Aide To Four Presidents
February 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 2
The sea was never kind to Calvin Coolidge. The morning we embarked at Key West we had a high wind and choppy sea instead of the dead calm which usually holds through the early morning. To get from the tug to the Texas we all had to choose our time to cross a rather insecure gangplank, for when the two vessels rolled in opposite directions there was risk that the plank might be pulled away from the Texas ’ deck in spite of holding lines. Mrs. Coolidge skipped across without help and without the slightest hesitation; but Calvin balked. After several false starts he crossed at just the wrong moment and caused us all deep concern until he was safely over. After that all was plain sailing.
As we neared shore the ship performed a spectacular feat of seamanship by holding her speed until it looked as if she would surely pile aground, backed full just in time, let go the anchor, out booms and boats all in one smart evolution. A roar of applause went up from the waterfront, which was black with people crowded all along the mole and thick as flies on every house top. “Dear, dear,” said Mr. Hughes, “this is discouraging for the statesman who works for years trying to make friends and along comes the Navy and carries off all the honors.” “Oh, I can’t agree,” I said, “I’ve been ashore in uniform in this city when they’d spit at you in the street and there was constant risk of being mobbed. I think they are not cheering the Navy but, rather, your new policies.” “How very profound,” said Mr. Hughes, wagging his beard and looking at me as if he were seeing me for the first time. “I hope you’re right. I do hope you’re right.”
President Coolidge returned home with the firm conviction that he had well served a good cause. The press, at home and abroad, sang his praises. For a time he was friendly and smiling with everyone. It even seemed to me that for a few days after his return to Washington, he walked with a slight swagger.
Mr. Coolidge had been a faithful custodian of his office and residence. He knew the history of the White House, the gossip of the easygoing, mint julep days of U. S. Grant, and particularly of Harding and his poker parties and the Teapot Dome scandal. He was determined that there should be no critical gossip about any of his household. He would not allow his son John, when home on vacation from college, to entertain any of his friends or even to accept invitations to parties lest it lead to stories of a White House clique as had happened in many previous administrations. We felt that he would not allow Mrs. Coolidge to have her friends feel free to visit her for the same reason. None of the previous Presidents whose portraits look gravely down from the walls of reception rooms and halls ever tried more faithfully to preserve the prestige of the presidency. And now the thirtieth President was about to leave; if only the party convention at Chicago, rushing to nominate Mr. Hoover, had taken time to say in some way to the man who did not choose to run, “well done,” I think he would have been content.
By the morning of March 4, all of the Coolidge belongings had been shipped to Northampton except the overnight bags. Mrs. Coolidge had conducted Mrs. Hoover on a tour of inspection from basement to attic. They agreed there were not enough closets just as Mrs. Eisenhower and Mrs. Truman are said to have agreed recently. Immediately after the Hoover inauguration, Colonel Latrobe (who had succeeded Cheney as Military Aide) and I escorted Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge directly from the steps of the Capitol to a private car at the Union Station. They did not stop at the White House. Mr. Coolidge was pale, drawn, and emotionally upset. He seemed to us almost on the point of collapse. We said good-bye. It must have seemed strange for them at first to be left to themselves after so many years of being attended by a retinue wherever they went. I don’t know why there were none of his Cabinet or others at the station to see them off. I suppose he wanted it that way. I never saw Mr. Coolidge again.
When the Hoovers moved in there was no hushed reverence—they came with a host of relatives and friends, smiling and excited. There was a great deal of rushing in and out. Many stayed for buffet lunch—more than were expected. In poured a whole group of strange faces for the guards and ushers to identify, some without proper credentials, and in the confusion an uninvited crackpot got through, entered the dining room and accosted the President. Fortunately the intruder was harmless and was hustled out in short order. For the Hoovers it was a disturbing incident that shouldn’t have happened, and there was a great to-do the next morning to fix responsibility. The law gives it to the Secret Service, but these officers have no real authority over the footmen and ushers, nor over the Park Police who surround the White House. The Military Aide had no authority over any of them but was responsible only for seeing that the servants were properly organized and did their jobs as directed by the housekeeper, and he was liaison with the War Department in case of threatened riot or disorder. There was some pretty fast footwork by all accused of being to blame, until someone suggested Colonel Latrobe, who of course was with me at the railroad station at the time, seeing the Coolidges off. Latrobe was a comparative newcomer whom Coolidge had brought with him from the Black Hills; he had never been on duty in Washington before and found all the ceremony very silly. Nobody likes to be made the fall guy, but I think when he was found to blame he was secretly pleased to get out of Washington.