Sunday, July 14, 2019

Herbert Hoover – (No. 31) – Rapidan Camp, Shenandoah Mountains, VA – June 1, 2019

President Herbert Hoover
(Source:  Smith, 2005)
Herbert Hoover shared many traits of our current president, Donald Trump.  Hoover made a load of money before he went into politics.   He had also never run for a political office before he won the presidency.  (His only previous race was for Stanford student body president which he won.)  Also, he took no salary while president.  And, he liked tariffs.

Herbert Hoover was born in 1874 into a Quaker family but his parents died young.  His father died of a heart attack when Herbert was only six.  His mother died two years later from pneumonia.  So, he was raised by aunts and uncles.  He was raised as a Quaker but said that he “didn’t work very hard at it.” (Moore, 2007).

He graduated from Stanford with a geology degree and went on to become a mining engineer.   He found a job working for a gold miner who sent him to Australia to search for gold.   His next assignment was China.  But first, Hoover returned to the states to marry his college sweetheart, Lou Henry, who had studied geology with him at Stanford. 

Then the Hoovers left for China.  While on their boat, they studied Mandarin and eventually became quite fluent.  They used it throughout their lives as a “secret” language.  The Hoovers were in China during the Boxer Rebellion in 1899 and were under bombardment for a month until American troops showed up.  While they were awaiting rescue, Hoover set up a food rationing system for the trapped Americans.  This was the start of his life of public service.

When they returned to the United States, in 1908, Hoover started his own engineering company.  He was known as the “doctor of sick mines.”  He was enterprising and thrifty—undoubtedly due to his Quaker upbringing.  And he was a great businessman.  By 1914 he was worth $4M, a hefty sum at the time (about $100M in today’s dollars).

As war clouds were forming in Europe, Hoover helped 150,000 American tourists and expats trapped in Europe, make their way home.  He used some of his own money to help them. 

Then Germany cut off the population of Belgium, a neutral country.  The Germans stole Belgium food and cut off their supply lines.  Hoover, who was living in London, agreed to coordinate food relief efforts.  He created an organization called the Commission for Relief of Belgium (CRB). He shuttled back and forth from London to Europe to coordinate the relief and even traveled to Germany to obtain their cooperation.  CRB ships were marked so that German submarines would not attack them.  Even so, a few ships were torpedoed and sunk.  When it was going at full steam, the CRB was feeding 10 million people an average of 1,800 calories a day every day for four years.  And Hoover raised money to run the organization.  Thrifty Hoover kept the overhead low and to “Hooverize” came to mean to economize.

Hoover took no salary for his work.

Once America entered the war in 1917, President Wilson asked Hoover to lead the U.S. Food Administration.  The purpose was to increase food production and decrease food demand.  Hoover instituted “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” to cut consumption.  He also encouraged citizens to grow their own food in “victory gardens.”  He did all this coincident with his leadership of the CRB. 

Upon taking office in 1921, President Harding named Hoover Secretary of Commerce.  When Harding died in 1923, President Coolidge kept Hoover in the post. 

As Secretary, Hoover helped standardize parts for various industries (automobile, electric lights, etc.) which helped with the mass production that firms were using.  For example, it was Hoover who came up with a standard paper size of 8-1/2” x 11”. 

During the disastrous Mississippi River flood of 1927, he coordinated the flood relief across six states. He also promoted the development of inland waterways such as the Columbia River, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Colorado River. 

But Coolidge grew to dislike Hoover; he called him “Wonder Boy.”  Coolidge said of Hoover:  “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years.  All of it bad” (Moore, 2007).

When Coolidge declined to run in 1928, Hoover became the Republican candidate.  Given the Roaring 20s economy, Hoover had a huge advantage.  Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic candidate was also handicapped because he was a Catholic; he was thought by some to be more loyal to the Pope than to the United States.  On election day, Hoover buried Smith with 440 electoral votes to 87 for Smith.  The popular vote total was 21.5 million versus 15 million.  Hoover became the first president born west of the Mississippi River.

In his inauguration speech on March 4, 1929, Hoover declared that “I have no fear for the future of this country.  It is bright with hope”  (Moore, 2007) 

That didn’t last long.

At first the stock market continued to rise due to unregulated speculation.  It hit 380 in August 1929.  That would be the highest the market would reach until 1955.

But the economy was slowing.   Purchasing was slowing down and unsold inventories were piling up—tripling in one year.  With demand cooling, industrial production slowed.  Producers cut prices to encourage buyers.  But that just encouraged people to delay purchases in hopes of lower prices.  (Ironically, Hoover had gone into his presidency wanting to fight inflation.)

