PLYMOUTH NOTCH, Vt.
“Right behind us is the childhood home of President Calvin Coolidge. There’s this great event that happened right here, kind of unique in American history. We’re going to go inside and talk to Bill Jenney, the Regional Site Administrator for the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site to learn more about the events of this place,” explained Perkins.
“This was the sitting room in the Coolidge Homestead. This is where the famous oath of office was administered, the so-called “Homestead Inaugural’ on August 3, 1923,” began Jenney. “The story behind that is that Vice President Calvin Coolidge was up here for a few days that summer helping out on the family farm, visiting with his family. In the middle of the night, word came that President Warren Harding had died. Of course, we always have to have a chief of state and so they had to swear him in immediately. They called Washington and the attorney general gave the go-ahead that Calvin’s father could administer the oath of office in his capacity as a notary public.”
“A little-known fact is that when they returned to Washington shortly later, they had another ceremony with a federal judge because there was some debate as to whether Calvin’s father, a state official, could administer a federal oath,” added Jenney.
“You were telling us earlier, it was actually difficult to get ahold of Vice President Coolidge to let him know that he needed to take the oath and become president,” said Perkins.
“The only phone in town was in the general store across the road. The storekeeper had gone to bed and they were trying to ring her up and she says she didn’t hear it. So, finally, they gave up and sent word to Bridgewater, which is about six miles up the road. Someone had to come down in a car to deliver the news that Warren Harding had died,” answered Jenney.
“Of course, there were no photographers here at the time. An artist of some stature for the time, Arthur Keller came here and reproduced the scene and used other images of the cast of characters.”
“In the painting, you had pointed out that Coolidge’s hand was not on the Bible. Can you tell us about that?” asked Perkins.
“Apparently, it was not required by Vermont law to place your hand on it when you were taking an oath. I understand that was the same case down in Massachusetts, at the time. This is the Bible here, the original lamp that lit the scene and the pen that was used to sign the document,” demonstrated Jenney.
“The house was preserved almost identically from what it was that night, largely because of the Coolidge’s housekeeper. She was with the family for nearly 50 years and her name was Aurora Pierce. When you walk through the homestead now, you can literally see the tables and chairs and pots and pans in the same places they’ve been in for well over 90 years now. It’s a real time capsule of that era,” said Jenney.
“[The homestead] is part of our tour. We now have 14 buildings open to the public here at the [Coolidge] State Historic Site. This of course is one of the highlights of the tour, the Coolidge Homestead, his boyhood home. This is where he lived from the age of four up until the time he went away to college,” concluded Jenney.
At ‘This Place in History’!
For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.
To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.