- Historic Sites
Aide To Four Presidents
February 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 2
On board the Mayflower we would have little preparation to make except to check that all was shipshape, to order a huge supply of flowers from the White House greenhouse and large quantities of food. On sailing day we would give everything a final polish, and get our stores aboard, including a supply of newspapers, magazines, and books. Then we would single up the lines to the dock, and be ready to get under way the moment the President stepped aboard. Sailing was generally at eleven thirty, but by eleven we would all be on deck in dress uniform, the crew manning the rail, band and Marine Guard paraded clear of the gangway, sideboys within hail, stewards on the dock ready to bring baggage on board for the passengers. The commandant of the Navy Yard would come on the dock with a supporting cast of reporters, photographers, and a group of curious onlookers. The guests would then begin to arrive. Members of the Cabinet receive the honors prescribed by Navy Regulations: attention on the bugle, the side piped, ruffles and the appropriate march, guard at present arms, sideboys and all hands at salute. Most wives are visibly pleased and excited by this demonstration of their husband’s importance. Most husbands pretend to be bored, but are secretly delighted. I would shake hands with the guests at the gangway, escort them aft and turn them over to a junior officer to be shown their rooms. All guests then assembled on the spacious afterdeck to await the arrival of President and Mrs. Coolidge. When we got word from the Navy Yard gate that the President’s cars had passed through, ship’s company would jump to stations and, as the cars drew alongside, would render full presidential honors—except that the 21-gun salute was usually dispensed with. The presidential flag would then be broken at the main truck, the gangway hauled aboard, lines cast off, and the Mayflower would steam majestically down river, graceful as a swan. The President would walk aft to greet his guests and sit with them for a time on deck, where all could see the shore lines unfold and the beautiful outline of the city of Washington fade away astern.
A most important incident of the departure ceremony was always the arrival of the head steward on deck with the President’s yachting cap. This had been purchased by Captain Adolphus Andrews, my predecessor, at Brooks Brothers, a smart and expensive outfitter which Mr. Coolidge had never patronized—he visited a modest tailor and was scandalized to learn that Andrews would pay $150 for a suit of clothes. It was a well-designed, plain yachting cap with simple black visor, but the best that money could buy. Mr. Coolidge was very much pleased with it and wore it on deck at all times. When it was first presented by Andrews with the assurance that it was just what the President should wear, Mr. Coolidge was delighted and told a story. He’d always had a fondness for hats. He remembered distinctly how in his early days, a poor boy in a wealthy college, he saw a straw hat in a store window that he coveted greatly, but could not afford. He started to save enough to buy it, and watched the window for many days in fear that someone else would get it before his savings were enough, but no one did, the price was reduced, and Calvin bought the hat and enjoyed it all his college days. As in this case, Mr. Coolidge’s anecdotes were pitched at a rather low key.
Because the Mayflower dining saloon was below decks, the President usually delayed luncheon and kept his guests on deck until after we had passed Mount Vernon. Thus they could take part in the ceremonies prescribed by the Navy for all American ships passing Washington’s tomb—parading the guard, attention on the bugle, tolling the ship’s bell, all hands at salute. The simplicity of Mount Vernon as seen from the river, the fine sweep of the shore line at that point, the emotional effect of the ceremony will not be forgotten by many who have cruised on the Mayflower .
After quite a hearty tea, when conversation would begin to lag, Mrs. Coolidge generally announced that it was time to dress for dinner. Sometimes I was invited for dinner but more often not, as I had responsibilities on the bridge. I would say to the President that, if he approved I would anchor for the night off Piney Point at the mouth of the Potomac. He always said, “Very well,” as I knew he would, for that was the routine he liked. Then, quite early, he would go to bed, as would most of the guests. The ship then set a security watch and the Secret Service would keep close guard at the presidential cabin door. All enjoyed the sea breezes and all except the watch standers would have a good night’s rest.