It being the week of the annual Presidents Day remembrance, we need look no farther than out our windows to see our local link to this parade of American history. Now, I am sure that most of you gentle readers who live in or near Northampton, Massachusetts, are steeped in the lore and history of the city’s most famous citizen, the 30th President of the United States Calvin Coolidge.
But, perhaps, a few of you out-of-towners or newcomers to our Happy Valley may not be as up on local lore as the rest of us. So, this is why his story is of importance and how we can link Coolidge with a musical musing—sort of.
As a quick setting of the stage, Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States, was born in Plymouth, Vermont, on July 4, 1872. The only president born on the 4th of July! After graduating from nearby Amherst College, he began a career in law and politics in Northampton eventually becoming Governor of Massachusetts, Vice-President of the United States, and–after the death of President Warren Harding–President in his own right.
And, as a matter of local pride, the nationally known (I presume, of course!) Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum is located in Northampton’s venerable Forbes Library!
And, to make a musical point, Northampton’s own AEIOUkes meet in the Library’s Coolidge Room for many of our weekly ukulele strum sessions!
This museum resource began when Coolidge, as Massachusetts Governor and Vice-President-Elect, began giving documents and memorabilia to the public library for the city of Northampton.
There are several good biographies of Coolidge and his times—as well as our good friends on the internet—that can give you as much of his life story as you care to learn.
Suffice it to say that, for our purposes, simply knowing that his law office . . .
. . . was in the Main Street building above what is now Fitzwilly’s Restaurant . . .
. . . and that he and his wife, Grace–a teacher at the nearby Clarke School for Hearing and Speech, lived in a rented duplex on Massasoit Street before their moves to Boston and Washington.
After leaving the White House in 1929, they returned to Northampton where he lived for the rest of his life. As a historical tidbit, he is the only President to have moved from a rented duplex to the White House—and back! They later moved to a larger house in Northampton to accommodate, as Coolidge commented, all the visitors of a “has-been President.”
Most historians note his calm, shy personality that appealed to the attitudes of the time.
His common sense and dry wit earned him a well-deserved reputation for being wise. Most of us recall that he earned the nickname “Silent Cal” because he refrained from giving public statements unless they were absolutely necessary, and when he did, they were short and to the point. How novel in this day and age! Just saying.
In 1924, Coolidge was nominated and ran for President on his own and, with all the campaign hoopla of the day, was elected in a landslide.
He campaigned on the promise of a “calm hand on the rudder of state” and “safe, sane, and steady” were emblazoned on his posters.
His reasoned demeanor and deliberate decision-making process sparked his campaign slogan—“Keep Cool with Cal.”
Voters bought into this and he was elected in a landslide.
But, on to music. In those early days of radio and rallies, campaign songs were the rage and Coolidge was first mentioned in one for the Harding campaign of 1920.
In the 1920s, these songs were catchy tunes with easy to remember and sing lyrics. Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for one from the Harding campaign that was written by none other than the most popular musical performer in America of the day, Al Jolson!
For the 1924 election campaign of Coolidge and Charles Dawes, his running mate, there were several songs.
But, by far, the most memorable was “Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge.” This was written for the “Home Town Coolidge Club” of Plymouth, Vermont, but soon became popular nationwide.
It was even performed on the White House lawn for the Coolidges, again by Al Jolson himself.
Here is a relatively recent recording of this tune by the performing musicologist Oscar Brand. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen.
Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for another iteration of this tune complete with newsreel footage of a rally back home in Northampton!
As a reminder that Coolidge was president during the dry (mostly) days of Prohibition . . .
. . . keep cool and listen to some words of wisdom from a hundred years ago.
So, to get ready for the super-hoopla of the 2024 election campaign, stay as masked as you need to be . . .
And, STAY TUNED! And . . .
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