Businesses began to lay off workers, slowly at first, then in buckets.  Between 1929 and 1933 unemployment would rise from 3.2 to a jaw dropping 24.9 percent.

In the countryside, unsold agricultural inventories were piling up.  In June 1929, Hoover signed the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 to give limited aid (i.e., loans) to farmers.  The Federal government also funded a Wheat Stabilization Corporation and a Cotton Stabilization Corporation to help prop up prices.  But this only led to over production and the corporations’ funds were rapidly spent. 

On October 29, the stock market crashed—16 million shares were sold.  By the end of October, $16B in market value had evaporated. 

Hoover took the bully pulpit and attempted to browbeat industry into continued economic prosperity.  He brought rail executives together in November 1929 and asked them to continue their construction activities.  He also met with other big industrial leaders and asked them to avoid layoffs and keep wages up.  He also asked businesses not to cut payrolls or reduce production.  He asked governors and mayors to keep up public works and created a bureau to coordinate this.  He met with labor leaders and asked them to avoid pushing for wage increases. 

He asked Congress to fund large public spending projects which by November 1929 had risen to the highest level in five years ($423M).  By 1930, Congress had spent $100M but that had only provided jobs to 4.5 million workers.

The Federal Reserve did the opposite of what was needed.  They tightened monetary policy which added pressure on the banking industry which was disincentivized from making loans.  Banks began to fail.  For example, in Utah 32 of 105 banks failed.  In 1931, the Bank of the United States closed.

During the 1920s, the Republicans had favored high tariffs.  But that was now straining the fragile economy.  But the President and Congress kept pushing them.  In June 1930, Congress passed a tariff bill known as the Hawley-Smoot Bill.  It was the wrong move at the wrong time.  Other countries retaliated and put their own tariffs in place.  More than one thousand members of the American Economic Association signed a letter opposing tariffs.  Within two years, imports had dropped 40 percent. 

And unemployment kept rising.  It reached 16 percent in 1931 and reached 30 percent in 1921.  Blacks, in particular, were especially hard hit.  In Pittsburgh: 38 percent of the unemployed were African American even thought they were only 8 percent of the population.  And in Chicago, blacks made up 16% of the unemployed even though they were only 4% of population.

But Treasury Secretary Paul Mellon wasn’t concerned because he wanted to wring the excesses out of the economy. The Federal government unwisely tried to balance the budget and continued to maintain the gold standard, both of which removed liquidity from the stagnant economy.

But when the mid-term elections of 1930 came around, the voters remained hopeful that the Republicans could pull the country out of its tailspin.  Voters gave more seats to Republicans in the House and maintained the status quo of Republican control in the Senate.

Europe was sharing America’s economic woes with a steep economic downturn of their own.  Some countries went off the gold standard and devalued their currencies.  But the currency devaluation reduced their ability to buy U.S. goods adding to the economic pressure on the U.S.  To help Europe, Hoover pushed for a moratorium on German WWI debt.  But France did not support this, and German banks began to collapse in July 1931.

In 1932, Congress passed, and Hoover signed, a tax increase bill (Revenue Act of 1932) which raised the top rate from about mid-20 percent to 63 percent.  It was yet another wrong move.

But Hoover did create the Reconstruction Finance Corps in 1932 to loan money to banks and industry.

Overall, Hoover was taking an increasing share of the blame for the economic depression.   (It was actually Hoover who came up with term “depression”; previously they had been called “panics” (McElvanie, 1984)).  The shacks built by the homeless became known as “Hoover Hotels.”  Groups of shacks were a “Hooverville.”  A “Hoover Flag” was empty pants pockets turned inside out. 

In the summer of 1932, things got worse.

Between ten and twenty thousand jobless veterans gathered in Washington, DC to demand an immediate bonus for their service rather than have to wait until the date that Congress authorized the payment: 1945.   The so called “Bonus Army” set up a makeshift camp in Anacostia Flats, within sight of the U.S. Capitol.  President Hoover was opposed to paying the bonuses and called on the Army to remove the vets.  The Army assigned future WWII generals, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton to the task. They used tanks, gas masks and fixed bayonets to rout the vets.  Then they burned the camp.  Hoover said,  “Thank God we still have a government…that knows how to deal with a mob” (Smith, 2005).  When Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic presidential nominee, heard about the debacle, he crowed, “This elects me” (Moore, 2007).

