Coolidge’s words read at grave to mark Fourth
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | July 05,2013
Photo by Len Emery
Vermont Adjutant Gen. Steven Cray, left, and Command Sgt. Maj. Forest Glodgett of the Vermont National Guard lead an honor guard and hundreds of citizens as they carry the White House memorial wreath to the gravesite of President Calvin Coolidge in Plymouth Notch on Thursday.
PLYMOUTH NOTCH — The three great-grandchildren of President Calvin Coolidge took turns delivering one of the Vermont-born president’s speeches Thursday, a speech to the American Legion convention in 1925 about tolerance and civility that resonated with the 21st-century crowd.
Coolidge, who was born in Plymouth Notch on July 4, 1872, is the only U.S. president to be born on the Fourth of July, and every year the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation and Vermont’s President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site collaborate on a decidedly low-key celebration.
More than 200 people braved temperatures touching 90 degrees with sweltering humidity Thursday to make the short walk from the tiny village, across Route 100, and to the Plymouth Notch cemetery, where Coolidge and his family are buried.
The gathering fell silent as a red, white and blue floral wreath from President Barack Obama was laid on Coolidge’s grave, which while simple, is marked with the presidential seal.
There is no fanfare, and often only a simple speech, along with a Vermont military honor guard and the playing of taps, mark the ceremony.
Diane Kemble, education director for the Coolidge Foundation, said Thursday marked the second year that Coolidge’s own words were delivered during the brief and poignant ceremony.
And this year, Coolidge’s own great-grandchildren, Jennifer Harville, John Sayles and Christopher Jeter, were joined by Kemble and a Coolidge Foundation docent, Bill Cherico, to read excerpts from Coolidge’s speech, “Toleration and Liberalism.”
“By tolerance, I do not mean indifference to evil,” said Harville, a Coolidge great-granddaughter. “I mean respect for different kinds of good. Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower or three years to the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine.”
“No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat,” she said.
“Progress depends very largely on the encouragement of variety,” said Sayles. “Whatever tends to standardize the community, to establish fixed and rigid modes of thought, tends to fossilize society.”
“Many useful things are learned from those who disagree with us,” he said, quoting his great-grandfather.
“The generally expressed desire of ‘America first’ cannot be criticized,” read great-grandson Jeter. “But the problem which we have to solve is how to make America first. It cannot be done by the cultivation of national bigotry, arrogance or selfishness,” Jeter said. “Hatreds, jealousies and suspicions will not be productive of any benefits in this direction.”
“Still waters run deep,” said Kemble, referring to Coolidge’s persistent reputation for being a man of few words and not much outward emotion.
Coolidge’s words had immediate resonance to a Massachusetts couple who have something in common with Coolidge — they live in Northampton, Mass., and have a small summer home in Plymouth.
“We could all take some advice from his words,” said Stephen Dashef.
His wife Carolyn, a teacher, was equally impressed. “You listen to his words and they are really prescient,” she said.
“I think it was wonderful,” her husband added.
Roger Coolidge Pingree, 90, of Plymouth, has been coming to the Coolidge birthday celebration only for the past couple of years, although he said he was present when Coolidge was buried on the rocky hillside.
He said thousands of people lined the hillside when the president was buried.
While the cemetery is now surrounded by heavy woods, back then, Pingree said, it was all open fields.
Pingree said he didn’t know for sure whether he was related to the famous Vermont-born president, but he said both his mother and grandmother were Coolidges and were buried in the Plymouth Notch cemetery.
Later in the day, Vermont Civil War historian Howard Coffin addressed a large gathering at the Coolidge History Center to talk about the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the role of Vermont generals and soldiers in the historic three-day battle in 1863, which is considered the turning point of the Civil War.
Coffin, who spoke earlier in the week during the Gettysburg National Military Park’s 150th commemoration, said that 150 years ago today, Vermont soldiers buried the dead from the battle.
The Montpelier historian said that like Vermont in the summer of 2013, Gettysburg was plagued with torrential downpours.
“I hate to say this, but 150 years ago, at this very moment, the rain came down in torrents,” said Coffin.