“A Little Nook in the Corner of Vermont”: Scenes from Coolidge’s BirthdayPosted: August 9, 2012
Last month, I returned to Plymouth, VT, for the annual President Calvin Coolidge Birthday Parade, where a year ago I gawked at President Coolidge’s surviving descendants and befriended Lloyd Goodrow, a presidential hobbyist, member of the Vermont National Guard, and college classmate of my father’s. This time, the visit wasn’t a stop along the route of a zigzagging presidential journey through New England. It was a day trip for an article about the annual event, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Vermont Magazine.
While there, I managed to reconnect with Lloyd and interview him more formally about his experiences in Plymouth and beyond. What follows is an excerpt from that interview—plus a few photos from the parade itself.
How long have you been coming to the Calvin Coolidge Birthday Parade?
The first time I came to this, it was on a mission with the Vermont National Guard. And that was back in 1987. Each year, the White House asks the military to place a wreath at the grave of Calvin Coolidge. So we represent the White House, and today we deliver the wreaths, and actually I just got hooked on it, to be honest. Since 1987, I probably only missed probably five times being here.
And to me it’s not just about the Fourth of July. I think what today symbolizes is just pure Americana. I mean, it’s fun to watch this grow. The first time I did this, we used to have maybe 40 or 50 people show up. And then it got attention. And now we have—well, I don’t know how many people were here today. But we’ve had literally several hundred people here in the past. It’s just pure Americana. And I love it.
What do you mean by “pure Americana”?
It’s just—well, here you are, you’re sitting in a town that’s lost in the 1920s with 13-cent gas, it’s a simpler time, and isn’t that kinda what we celebrate in America, our roots? And this symbolizes our roots. I mean, it’s simpler times.
Were you interested in going to presidential sites before you came here for the first time?
I mean, you and I talked about that earlier. I’ve always been fascinated by history. And every time I’m on the road—for example, in 1987, even before I started coming to this, I think the first presidential site I went to was, well, I happened to be driving through the Midwest and I bumped into the Hoover site! Now you went there, didn’t you? And that’s just way cool! And again, that’s another one of those places that’s just lost in history. It’s like the whole world, nothing else exists outside there. And that really caught my attention. When you can actually walk up and you can touch the gravestone of someone who had an impact on American history—and you can do the same thing here! And then, of course, when Daniel was born, he got the letter from the president. And that caught him on it. So it’s kind of a joke; we call it our “Dead Presidents Tour.”
But it’s a way of reaching back and—I mean, how fascinating! You walk into the house that George Washington lived in. Or you go out to Springfield—you went to his house—and they encourage you to touch the railings there because Abraham Lincoln actually touched them! Or going to the law office and you’re walking on the same floor boards… I mean, it’s a way to reach back and touch history and I was always taught in schools that it’s very important to learn history. And what a way to do it! It’s kinda fun.
You’ve been to this event many times since 1987. Are there any particular anecdotes or moments that stand out to you?
Oh, man. I’ve just enjoyed watching the crowds grow. Like I said, when I first started coming, they had maybe 40 or 50 people. When I get engaged in something—because I represent the agent general, and they get the news media involved—once the news media are involved, other people learn about it, and I mean, there are some events, like—the time when Abraham Lincoln was here. I thought that was cool. And Eleanor Roosevelt. And they always try to do a little historic program.
Things that stand out with me are being able to meet John Coolidge, Calvin Coolidge’s son. And have him hold Daniel as a baby. And take a picture. And a year later, have him sign it. And a few years later, he’s dead. Touching moments, when John Coolidge went to the gravesite shortly after his wife died. And he touches her gravestone and says, “I’ll be here soon.” I mean, he was part of the First Family of the United States. Granted, he didn’t live in Vermont anymore, he lived in Connecticut, but he still had those Vermont roots.
Do you still live in Vermont?
Native Vermonter, I live in Essex Junction. And honestly, if it hadn’t been for the Guard connection, I wouldn’t have even known about this! And part of my mission is, as I tell the Guard story, I want more people to know about this. And I always put in the bottom of my news release—you know, this is just so visual, it’s a little piece of Americana, and this has come to represent my Fourth of July to me and my family. When Margo and I started dating, I said, “Let’s go to this!” Because it’s just so cool. How do you change this? This is great.
[Lloyd’s wife interjects: “How ‘bout when the great-granddaughter gave the talk about John Coolidge. Remember the great-granddaughter, the one that spoke? She gave a speech about her grandfather?”]
She had a few little anecdotes which I don’t think you’d want to put in the magazine. Like he wouldn’t know how to order anything in Burger King or McDonald’s or something like that. He was a very sophisticated, elder gentleman. They show a lot of class you don’t normally associate with Vermont. I mean, there’s a lot of class in Vermont. But he was definitely of a different era.
If Calvin Coolidge were at this event, what do you think he would think of it?
I think he’d be pretty pleased. My guess is he’d probably be pretty pleased with the attention that’s brought to his little piece of the world. Which is preserved quite nicely the way he left it. He was a different era, obviously. “Silent Cal,” of course, and that’s legendary. But I loved hearing his presentation about what Independence Day meant to him. I think he would’ve loved that. I mean, I don’t really know anything about him personally. I know his wife lived in Burlington near me, and stuff like that. Before he was president of Vermont, he was the Massachusetts Governor. A little like Chester Arthur—he’s better known for being Governor of New York than for being a Vermonter. That type of thing.
But I think it’s cool, when you walk upstairs in that building right there (points) and you’re in the Summer White House, as basic as it is, he always liked to come back. I know my boss loves to quote Calvin Coolidge. His famous talk about, “What do you see around you?” “The hills and the valleys.” Just how beautiful it is.
What do you think brings people from all over to this event?
Well, first of all, learning about it. I think it’s that sense of going back to our roots. You really feel like you’re in simpler times. When you’re in Disney—have you ever been to the Disney parks? It’s like nothing else is going on around you when you’re there. It feels a little bit like that here. You get to plant yourself in a different time, and you celebrate a different era, and you see the people wearing their straw hats and stuff like that. It’s a celebration of America, and it’s become my Fourth of July for many, many years, and I retired in November and I won’t have to be here anymore, but guess what? I still will. Just because it’s so engrained in me.
This is your last year representing the National Guard here?
This is my last year representing the National Guard at this, and like I say, it’s something that I’ve not only enjoyed, but something that I’ve always looked forward to, even though it’s a two-hour drive and I’ve been here many times in the pouring rain and stuff like that, but it’s nice to be in the setting, you’re surrounded by beautiful fields and hillsides and elegant homes and stone walls and you have the horses and you have a town lost in the 1920s, and it’s great, it’s beautiful. The foundation does a wonderful job with their programs—having speakers in the church and concerts and the barbecue. Daniel likes his barbecue chicken.
But I think more people should learn about this. The other thing is, it’s non-political. It really is, and that’s really refreshing, too. And I can’t wait to see the new museum. Last year the museum was just in construction, so…
It’s just Vermont’s little piece of history. It’s just a little nook in the corner of Vermont that people shouldn’t forget.