* * *

It took us a while to visit President Herbert Hoover. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to, it’s that we couldn’t.

We didn’t want to travel to his birthplace in Iowa — a great decision because he moved to Oregon by age 10. Instead, we found his Summer White House, Rapidan Camp, in nearby Shenandoah Valley, VA. Rapidan, named for the nearby Rapidan River, was Hoover’s Summer White House.

But Rapidan is closed in the winter and doesn’t open until “late spring.” This year, late spring meant the beginning of meteorological summer, or June. That’s because ice storms pounded Shenandoah National Park last winter and kept Skyline Drive — the only public road in the park — closed for four months. The National Park Service got part of the road open only at the end of March. That delayed things.

However, it was worth the wait.

We drove a little more than two hours from our home in Kensington, MD through farmlands and forests to Shenandoah for our 2 p.m. tour. We had a quick stop for lunch at scenic Skyland, eating outside on the patio with beautiful views of the mountains and trees. 

We met “Ranger Ginny” (Browne), a retired schoolteacher, and our 12-person tour group 10 miles down the road at the Harry F. Byrd Visitors Center at Big Meadows.

Ginny started talking to our 12-person group about five minutes before we were to set off on our journey …. And didn’t stop talking.   She warned, “Now I tend to talk a lot.  So, if you have a question, there won’t be a natural place to jump in.  You’ll just need to cut me off.”

She was full of information about Hoover’s life and his presidency. This is not a “here’s the president’s dining room table” tour.  She told us, “He is not the J. Edgar Hoover, nor is he related to him.  He’s also not the vacuum cleaner guy—although he would have appreciated that technology.”

We drove about 20 minutes in a small shuttle over a super-bumpy gravel road, through the wide-open Big Meadow and down into the shady forest.

She cautioned, “We pass bears all the time.  You’ll only see their butts since they’re bent over foraging for food.  They look like tree stumps.  I’m convinced we pass bears all the time.”

While Cathy looked out for bears and listened to Ranger Ginny discuss the founding of Rapidan, Tom somehow took a nap.

When Hoover was elected president, he wanted a place he could escape to since he loved the outdoors and was an avid fisherman. He wanted his escape to be in the mountains, close to Washington, with good trout fishing. So, his aides drew a 100-mile radius around Washington on a map and found the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of which park activists were trying to turn into a national park.   

Hoover sent his secretary to scout locations. With his own money, the new president bought 164 acres at $5 per acre and said he would donate it to the U.S. for the future use of presidents, as part of the national park.
At first, the camp, built by the Marines, was just five tents on platforms and was called — un-imaginatively — “Five Tents.” The site is near the confluence of the Laurel and Mill creeks, which create the Rapidan River.

Hoover, the fisherman.
Hoover went fishing that first summer of 1929 and had lots of guests. But Hoover and Lou quickly realized that they needed to upgrade since they were spending so much time at the camp and their guests were too important to house in tents. So, the Marines built cabins that included electricity, hot and cold running water, flush toilets, and phones.

The camp, which grew to 13 buildings, a Marine camp and a Cabinet camp — used by Cabinet members who spent their weekends working at Rapidan during the Great Depression —  is now down to three, with one used to house seasonal workers. The other two are open to visitors.

The two cabins are nestled in the woods along a stream that was created by the Marines so that Hoover could enjoy the sound of the water from his cabin. 

The first cabin we visited was the Prime Minister’s Cottage, named for British Prime Minister Ramsey McDonald, who was the camp’s first real guest in 1929. Prime Minister McDonald traveled to the U.S. to meet with Hoover because he was concerned that European countries were rebuilding their Navies in defiance of the post-World War I agreement.

Hoover met McDonald and his daughter Isabel (another building at the camp had been named after her) at the White House portico and told them he was taking them to Rapidan. McDonald had to borrow Hoover’s clothes for the outdoorsy weekend.

Cathy enjoying the porch off
the Prime Minister's cabin.
The cabin is small with several rooms housing exhibits about Hoover’s presidency, the camp and the park.

Next up was the Brown House, home of Hoover and his wife, Lou.

But first, a note. The Shenandoah is a national park. In this case, that means lots of trees and rocks and …. animals.  As we approached the Hoovers’ house, Ranger Ginny stopped and said, “I have to let you know that we have snakes that hang out here.” 

“They look like copperheads,” but they’re northern water snakes. They’re “aggressive” but not venomous, she continued.

While Tom was thrilled with this news, Cathy was not.

A big, fat northern water snake.
And lo and behold, 10 seconds later someone pointed out what looked like a thick tree branch, was rather a big, fat snake. 

