Lamplight Inauguration


Joe Fountain approached Colonel John, who stood by the table gazing fixedly into space, and said, “Thank you, Sir!” The elderly man nodded and said, “Good night, Sir!”Joe hurried through the door and out to the big auto, where two of his three companions waited. Congressman Dale had elected to spend the night at the Coolidge house, sharing the spare room with Geiser and McInerney. With the scoop of his lifetime well in mind, Joe Fountain was anxious to get back to his newspaper shop at Springfield without tarrying in any of the sleeping villages en route. He didn’t dare take a chance of spreading the news by using the party-line telephones or any of the exchange “centrals.” Once at his desk in Springfield he began sending out his story over the long-distance wires.

It was none too early. Within four hours Plymouth Notch was swarming with reporters and several hundred other citizens. By seven thirty entire open fields were being converted into impromptu parking lots, and local dairy herds, on their way to dewy pastures, crossed the roads at their peril.

The President left to his wife the task of breaking the news to their two sons, John, seventeen, and Calvin, Junior, fifteen. Both were “working the summer” on a tobacco farm down in Connecticut. A companion was shortly to remark to John, “If my father was President of the United States I wouldn’t be here thumbing these damn tobacco worms.”

“If your father were my father,” young Coolidge answered, “you’d be doing just what we’re doing.”

The President and his wife breakfasted in the homestead kitchen at about 7 A.M. Miss Pierce, the housekeeper, was a mite disappointed because the couple didn’t do any particular justice to the rather special breakfast she had cooked. Also she was less than happily surprised when “Mister Calvin” overlooked the huge pot of hot water she had purposefully readied for his morning shave. He had again washed his face in cold water and apparently shaved without soap, even though a fresh cake waited on the washstand in the back hall. But a good neighbor, Mrs. Amy Stout, pointed out the obvious fact that “Mister Calvin” was having a mighty busy morning of it, the more so because he and “Miz Grace” were obliged to take the 9:15 train out of Rutland for Washington.

And anybody could see that people were swarming around like bees in a hail storm. Not all were foreigners: politicians and notables were arriving from all over Vermont. There were enough newspapermen to fill the Union Church twice over. Calvin Coolidge had left the breakfast table to shake hands and trade small talk with local people, who were waiting in line like sheep at the gate of the alfalfa field. He was giving all his time to chatting and visiting with his neighbors, leaving Congressman Dale to shoo off his fellow politicians and Secretary Geiser to handle the reporters.

Furthermore, even though Bill Perkins, the telephone man, had returned and was already at work, Miss Cilley’s phone was ringing like crazy and pouring out messages like cider from summer apples. The inflow required the full-time services of a messenger boy. The “boy” turned out to be a girl—slender, dark-eyed, pretty Violet Hickory, Miss Cilley’s adopted daughter, then passing thirteen. Grace and Calvin Coolidge liked Violet. In earlier summer vacations the shy little girl had been a good playmate of young John and Calvin, Junior. Each time she reappeared at the doorway the new President would call out, “Come right in, Violet!” and smile. The smiles were instantly returned and long cherished. Actually the girl who shared the four-poster bed with her foster mother, or “auntie,” over the store had been awake practically all night. She would continue to serve as special messenger until the President and his wife were on their way across the mountains to Rutland.•

• The following year found Violet a devoted member of the Coolidge Caravan which toured the continent during his victorious 1924 campaign. The year after that she was one of the Plymouth Square Dancers and country musicians who toured the Loew’s State vaudeville circuit. The same Violet and her husband, Herman Pelkey, today own and keep Cilley’s Store. Other old-time Coolidge neighbors, including Moors and Hoskinsons, tend the old family farm, now owned by young John. John and his mother gave the Coolidge homestead to the state of Vermont as a “historic shrine,” and the old cheese factory, just back of the homestead which Colonel John helped found, has been restored to businesslike productivity by young John.

Before taking leave Mr. Coolidge discreetly intimated that he would soon be back. Quite probably he had already decided to use his birthplace, the top floor of the old store, as his summer White House. Certainly tables and desks were newly built and in place by August so, less than three weeks later.