Lamplight Inauguration


Meanwhile Calvin Coolidge moved resolutely into his first day as President. By eight thirty the long, black Fierce-Arrow was rolling along the River Road toward Rutland at a steady thirtyfive miles an hour. En route, the President stopped at the Old Plymouth Notch Cemetery, where five generations of Vermont Coolidges lay at rest in the family plot. For at least ten minutes he stood at his mother’s grave in deep meditation. The beautiful Victoria Moor Coolidge had died, presumably of tuberculosis, when Calvin was turning twelve. The President made a briefer pause at the grave of Abbie, his only sister, a beautiful and brilliant girl who had qualified as a country schoolteacher at twelve, followed Calvin (to his great delight) to the Black River Academy at Ludlow, and then died of appendicitis the following year, when Calvin was eighteen. When they reached Rutland driver McInerney pulled up alongside the railroad depot, where a special train bearing very special redwhite-and-blue buntings and including the private car of the road’s former president (and former governor of Vermont), Percival Wood Clement, waited with steam up.

For the first and only time that day Calvin Coolidge was noticeably short-tempered. Noting that the regular 9:15 train was still on the tracks, he deliberately bypassed the reception committee and demanded, “Where’s the traffic manager?” When the latter identified himself, the President said curtly, “You’re not running any special train for me! If you want me to ride in your boss’s private car you can hitch it on the regular train. But no special!

He escorted his wife to a waiting-room bench, where he sat with her while the hook-on was effected. Several times Secretary Geiser started to speak, only to be impatiently waved aside; from Washington, Clark had dispatched two Secret Service men to join the new President at the Rutland station; they had not yet arrived, but Coolidge couldn’t have cared less. With enormous effort the two agents, temporarily stranded at Bellows Falls, across the state on the Connecticut River, had maneuvered passage on a Rutland freight caboose as far as a remote mountain stop, Mount Holly. There the 9:15 stopped to take on water and, incidentally, the weary Secret Service men.

Percival Clement expressed cautious disappointment that what he had intended to be the Presidential Special had not been used. He was quoted as saying he was “considerably let down.” That was not the case with young Violet Hickory, back at Cilley’s Store.

In a recent interview she told the writer the following story. Busy as he had been, she said, the new President had somehow found time to leave a small white envelope on the front counter. On it two words were scrawled in ink: “for Violet.” Inside was a new dollar bill, the first dollar Calvin Coolidge spent as President of the United States. On it he had primly written, “For Violet from Calvin Coolidge.”

Violet has carefully preserved the bill in her lockbox in a bank over in Woodstock, for as country neighbors and other knowing people continue to agree, it was truly a miracle in Vermont. Cal Coolidge had left a dollar tip.