After that, we followed Ginny’s advice and stayed in the middle of the path and did not stray.

The Brown House is a traditional cabin with dark wood floors and walls and a lovely, wide deck wrapping around three-fourths of the house and big, open rooms. The deck is perfect for sitting and reading, contemplating nature, or (our favorite) taking a nap.  

Lou enclosed the screened-in porch in the front and made it her office area — it has a beautiful view of the trees and stream and is the best room in the cabin (in our opinion).

The Brown House
There are big open areas to the left and in front, with stone fireplaces and comfortable chairs, rocking chairs and sofas for sitting and chatting or reading. 

To the right are the bedrooms. They are spare but do have built-in bookshelves. Originally it was one bedroom with twin beds. The Hoovers added another bedroom for Lou in case Hoover was working. He didn’t think it was fair to disturb her sleep if he had to stay up late.

Ranger Ginny showing us the porch of
the Brown House.
In the bedroom is a photo of men tossing a big ball over what looks like a volleyball net.  This is “Hooverball,” invented by Hoover and his White House physician, Joel Boone.  It consisted of tossing a 7-8 pound medicine ball over a net spanning a tennis court.  Hoover was a big believer in physical fitness and believed your mind needed exercise before you could work.  Hoover played the game with his cabinet members before work. (The game is still played during Hoover’s Hometown Days every August in his hometown of West Branch, IW.)

In 1932, FDR beat Hoover by 7 million votes.  During the transition, the country continued to suffer but FDR didn’t offer to help the outgoing administration.  He wanted the country to continue to go downhill so Hoover would get more blame (Shlaes, 2007). 

When Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, he visited Rapidan. But since he was in a wheelchair, and Rapidan is not very accessible, he couldn’t use it. But he liked the concept, so he created another version in Western Maryland, which was called Shangri-La until the 1950s, when Dwight D. Eisenhower renamed it for his grandson, David. Since then, it has been known as Camp David.


Rapidan Camp is located in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, about 70 miles from Washington, DC.  Reservations must be made in advance to visit the camp.  Tickets for the 2.5 hour tour can be purchased on this website: or by phone:  540-999-3500 x3283.   Tickets are $10.  Children 12 and under are free.


Current, Richard N., Williams, T. Harry, Freidel, Frank.  1975.  American History:  A Survey, Fourth Edition, Volume II:  Since 1865.  Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Ernsberger, Jr., Richard.  2014.  The ‘Man of Force’ Who Saved Belgium.  American History.  Pp. 35-43.

McElvanie, Robert S.  1984.  The Great Depression: America 1929-1941.  Times Books.  New York, New York.

Moore, Kathryn.  2007.  The American President.  Fall River Press.  New York, New York.

Shlaes, Amity.  2007.  The Forgotten Man:  A New History of the Great Depression.  Harper Perennial.  New York, NY.

Shlaes, Amity.  2013.  Coolidge.  Harper Perennial.  New York, NY.

Smith, C.  2005. Presidents:  Every Question Answered.  Smithsonian Metro Books.  New York, NY.


History Channel.  2005.  The Presidents:  The Lives and Legacies of the 43 Leaders of the United States.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Calvin Coolidge - (No. 30) – Plymouth Notch, VT - Oct 6, 2018

Calvin Coolidge (No. 30) – Plymouth Notch, VT
October 6, 2018

Silent Cal (source:  wikipedia)
We visited Plymouth Notch, the village where President Calvin Coolidge was raised, at the beginning of October.  The tiny Vermont village is nestled in hills near the Green Mountains,. Unfortunately, the weather felt more like November than the beginning of October. It was overcast and mid-50s with a blustery wind. The buildings weren’t heated beyond space heaters, and we didn’t bring enough clothing.  We never got warm.
However, the area was beautiful with the hills covered in autumn reds, yellows, browns and greens.  Another plus: It was the weekend of the Plymouth Notch Antique Apple Fest, which meant a day full of extra activities and tasty treats. We got to sample pies, apples and cheeses, and saw some demonstrations scheduled especially for the event.

