(Host) Vermont summers are short, but memories of the warm season are long. This month, VPR commentators reflect on the importance of the past – in our series “Summer Times.” Here’s commentator Alan Boye taking a summer stroll into the past at the Calvin Coolidge Homestead.
(Boye) The golden sun of summer shines on the antique buildings of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. I am walking in a tiny rural village that remains virtually unchanged since that summer night, 80 years ago this month, when native Vermonter Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as president of the United States.
I walk down a tiny street. A few trees shade the half dozen buildings that have been preserved as a part of the President Calvin Coolidge State Historical Site. Tucked up against the street on one side – and open to fields of pristine grasses and wildflowers on the other – sits Coolidge’s boyhood home.
Vermont’s future president was born here on the 4th of July 1872. He grew up in this quiet tiny Vermont village during the last years of the nineteenth century. Every summer, after he rushed through his chores chopping firewood and tending to the animals, the young Calvin Coolidge fished the near-by waters of Tinker Brook and Great Roaring Brook and the Black River.
At 19 he moved away from Vermont and started his long and distinguished political career, but for the rest of his life he returned to his Plymouth Notch home as frequently as he could.
During the summer of 1920, the Republican party nominated the 49 year old Calvin Coolidge as its vice-presidential candidate. The next January when Warren Harding was sworn in as President, Calvin Coolidge became Vice President.
I step inside the house. Despite the hot, August day the interior of the house is cool and inviting. To my left is a small room with a bay window. This is the room where one August, long ago, history was made.
During the summer of 1923 Vice President Coolidge was staying here at his boyhood home. On the night of August 2, he was awakened to the sound of his father’s trembling voice calling his name. The house had no phone, but the switchboard operator over in Bridgewater had just delivered the gravest of messages: an hour earlier President Harding had died of a heart attack.
Coolidge quickly dressed. His stenographer typed the oath of office onto a slip of paper. A small group of people which included his wife and his chauffeur gathered in this room. A few moths fluttered about the single kerosene lamp that lit the scene.
Coolidge’s father – who had for years been a justice of the peace in the town Plymouth – read from the slip of paper and administered the oath of office to the 30th President of the United States.
The folksy image of that summer’s night captured the imagination of the country.
I gaze into the comfortable little room. In a corner is a photograph of young Calvin Coolidge and his sister at a picnic. They sit amid the abundant fields of an ageless Vermont summer.
This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.
Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College. He spoke from the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury.