversary of Calvin Coolidge’s passing

HEADSTONE

Calvin Coolidge, by reputation the quietest of presidents, quietly passed away on January 5, 1933 – 80 years ago this Saturday. In last year’s post on this date, I quoted one of his biographers on the events of that morning. The following quote is how Mrs. Coolidge’s biographer tells it:

Mrs. Coolidge returned from her morning’s shopping shortly after noon on January 5, 1933. The Beeches [the Coolidge’s house in Northampton] was coated in ice. The trees were gaunt with winter hoar. She went upstairs to summon her husband for lunch and found that he was dead. He lay on his back in his shirt sleeves in his dressing-room and his face had a peaceful expression. She knelt beside him and saw at once that he was gone. She ran down to the landing and called to Harry Ross, Mr. Coolidge’s secretary: “My husband is dead.”¬† […]

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Remembering Grace Goodhue Coolidge

Grace Coolidge with presidential pet Rob Roy in 1926

Grace Coolidge with presidential pet Rob Roy in 1926

 

Today, January 3, we remember the birthday of beloved First Lady Grace Anna (Goodhue) Coolidge.

Movie scriptwriters could scarcely have imagined a cuter scenario of her meeting her future husband Calvin: while watering flowers outside the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts, one day in 1903, she happened to look up at the open window of Robert N. Weir’s boardinghouse and caught a glimpse of Calvin Coolidge shaving in front of a mirror with nothing on but long underwear and a hat. She burst out laughing at the sight; he heard the noise and turned to look at her. It was their first meeting, and he was smitten. After a more formal introduction sometime later, the two were quickly attracted to each other.

From all accounts, theirs was a happy marriage, joining two people with very different personalities. It can’t always have been easy to be with the taciturn, dry Calvin, but for all his kidding, some of it at her expense, the 30th president well knew what a treasure he had in her, and affirmed as much in his autobiography, “for almost a quarter of a century she has borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces.”

Grace¬†was a much beloved First Lady, whose personality was a contrast to her husband’s often dour persona. Her life was not untouched by tragedy – she lost her younger son, Calvin Jr. when he was only 16, and she survived her husband’s untimely early passing by 24 years, staying largely out of the public limelight.

Rebecca the White House Raccoon

Rebecca the Raccoon, with friend

 

Too cute to eat? The Coolidges were known as an animal-friendly family, but White House personnel wasn’t too pleased with one particular pet of Calvin and Grace’s, for it constantly tore up clothing, particularly the First Lady’s silk stockings. This little rascal was a raccoon named Rebecca, and she was, as raccoons go, fairly well behaved, as the president stated in one of his press conferences.

Originally a Thanksgiving present for the Coolidges, intended as dinner by the Peruvian diplomat who made the gift, the Coolidges could not bring themselves to eat her but rather had a comfy tree house built for her on the White House grounds. The omnivorous animal had her meals – preferably eggs, chicken, and cream- in a White House bathroom. “In the bathtub, with just some water and a bar of soap to play with, she could amuse herself for hours,” wrote Grace Coolidge.

His daily work done, president Coolidge enjoyed a walk with Rebecca on a leash. But after the adventurous animal managed to sneak out a few times for a bit of sightseeing, the Coolidges feared for her safety and gave her to the Washington Zoo.

Changing of the guard, 1929 style

The excellent Ghosts of DC blog has posted for your viewing pleasure a charming little silent movie of the 1929 inauguration of Herbert Hoover. While I’m not a great fan of the 31st president, this little gem of a newsreel has some nice shots of his predecessor Calvin Coolidge and Coolidge’s wife Grace – and it closes with a sweet vignette of the Coolidges waving Washington, D.C. goodbye from the back of a train; they’re very obviously happy to be departing and the ex-president has an uncharacteristically big smile on his face to match that of the former First Lady.