We found it appropriate that we had no cell phone service anywhere in or around Plymouth Notch.  While cities all over the country had installed newfangled amenities such as indoor plumbing and electricity by the 1920s, the village had not. When Coolidge became vice president, the village had to string a temporary telephone wire from the general store to the Coolidge house so Coolidge could stay in touch with Washington, DC.
* * *
Coolidge was the polar opposite of his predecessor, Warren Harding.  While Harding was handsome and sonorous, a contemporary journalist, called Coolidge “an inconspicuous, sour-faced man with a reputation for saying as little as possible and never jeopardizing his political position by being betrayed into a false move .“  (Lewis, 1931).  Lewis also called Coolidge a “pale and diffident Vermonter with a hatchet face, sandy hair, tight lips.  And to top it off, Coolidge had a high-pitched, nasal voice.

Harding was gregarious, while Coolidge was introverted.  At a dinner party, a woman seated next to Coolidge made a bet that she could get him to say more than two words.  Coolidge replied, “You lose.”  And that was the end of that.  Coolidge was so silent, he earned the nickname, “Silent Cal.”  His stingy use of words  made people kind of crazy and they tended to avoid social situations with him.  Edward Lowry, a journalist, called Coolidge “a politician who does not, who will not, who seemingly cannot talk.” (Shales, 2013).

While Harding liked to drink (he had big stash of alcohol in the White House), Coolidge respected Prohibition and avoided alcohol. 

While Harding’s administration was astoundingly corrupt, Coolidge’s was honest—once he cleaned up the bad actors from the Teapot Dome and other scandals.  Coolidge believed that power corrupted and he never accepted inappropriate gifts.  In fact, money was of little interest to Coolidge.  He was “thrifty to the point of harshness.” (Shales, 2013).

And while Harding liked to live big, Coolidge believed in hard work and frugal living. Coolidge’s presidential staff was issued one pencil at a time and was expected to use it all the way to the nub.   According to Shales ( 2013  ), “Those who did not use their pencils to the end were expected to return the stub.” He also cut the number of federal workers by about 100,000. 

Coolidge got his frugality from his father, Col. John Coolidge. That meant that the family used a “two-hole
Two hole privy in the
Coolidge home.
privy” even though flush toilets were being used by then. (Even President Rutherford B. Hayes had indoor plumbing in his house by 1880!.)  The Colonel also did not believe in modern day contraptions. As we mentioned, Plymouth Notch had to string a temporary phone wire so that Coolidge could be in touch with Washington when he visited.  The new phone sat on a chair in the “Oath of Office” room at the Coolidge homestead, and the Colonel promptly removed it to the porch once his son headed south to the nation’s capital.
Plymouth Notch was one of 17 tiny communities surrounding the town of Plymouth. The population of the area, including those communities, totaled 1,200. Three still exist — Plymouth Notch, Plymouth Union and Tyson — with a total population of 600.  In the 1920s, Plymouth Notch consisted of five families. 

Plymouth Notch, VT
The entire village has been preserved as it existed in the 1920s as a National Historic Landmark known as the Calvin Coolidge Homestead District. It’s preserved by the state of Vermont, which the Coolidge family specifically asked for because of their love of Vermont and Coolidge’s belief in limited federal government.
The village consists basically of two small roads and fewer than two dozen buildings. In the 1920’s, Plymouth Notch was self-sufficient and was home to the five families, a church, one-room schoolhouse, barns, cheese factory, a tavern / stagecoach depot, and a general store, which doubled as a post office. 

The historic site’s visitors center is only about five years old. It is fairly big, with an open area full of seating — rocking chairs and comfy couches.  We watched a 14-minute video about Coolidge and the town. 
Besides the main open area, the visitor’s center houses two big rooms full of memorabilia. One room features information about Coolidge’s Summer White Houses, while the other is about his presidency. It also has
Cathy questions Coolidge at the
vistiors center.
several interactive exhibits, including one where visitors stand at a lectern and ask the president questions (from a list), with a video of Coolidge answering. Cathy asked him what his biggest accomplishments were. He said it was keeping the country at peace, prosperity, and lack of turmoil.

We learned that Coolidge was the first president to light the national Christmas tree and appropriately, the tree was a Vermont fir fitted with electric lights.

The Coolidge family. 
Calvin Jr. is on the left.
(no copyright infringement intended)
We also learned that the Coolidge’s lost their oldest son, Calvin Jr., in the summer of 1924.  Only 16 years old, Calvin, Jr. played in a tennis game wearing shoes without socks.  He developed a blister that quickly became infected with staph.  His temperature shot up to 102 degrees.  Within a week he was dead. 

And we learned about “Thunderbolt.”  Thunderbolt was Coolidge’s 475 pound mahogany electric horse that he kept in the White House bedroom and rode for exercise. (He didn’t talk about Thunderbolt much.)
Coolidge had once been a progressive.  In 1915, while he was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, he cast the deciding vote against showing the racist film “Birth of a Nation” in Boston.  But he changed once he became governor of Vermont.

