(Host) Much has been made of Calvin Coolidge’s humble beginnings and Spartan life on his family farm in Plymouth Notch. But as the country’s thirtieth president, Coolidge was the recipient of scores of lavish gifts from everyone from world leaders to school children. Now, the Coolidge Historic Site has put on display some of items Coolidge receive during his presidency.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) For a man accustomed to the simple life of a Vermont farmer, some of the gifts he received must have seemed excessive to Coolidge. For example the leader of Absynnia, now Ethiopia, presented the president with the ornate ceremonial shield on display at the Coolidge museum.
(William Jenney) “It’s a rather nice example of Afro-Islamic art. It’s cast in beaten gold and it has 32 diamonds on it. One can only imagine what Coolidge, this frugal Vermonter, thought when he was presented with something like that.”
(Zind) William Jenney is the administrator of the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site. The title of this year’s exhibit at the Coolidge Birthplace and Museum is “Hail to the Chief.” On display are dozens of unusual gifts Coolidge received during his presidency. Some are priceless gifts of state, like a beautiful finely pierced ivory box from India. Others were given to the president by grateful citizens and organizations.
(Jenney) “In this case here are different collections, some baseball memorabilia, 14-carat gold season passes that were given to the president by the New York Giants. The box of fishing flies was given to him by the Bug House of America in Butte, Montana. This is a new piece to the collection, this flashlight….”
(Zind) There’s a touch of presidential recycling in some gifts: a gavel made of wood from Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois home, a brick from Benjamin Franklin’s home.
On display for the first time ever is the suit coat Coolidge wore for his 1925 inauguration. Jenney says the suit was discovered only recently:
(Jenney) “It was very important because Calvin Coolidge’s clothing is quite rare. When he died in January of 1933, his wife Grace Coolidge gave away most of his clothing and took out all of the identification from it.”
(Zind) Jenny says when Coolidge did chores on his Vermont farm, though, he was accustomed to wearing a simple frock over his work clothes. That changed when Coolidge took office:
(Jenney) “When he became president, the press thought that that was a made up costume to reflect his humble beginnings. And so in revenge, he decided to wear a three-piece suit doing everything. So that’s why as president, you see him haying in a three-piece suit and fishing in a three-piece suit.”
(Zind) Jenney says the Coolidge sense of humor was lost on many people who saw the president’s dressing up for farm chores as an indication that he was a distant and formal president. The Coolidge State Historic Site is open daily through October.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Plymouth Notch.