As I Knew Them – Part III

When we last left Sen. James E. Watson’s memoirs, he was rhapsodizing about the effect Coolidge’s first message to Congress had on him, and how he recognized the new president’s performance as impressive and perfectly suited to the needs of the country at the time. For this installment, I’ll turn to a more light-hearted anecdote from the Coolidge White House.

Speaking of breakfast, I may say in this connection that President Coolidge served better breakfasts than any other incumbent of the White House in my time. He always had a cereal, cakes with Vermont maple syrup, sausage and bacon, all served up with a good strong coffee and thick cream. He served more breakfasts than any other president and usually had from eight to ten senators at a time, and on other occasions a certain number of the House of Representatives.

I had a very laughable experience at one of these breakfasts. The President permitted his favorite dogs, white collies about as high as the table, to stay in the room while meals were being served. On this particular occasion, one of these dogs came up to my side, and I patted his head and stroked him, after which I looked around to speak to my neighbor on the left. Instantly the dog reached over and “lapped” my two sausages out of my plate, gobbled them up, and demurely stood wagging his tail for more. When I called attention to it, all the senators roared. I told the President that I thought he ought to teach his dogs better manners than to forage off the senators, and that they ought to get their food from the members of the House instead.

The President, without batting an eye, said: “Waiter, get Senator Watson four more sausages and bring him four more pancakes,” so that the dog did not keep me from getting enough food at that meal.

When only a small company were present at dinner, these dogs always came in and wandered about and under the table while the meal was in progress. The President took sugar in his coffee, and after the contents had been consumed, he always held the cup down at the side of his chair and permitted the dogs to lick the sugar out of the bottom.

Will Rogers, after having had one of these meals with Coolidge, told his audience in the theater that night in his inimitable way of the experience. He said that the dogs got so much and there was so little on the table that he thought for time that it would be necessary for him to get down on all fours and crawl up to the President’s side in order to get enough to eat. This produced great laughter, that part that referred to “the little on the table” vastly amusing the crowd because of its inferential reference to Coolidge’s vigorously abstemious habits.

Coolidge Dam

Coolidge Dam construction photo, May 1928 (digital collection of the Library of Congress)

Of all the edifices erected in honor of that most unassuming of presidents, Calvin Coolidge (there are not too many), none are more impressive than Coolidge Dam. Constructed between 1927 and 1929, and dedicated March 4, 1930, the dam is located on Arizona’s Gila river and stores its water for use by the San Carlos Irrigation Project (Gila River Indian Reservation). The original intent was to address the water needs of the Pima and Maricopa native Americans on the Gila River Reservation as well as the neighboring Anglo American communities – and to solve the conflict between those groups over water reserves. It should be noted that the water needs of the native American Pima “Indians” were only considered when they coincided with those of “white” settlers. Commenting at the dedication of the dam, satirist Will Rogers pointedly quipped that “you folks got this dam built by using the Indians as an alibi.”

In December of 1923, Arizona Senator Ralph Cameron introduced a bill to “continue construction of the San Carlos Federal Irrigation Project” which was passed unanimously by the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The Arizona delegation, perhaps unsure of president Coolidge’s support for the project, presented the bill as authorization for the construction of Coolidge Dam, and the president signed the legislation into law on June 7, 1924.

Coolidge Dam was the first water storage facility ever built using a so-called multiple dome design. It is unique in that its design employs a variation on the successive arch design. Three large domes, anchored by two buttresses, stand at approx. 250 feet, impounding the Gila river for 23 miles when full. The design team consisted of Chief Engineer W.M. Reed, his successor Herbert W. Clotts, and Charles R. Olberg, Assistant Chief Irrigation Engineer, all of the Indian Irrigation Service. Because of several novel elements and processes used to construct the dam, it was completed one year ahead of schedule.

The dedication ceremony was held March 4, 1930. In attendance were former president Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Arizona Governor John C. Phillips, California Lieutenant Governor H.L. Carnahan, Edgar B. Merritt, Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and satirist Will Rogers, along with approx. 3,000 spectators who witnessed the smoking of the peace pipe between the Apaches and Pimas and heard speeches by Coolidge and Rogers. The dam and hydroelectric power plant are still in use today.

There is fine set of recent photos published on Al Levenson’s “A Year on the Road”  BLOG.