When faced with a police strike in Boston in 1919, he called the state guard  to replace them, effectively firing the police. “The action of the police in leaving their posts of duty is not a strike.  It is a desertion,” he said.  He sent a telegram to Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, that read, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”  And the public supported Coolidge. 

Once in the White House, Coolidge was determined to follow Harding’s path of “normalcy,” a term denoting that the country should get back to business after the calamitous Great War.  This meant low taxes, tariffs and less government.  Regarding tariffs, Coolidge said, “My observation of protection is that it has been successful in practice.”

He also worked hard on reducing the nation’s lingering Great War debt; after the war the debt rose nine times to $27 billion.  Coolidge managed to cut the debt to $18 billion by the time he left office in 1929.  He had a surplus budget every year he was in office. “I regard a good budget as among the noblest monuments of virtue,” he said.

He also pushed for a smaller government and vetoed 50 bills while in office including the Bonus Bill that would have given money to veterans.   He also vetoed a farm subsidy bill that would have aided farmers hurt by tariffs.  “It is impossible to provide by law an assured success for those who engage in farming, he said.  (But Congress did end up providing a credit to the farmers.)

Coolidge continued Harding’s restrictions on immigration and signed a bill restricting immigration—including the exclusion of Japanese.  He did support immigration for those who would easily assimilate into the country.  Immigrants had to learn English and become familiar with American life. 

Coolidge was also able to achieve something that Woodrow Wilson had not.  He got Congress to ratify the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, a Great War-ending treaty that renounced “war as an instrument of national policy” (Lewis, 1931).  Congress ratified the treaty 85-1.

Coolidge was a progressive on race relations. “During the war 500,000 colored men and boys were called up under the draft, not one of whom sought to evade it,“ he noted.  He also wanted Congress to act against the lynchings that were rampant in the South (Shales, 2013).

And Coolidge was kind.  While staying at the Willard Hotel as vice president,  he once woke in the middle of the night to find a burglar in his room going through his belongings.  He gave the burglar a $32 loan and helped him escape the Willard and avoid the Secret Service agents guarding him.

It was Coolidge who appointed John Edgar Hoover (a.k.a. J Edgar Hoover) as chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Hoover would stay in office until he died in 1972.

Coolidge’s Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon—the third richest person in the United States—came up with the concept of “Scientific Taxation,” lowering tax rates to stimulate more economic activity and more revenue. “Taxes…force everyone to work for a certain part of his time for the government,” Coolidge said.  “I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves.”  He said that “the chief business of the American people is business.”  He worked with Congress to cut the top individual tax rate by 25 percent.

And it seemed to work.  The unemployment rate went down to 3.5%.  And the stock market eventually rose to the sky.  The Federal Reserve lowered the discount rate from 4 to 3.5 percent and added fuel to the fiery mania.  Mining output soared almost 250 percent.  Railway services also rose nearly 200 percent.  (It should be noted that both Mellon and Coolidge had some conflicts.  Mellon was said to still be very involved with Wall Street and Coolidge bought stocks while president.)

* * *

We were famished after our two-hour drive from the Albany airport, so we headed to the Wilder House.  This is an1830s era building that served as a tavern and stagecoach stop.  We ate modest but tasty turkey sandwiches and some hot tea in a room with a fireplace and about 16 wooden tables.

Coolidge family home.
Later, volunteer Cathy Jacob, a retired schoolteacher, greeted us at the barn of the family home.  She told us about the Coolidge family and some of the farming items displayed inside. 
She told us that Coolidge’s father, or Col. John, as he is known, wore many hats in town and was self-sufficient. He made his own tools, farmed his own land, and opened a cheese factory. If he needed a carriage, he built a carriage. When the family moved from the back of the General Store to a new house, he needed a barn. So he built one.

The Colonel taught young Calvin this self-sufficiency and hard work, traits that continued throughout the president’s life. As a boy, Calvin was up at 4 a.m. cutting wood for the fire. He needed a sap yoke for gathering maple sap, so he made one, Ms. Jacob explained. 

We explored the first floor of the house, where all the rooms were protected behind glass. The highlight of the tour is the Oath of Office room. 

Harding died on Aug. 2, 1923 at 7:30 p.m. in California, which was 10:30 p.m. on the East Coast.  A call was made to the Colonel’s home but nobody answered the phone.  It took until the dark hours of the morning for someone to drive from Bridgewater, six or seven miles away, to alert Coolidge that he was now the president. 

