Over 300 gather to mark Coolidge birthday

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(HOST) While many around the state spent this week’s holiday celebrating America’s birthday, there’s another birthday honored every July in Vermont.

VPR’s Jane Lindholm reports on the legacy of Silent Cal.

(Lindholm) Under a darkening sky, more than 300 people gathered in the hills of Plymouth Notch.

There were no floats or cheering in this parade, as Vermont’s Color Guard led the crowd down the road to the local cemetery.

It is there that President Calvin Coolidge is buried.

Each year a wreath from the White House is placed at his grave to celebrate his birthday – the 4th of July, 1872.

Coolidge presided over the Roaring 20s but he himself was a quiet man, nicknamed Silent Cal.

Coolidge biographer David Greenberg says the nickname is more aptly applied to his leadership style.

(Greenberg) “He generally is not seen as a man who was willing to put the power of the presidency behind the noble ideals that he was very capable of articulating. You know, he had these kind of Yankee Republican values: a sense of thrift, and community and self-reliance, and I think he felt that these were American values and that people would without government interference be able to develop a productive and prosperous society.”

(Lindholm) Many of the issues Coolidge faced during his six years as president will sound familiar: He was a proponent of small government and big tax cuts and believed in the power of capitalism. He signed a controversial immigration bill. And his administration had to deal with severe flooding in the Gulf Coast.

But historian Howard Coffin says there’s more to add to Coolidge’s legacy.

(Coffin) “That he spoke honestly, that the words that came from him were the words that he wrote. But above all else I think we should take from him a measured reasonable approach to the world. Stand back, have a look, determine what’s best for your country, and above all else, stay out of the affairs of the rest of the world.”

(Lindholm) Coolidge was seen as an isolationist who didn’t believe in intruding on other countries’ affairs.

Cyndy Bittinger, the director of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation says more than that he was a pacifist who worked to shrink global militaries. He hoped to end war for good.

(Bittinger) “I know, you can call it na ve. But he thought that if the countries cut back on armaments they’d be less likely to go to war. Try hard to have peace, to work together, have the nations get together. Have conferences. Doesn’t he spell it out? Peace!”

(Lindholm) Bittinger says *that’s something we could all take to heart this week.

For VPR News, I’m Jane Lindholm in Plymouth Notch.

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