The road seemed to go on and on as it took me through the mountains of central Vermont – the beautiful countryside had been my playground for the morning as I photographed covered bridges in the Hanover region. I finally turned my vehicle towards the community of Plymouth Notch, the birth place and the resting place of the thirtieth president of the United States – Calvin Coolidge.
After making a stop at the Calvin Coolidge Birthplace and Historic Site, I crossed Route 100A and drove a short distance on Lynds Hill Road to the Plymouth Notch Cemetery. Parking in the stone lot across from the cemetery, I could see the grave of the former president resting on the hillside next to a walkway that had been built into the hillside and led directly to his grave site. Of the presidential graves I have visited over the years, this was one of the most simple stones — only marked by the man many called “Silent Cal.” If it was not for the presidential seal at the top of the stone, I would not have realized this was the grave of a president of the United States.
Born John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. on July 4, 1872, he was the eldest of two children to John, Sr. and Victoria Coolidge. Growing up, he was called Calvin or Cal by his family. His childhood was considered uneventful. He worked on the family farm while attending a nearby school. Coolidge stood out as a student – not because of his grades, but due to his shyness.
In March 1885, at the age of twelve, Coolidge lost his mother. The loss affected him so much that for the rest of his life he carried a locket with her portrait in it. The following year, Calvin entered the Black River Academy at Ludlow, the school his parents and grandmother had attended.
In April 1890, tragedy would strike the Coolidge family again as Calvin lost his sister, Abigail, just a month before he graduated from the Black River Academy. Due to an illness, it would not be until 1891 that Coolidge entered Amherst College. It was during his time here that his oratory skills began to shine through.
Upon graduation, Coolidge returned to the family farm in Plymouth Notch as he debated his future. He decided to pursue law and wanted to go to law school but his father wanted him to study law at a law firm, which would be less expensive – Calvin began to study law with a firm located in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1897, two days before his birthday, Coolidge was admitted to the Massachusetts bar, opening his own office the following year.
During this time, he met Grace Anna Goodhue and the two were married in October 1905. Their first child, John, arrived the following year and Calvin, Jr. would arrive in April 1908.
Coolidge’s involvement in politics began in 1895. Having had an interest before, it was not until he helped Harry Field’s race for Northampton mayor that he became emerged in the political field. That same year Coolidge received his first political assignment and served as an alternative delegate to a local party convention to nominate a State senator. Coolidge had found his calling.
In 1906, Coolidge would enter into the political field. He was nominated for the Massachusetts House of Representatives and won the seat. Note: Many of the state legislatures are referred to a the “Legislature,” “State Legislature” or “General Assembly,” Massachusetts holds onto the colonial name “General Court” as a name for its legislative body.
Coolidge served two terms as a Representative to the General Court. In 1912, he returned to the General Court, this time serving as a Senator for four terms and as President of the Senate from 1914-1915. He left the Senate when he ran for Lieutenant Governor on the ticket with Samuel McCall for governor. The two won the election. Note: Unlike many states which the Lieutenant Governor presides over the state Senate, the Lieutenant Governor does not preside over the legislative body in Massachusetts.
When McCall announced he was not going to run again for governor, Coolidge ran for the office and won, serving 1919-1920. His terms in office would be a challenge with the Boston Police Strike of 1919. Coolidge expressed the view that public safety officers did not have the right to strike and his handling of the situation thrust him into the national spotlight.
In 1920 he was selected as Warren G. Harding’s running mate for the presidential election. On the evening of August 2, 1923, President Warren Harding died of a heart attack in a San Francisco hotel room. That evening, in the family homestead in Plymouth Notch, Calvin Coolidge would be sworn in as the thirtieth President of the United States by a local notary public – his own father. He would win the Republican ticket the following year and win the 1924 presidential election.
In 1924, Coolidge would suffer the loss of his son, Calvin Coolidge, Jr., his youngest son. While playing tennis with his brother of the White House grounds, sixteen-year-old Calvin jr. developed a blister on his right foot. He soon grew ill and developed a fever and began showing signs of a blood infection. Within a week, Calvin, Jr. had died of a blood infection.
Coolidge’s main focus as president was to fix the nation’s deficit. During his watch the national debt was reduced drastically while the economy boomed. Coolidge would promote his programs through the use of radio, which meant he was talking directly to the nation instead of through other politicians or newspaper editors. This talking directly to the American public through the airwaves would be adopted a couple years later by President Franklin Roosevelt to promote his New Deal Programs.
His term was marked with his push for civil rights. In 1924, he signed the Indian Citizenship Act, which gave all Native Americans the rights of American citizens. He promoted a national anti-lynching law, but Congress failed to pass any such legislation.
Coolidge was well-liked and it is believed he could have easily won the 1928 election had he chose to run. Instead he returned to Northampton, Massachusetts, where he wrote his autobiography and a syndicated newspaper column. With his wife, he toured the United States and on March 4, 1930, he dedicating the dam named in his honor.
Coolidge died of a heart attack on January 5, 1933 at the age of sixty. His body was returned to Plymouth Notch from his home in Northampton for burial. His wife, Grace, would survive until 1957 and with her death, she was buried next to her husband in the Plymouth Notch Cemetery.
I finished paying my respects to President Coolidge before carefully making my way down the stairs to the vehicle, leaving the former president to rest on the silent hillside among his family members.