Oath of office room at the Coolidge
family home.
Since the Colonel was a notary, he figured he was the best person to swear in Coolidge, which he did by the light of a kerosene lamp.  The kerosene lamp and the pen Coolidge used to sign the oath rest on a small table.  When someone asked the Colonel how Calvin would do as president, he replied, “He’ll do fairly well.”

We later asked Ms. Jacob what she thought of Coolidge.  She called him a “very ethical man.” She pointed out that he was also frugal in life and balanced the federal budget.  She also noted that Coolidge cleaned up corruption in the Harding administration and fired the bad actors.

* * *

In 1924, Coolidge ran for his own term.  The Republicans Party came up with mottos such as “Brass tacks and common sense.”  They also printed up cards that showed an electric fan and read “Keep cool with Coolidge.” 

Coolidge ran against John Davis, the Democratic candidate as well as Independent Progressive Party candidate, Robert La Follette.  La Follette was legendary in Tom’s home state of Wisconsin, where he was known as “Fighting Bob La Follett.”  He ran on a platform of high taxes on the wealthy as well as public ownership of railroads.  But Coolidge beat them both.  He won 382 electoral votes while Davis won 136.  La Follette carried only Wisconsin.

Coolidge’s first full term was known for “Coolidge Prosperity” and the “Roaring 20s”.  Everyone wanted to be modern.  Car ownership grew from 6.7 million in 1919 to 23.1 million in 1929.  And there was a radio in every third home. 

Tests of endurance were common.  The most well-known was Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic in a single propeller plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.  He flew for 33 straight hours without sleep.  The dance marathon craze also began in the 20s, with couples dancing for days to win prize money. 

The modern look for women was thin.  “Flappers” would wear long-waisted dresses, with short or no sleeves.  She had short hair and some makeup.  She held a cigarette in one hand (cigarette consumption doubled between 1919 and 1930)  and a drink in the other (Lewis, 1931).

The bull market kept rising—and everyone wanted in.  By 1927, margin accounts had risen to $3.6 billion and securities had gotten complicated.  According to Lewis (1931),“supersalesmen of securities were selling…shares of investment trusts which held stock in holding companies which owned the stock of banks which had affiliates which in turn controlled holding companies…”

And, even though Prohibition was in full swing, the liquor continued to flow.  Essentially Prohibition meant that people could consume alcohol but they were prohibited from making it or selling it.  Eight-five percent of sitting Congressmen drank (Tagatz, 2018).

People drank in “speakeasies” most of which were not as interesting as in the movies. People would go in, buy a drink and get out fast (Tagatz, 2018).

Eighty-five percent of the liquor came across Canadian border, mostly in Detroit.  Smugglers used fast cars and speedboats to bring in the liquor.  As the Feds got wiser, so did the smugglers.  They put false gas tanks in cars and filled them with alcohol.  They even used hearses to bring liquor over in caskets—with and without bodies.  When the Feds started checking for bodies, the smugglers included bottles in the caskets along with the bodies.  Three funeral homes rented bodies. (Tagatz, 2018)

There were not nearly enough prohibition agents to control the liquor, with a little over 2,800 by 1930.   And these agents were not adequately trained and were susceptible to corruption.  The government estimated that they were only stopping five percent of the liquor. 

People branched out into other forms of alcohol.  They got doctors to prescribe medicines with alcohol.  Walgreen’s had 20 pharmacies in 1917 and by the end of Prohibition, it had 500.  And people created forms of alcohol that were not safe;  10,000 people died from alcohol poisoning (Tagatz, 2018).   

One reason for Prohibition was to reduce crime but instead it “exploded.”  Chicago had 91 gangs alone. Al Capone, the king of the gangsters, got most of his money from smuggling beer and liquor.  The weapons of choice were machine guns and bombs, with 157 bombs exploding in Chicago alone 1927 and 1929 (Tagatz, 2018).

* * *
The Union Christian Church.  The
Coolidges sat in the first pew on the left.

After the Coolidge homestead, we visited the Union Christian Church, where we discovered pies.  Back in the 20s, Coolidge and his family walked across the road to the wooden church.  They sat in the second row on the left side. (An American flag on the left marks the row.)   

