30. John Calvin Coolidge Jr.

  • Birthplace, boyhood home and inauguration site: Coolidge State Historic Site, Plymouth Notch, Vermont
  • Grave: Old Notch cemetery, Plymouth Notch, Vermont

Calvin and Slob (August 29, 2009)

Something there is about Calvin Coolidge. We all do nothing, but Coolidge made a name of it. Given the nigh impossible task of following the amazing Warren Harding, he became a hero to small-government conservatives and mediocre to everyone else.

Whatever your thoughts on our 30th president, they begin at Plymouth Notch, Vermont, a town frozen in 1923. Harding had just had some bad seafood, or a heart attack, or faked his death to run away with his mistress. Whatever the reason, a vacationing Calvin Coolidge was rousted at his family home, and at around 2:47 a.m. on August 3 he took the oath of office. From his dad. In their living room:

Then at 2:48 a.m., they laminated the entire town for historical preservation. The Coolidge site is about Calvin, for sure, but it's also about a way of life. Coolidge was a bit skeptical about how much government should be doing for the people, and if you spend a few hours in Plymouth Notch you can see why. People there did everything themselves.

Colonel John (Coolidge's dad) was able to administer the oath because he was a public notary. He was a notary because he was also, at times, the de facto post office for Plymouth. He operated the post office because he also ran the general store. Which was across the street from his farmhouse, which was down the street from his cheese factory. The days aren't longer in Vermont, but they apparently didn't waste any part of them with stupid things like "play" or "sleep," instead preferring to build stuff and milk cows.

Young Calvin came into this life on July 4, 1872, in a room behind the general store, where the family was living at the time. Here's a transcript of the tour, offered by a very nice older lady who sits on the general store porch in a rocking chair in between tours: "That's where he was born." They honor Yankee stoicism by practicing it. God bless Vermont.

From there it's across the street to the farmhouse the family moved to a few years later; it's one of those multi-functional New England dealies where the barn is attached to the house, so all your earthly possessions can smell like animals. That's why they need all those Yankee Candles, people. There's a spare bedroom (with a quilt made by Coolidge!) that was also used as a jail when Colonel John's public duties required it; there's the parlor, the "oath of office" room and the laundry room; but most important, there's the privy, a two-seater that was the only sanitary facility in the house until 1932. In an era of running water and electricity, Our vacationing vice president would have been wiping with catalogs by candlelight when he stopped in to see the family. That's a man who won't care for government handouts, right there.

As an adult he made his home in Western Massachusetts (he was a country lawyer), but Plymouth Notch always figured in his life. It's neat to see it as it was. Take a look:

The General Store. The birthplace is the brown building attached at the back. This would have been the center of town life, in that early 20th century town life revolved around hard candy. On the second floor there's a "meeting hall" -- basically an open room with a little stage in the corner where the Plymouth Old-Time Dance Orchestra (all relations or friends of Coolidge) could set up. In 1924, Coolidge's son died from an infected blister developed on the White House tennis court; doctors ordered the grief-stricken president on vacation, and so he set up shop in Plymouth Notch for a few weeks. The summer of 1924, the executive branch ran out of a room over top of a general store. Probably because it had the only working phone in town.

The Plymouth Cheese Factory. Colonel John got together with a few of the local farmers and opened up a cheese factory, because they had cows and everybody needs a hobby. They made granular curd cheese, because years of market research have proved that most people like granules in their cheese. Yum! It hasn't been in continuous operation, but the cheese factory is currently open for business, with a nice big picture window so you can watch the magic happen. Up top they have a mini-musuem which includes some of the original equipment installed by Colonel John and friends. Try the gouda, it's delicious.

The tool shed and church. The shed was the property of the Coolidge family; since they were jacks of all trades, they needed a place to keep their gear. It's an Old Yankee Workshop. The church was the property of God, although it's possible that given enough time, Vermont farmers would have found a way to do his work as well. The Coolidges had a family pew toward the front.

Throw in the carriage museum down the street and you get a really nice idea of the lifestyle and the work involved. That probably tells you more about Calvin that Wikipedia ever could. Once you wrap up in Plymouth Notch, it's just a minute down the road to Notch Cemetery and the final resting place of Now Very Silent Cal.

He's at end of a row of Coolidges, not the center. Aside from the presidential seal, it's about as simple as a marker can be. Nice. FUN COOLIDGE FACTS!

  • Though famously tight-lipped, Coolidge gave an unprecedented number of press conferences. Most of them were about cheese.
  • The only president born on the Fourth of July.
  • He was the governor of Massachusetts, proving that New England Republicans are not actually mythological beasts.
  • As the story goes, a young lady at a White House dinner confessed to Coolidge that a friend bet she couldn't get three words out of Coolidge. His response: "Security! Kill!"

One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2013, Chris White