A Coolidge Easter pictorial

The White House grounds were opened to throngs of children for the Easter Egg Roll in 1927 – the president did not take part in the rolling, but waved to his young visitors from a safe distance:

Mrs. Coolidge delighted the crowd by displaying her pet raccoon. Apparently, though, the raccoon failed to displace the Easter Bunny as a seasonal mascot:

A well-dressed couple, the Coolidges attended Easter Sunday services in 1927 (all photos from the digital archives of the Library of Congress):

Another (Double) Coolidge First

While I did remark in an earlier post on Grace Goodhue Coolidge being the first “Greek lettered” First Lady, who proudly wore her Pi Beta Phi pin while being painted by Howard Christie Chandler for the official White House portrait, this excellent post on Fran Becque’s fraternity/sorority-themed blog gives a lot more detail and is highly recommended.

Random Coolidge picture

After a flurry of more or less relevant posts this past week, I’ll take it easy this weekend, just chilling comfortably on the porch in my wicker chair… wait, I have a picture showing president and Mrs. Coolidge doing just that:

Calvin and Grace Coolidge on the White House porch

Best laid plans

Cover of Col. Starling's memoirs

In the memoirs of Col. Edmund W Starling, there is a most poignant episode that illustrates how very much Calvin Coolidge looked forward to his retirement from the presidency. The story, while difficult or impossible to corroborate, has an authentic ring to it, and it is true that Coolidge and Starling got along very well. Starling recounts how Coolidge phoned him late on the night before the Hoover inauguration on March 4, 1929 – Starling had been busy all day with the security arrangements. The two of them had talked previously about Starling leaving the Secret Service and coming to work for (and travel with), and Coolidge wanted to talk over their plans. “How about starting now? Let’s get a map up here and mark out our trip.” In a room that had already been stripped bare of everything but the bed, the two chairs, and a small, low table at the foot of the bed. The two co-conspirators began mapping out the route from Northampton – first, to the Brule River, for trout fishing, then on to the State Game Lodge in the Black Hills, where Coolidge had loved to vacation. Starling continued, “Glacier National Park ought to be next. We’ll go to Shelby, Montana, to get there. Then we can go to the salmon country in Washington and Oregon.” “I want to get some of those salmon,” Coolidge put in. “Then we’ll go down the Redwood Trail and up to Yosemite. They have rainbow trout there as big as your leg.”

The First Lady came in softly, looking over Starling’s shoulder for a look at the map. “That’s going to be a wonderful trip,” she said. “Promise you’ll bring me back something.” Starling recalls that her face had a soft, almost ethereal loveliness. “She’s glad to be getting out of here,” he thought. “And so is he.” According to Starling’s memoirs, it was 2:30 when he bid the president goodnight.

Having seen the Coolidges off on the train to Northampton following the inaugural, Starling began to serve Coolidge’s successor Herbert Hoover but didn’t warm to the man. Somehow the planned trip with Coolidge never came to pass, and one morning in January 1933 the clerk at the Willard Hotel where Starling roomed handed him a letter postmarked “Northampton, Massachusetts, January 2, 8:30 p.m., 1933.” It was from Calvin Coolidge. Starling noted that the writing seemed less firm than usual. The letter read:

Dear Colonel Starling:We have heard you were in Kentucky. I suppose it is your annual visit. No doubt you found it was very lovely. Nevertheless I venture to offer the greetings of the season and hope the change did you good. A card came from someone I suppose was the lame paper boy at the corner. Please thank him. I do not have his address. I find I am more and more worn out. I am sorry for anyone in office these days. Yours, Calvin Coolidge.

The next afternoon the papers carried the news of his death. As Starling recounts:

I left the following morning for Northampton. When I arrived at the Coolidge residence, The Beeches, I met Ted Clark, the little fellow’s [Starlings nickname for Coolidge] private secretary, and Frank Stearns. I told them I had come as a friend, not as advance man for the President. As we were talking Mrs. Coolidge called downstairs and said, “Don’t I hear Colonel Starling’s voice? Please tell him to come upstairs!” She met me with arms outstretched. Putting her head on my shoulder she wept. “Oh, why didn’t I write you to come and live with us?” she said. “I shall never forgive myself for not writing and letting you know how much he needed you. He wanted you so much, but he always said, “The President comes first. I am only a private citizen.” But if I had written to you and you had come this would not have happened.” (end quote)