The tasty pies.
Because it was the Apple Fest, we discovered Anne Collins, author of “Vintage Pies,” standing at a table in the church discussing some of the discoveries she made while researching old-time recipes. And we showed up just in time for her samples. She had three pies to choose from: The boiled cider pie — which is just what it says it is — you boil down cider for about a day to turn it into a jelly for the filling; the Marlboro Pie, which is from the 1700s and is basically an apple and egg custard, with some sherry thrown in; and the pork apple pie, which she said was Coolidge’s favorite. This is a basic apple pie, but bakers back then used pork fat instead of butter for the coagulant during tough times to save money. The boiled cider pie was very sweet, and the pork apple pie was tasty. Near the end of her sample, Cathy could taste the pork, though.

* * *

By the end of his last term, Coolidge was overwhelmed by events including the twin floods of  1927.  The first in the spring, was the largest Mississippi River flood in recorded history.  More than 200 people died, and hundreds of thousands of mostly African American citizens lost their homes. But Coolidge didn’t see a role for the Federal government.  He said that “The federal departments have no funds for relief” (Shales, 2013).  Coolidge didn’t even visit the devastated area.   Ironically, in November of that year, massive floods hit his home state and dozens of people perished.  Again, he resisted federal intervention.  But he was pressed to provide funding both by Vice President Herbert Hoover and by Congress.  He eventually did sign the Flood Control Act of 1928 giving the Corps of Engineers the authority and funds to try to tame the mighty Mississippi River.  It was the biggest expenditure since the Great War, and deficit cutting was over.

Constructing Mount Rushmore.
(no copyright infringement intended)
In South Dakota in1928 Coolidge set up his final Summer White House.  While there, he was  involved in the beginning of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  It was to be a monument to the presidents that would last until eternity.  Coolidge met with the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.  Borglum wanted Coolidge to write the inscription for the tablet, but he never got around to it.  However, he did give the dedication speech. 

On August 2, 1928 he called reporters together in Rapid City, SD.  He handed slips of papers to reporters that stated:  “I do not choose to run for President in nineteen twenty eight.”  He made no speech and would not comment. 

The public was shocked.
* * *

We also visited some sheep, including one forlorn sheep on display that had just donated a coat full  of wool. Wow, they are furry creatures. You have no idea how much wool one sheep can produce until you see the pile
Cathy offers sympathy to
shorn sheep.
after a sheep shearing.  We wanted to put the wool back on the sheep to keep it warm.

The General Store also operates as the post office, and Coolidge’s Summer White House was created in the dance hall above it. It’s a big, open area, perfect for dancing, and includes four desks. It was serviceable, since it could hold many staffers, but isn’t exactly the Oval Office.

We can thank the town’s residents for the preservation of Plymouth Notch. They realized the need in the summer of 1924, when Coolidge visited for a 12-day vacation and established the Summer White House there. Swarming the town were thousands of reporters, 18 Secret Service agents and gawkers, all of who discussed the very small-town nature of the community.  (The village was so busy for those 12 days that the postmaster, who averaged $50 a summer, earned $1,500 during the period, since she was paid based on postage sold.)

Interestingly, the church was not originally preserved by the state with the rest of the village, because it was still operating as a church and state officials abided by the Constitution’s separation of church and state. Even now, the church is owned by the Coolidge Foundation, while the rest of the village is run by the state.
* * *

Coolidge left office in 1929 and retired to Plymouth Notch with his beloved wife, Grace  He spent his final days working on his property, walking the hills, and writing his autobiography and newspaper articles.

As he lived his life, he died his death.  A heart attack claimed him on January 5, 1933.   At his request, he had a short funeral with no eulogy and a service that lasted only 22 minutes. 

He rests in the cemetery of Plymouth Notch in his beloved state of Vermont.  He once said: “Vermont is the state I love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield and Equinox without being moved. It was here that I saw the first light of day; here that I received my bride.  Here my dead lie buried, pillowed among the everlasting hills.  I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate.”

* * *

When we left for the day, Tom asked the woman manning the visitor’s desk what she thought of Coolidge.  She replied, “I’m so busy at this point that I don’t have time to think about  Calvin Coolidge.”  A terse, candid answer that he would have appreciated.


Plymouth Notch is located approximately two-hours from either Albany, NY or Manchester, VT.  Admission is $10 for adults and $2 for children.  The grounds are open from May until the end of October.


Allen, Frederick Lewis.  1931.  Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s.  Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 

Shales, Amity.  2013.  Coolidge.  Harper Perennial.  New York, NY.

Tagatz, Robert.  2018.  Resident historian lecture at Grand Hotel, Mackinaw Island, MI.  July 9, 2018


History Channel.  2005.  The Presidents:  The Lives and Legacies of the 43 Leaders of the United States.