Monday, October 4, 2010

From the “Yet Another Good Reason Not To Throw Anything Away” Department

Heather Cox Richardson

When President Warren G. Harding died suddenly of a heart attack on a goodwill tour of the country, his vice-president Calvin Coolidge was visiting his family homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. Early in the morning of the next day, August 3, 1923, Coolidge’s father, a notary public, administered the oath of office to his son, making him the nation’s 30th president. (This is the only time, incidentally, that a father has administered the presidential oath to his child.)

This dramatic scene caught the popular imagination. In an era of glitz and glamor, graft and corruption, the vision of Coolidge taking the oath of office beside his aged father in the glow of a kerosene lamp seemed to embody Yankee simplicity and old-fashioned values.

The family home, where this dramatic scene took place, is now a museum. The curators there have just made a startling discovery:

“Historians at the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth Notch, Vt., which houses the president’s collection, are trumpeting the discovery of the tablecloth that was used during Silent Cal's makeshift swearing-in ceremony, site officials announced Wednesday . . .”

For years, the brown-and-white cloth tucked at the end of a daybed was thought to be a shawl, and an embroidered green cloth dressing the table was believed to be the original table covering. . . .”

When a historian recently opened the cloth to catalog it, a note fell out. Over the initials G. C. (probably Coolidge’s wife, Grace), the note read:

“‘Cover which was on the mahogany-topped table in the sitting room of father Coolidge’s house in Plymouth, Vermont on the night of August 3rd, 1923.’

That cloth ‘had always been there, but it was never really unfolded and carefully looked at,’ [the site administrator] said.”

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