Aide To Four Presidents


But he had come to the mountains to get away from people for a time; he wanted privacy and he got it. His secretariat, the press and the rest of us occupied quarters at a famous old caravansary called Paul Smith’s, while a nearby cottage was fitted out as the summer Executive Office, with direct telegraph and telephone lines to Washington. The President drove in to his office about ten o’clock every morning except Sundays and usually finished business in about an hour—signing what was prepared for his signature, scanning reports and taking away with him whatever required careful study. The job in that placid era was not the killing labor it has since become. There appeared to be no serious national problems. Business was still ticking along nicely and President Coolidge considered it his major responsibility not to rock the boat. Instead he intended to balance the budget, and to see that each branch of the Government ran its own affairs as directed by Congress.

Soon the reporters found that the monotony which had prevailed in Vermont had followed Mr. Coolidge to the Adirondacks; no one could make less news when he set his mind to it. The newsmen could find nothing at all to write about until, by pure chance, it was learned that the President fished for his trout with worms. Out of that relatively minor piece of intelligence the press managed to produce a storm of controversy all through the country between the angry advocates of fly-fishing and the defenders of the worm. Even this flurry of excitement soon played itself out, however; so that when that great showman, Al Smith, governor of New York, suddenly appeared in our midst, he was greeted with open arms by the press and corresponding chill by President Coolidge, who jealously withheld the limelight of the presidency.

The arrival of Governor Smith had particular news interest then, because he had refused to say whether he would call or not, even when reporters pointed out to him that George Washington and the governor of Massachusetts had established the precedent that when the chief executive of the United States makes a visit to one of the states of the Union, courtesy requires the governor of that state to call on him officially. Governor Smith had skilfully kept everyone guessing about what he would do and finally went to Paul Smith’s on less than 24 hours’ notice, thereby focussing public attention on the meeting of a Republican president and a potential Democratic rival at the next election.

The Smiths came on stage literally in a cloud of dust. With a squad of state police on motorcycles leading the procession, a caravan of a dozen or more cars bounced at high speed over the unpaved country roads to a sudden halt directly in front of our hotel. The squealing of brakes and the blowing of sirens and horns had an electric effect on everyone within hearing distance. Crowds rushed to the drive to see what was going on. The Governor and Mrs. Smith, a son and daughter, a delegation of in-laws, a clerical force, the governor’s own following of reporters and photographers debouched from the cars as if by signal and immediately went into action. Golf bags, fishing gear, tennis racquets and enough hand baggage to last a week were unloaded and whisked to the local yacht club house, which we learned only then had been commandeered in its entirety. The governor was immediately surrounded by his own photographers, quickly reinforced by our group, and posed for nearly an hour—swinging a golf club with more energy than skill, and displaying trout rod and tennis racquet. He did it all with enthusiasm and an infectious grin that was in marked contrast to the grave Coolidge demeanour. “How am I doin’?” he kept saying. “How’s this?”