Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Silent Cal and White House Christmas Traditions

The other day while I was waiting for students to complete an assignment I noticed one particular little girl had removed her shoes.

I made a big circle around the rows of desks and as I passed the little girl I tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Can you put your shoes back on for me, please?”

She looked up and said, “Oh, Mrs. Elementaryhistoryteacher…..my feet hurt so bad. I’m wearing new shoes and they’ve rubbed a blister on both my heels.”
“Ouch!,” I said as I noticed the red puffy blister on each heel. I directed her to follow me to my desk where I gave her a Q-tip with Neosporin and two Band-Aids specifically for blisters. I mimicked with my own feet what she should do and sent her off to her desk again.

Once the class had finished we still had a few minutes remaining. Not wanting to waste a minute I first asked the little girl if she had done what I had asked and then told her she should find it easier to get her shoes back on. Then I asked the class if they would like to hear a little story that involved a blister and the National Christmas tree.
Of course everyone said they would……

While there are many firsts involving what we refer to as the National Christmas tree in Washington D.C. it was First Lady Grace Coolidge that gave permission for the first tree to be erected on the grounds of the White House. Who knew when she gave permission to the District of Columbia Public Schools in 1923, a tradition would begin that continues to this day? The tree was placed in the President’s Park, now referred to as the Ellipse, and President Coolidge was given the honor of lighting the tree.

By 1924, however, it looked as if the tradition would end before it ever reached year two. The Coolidge family had been devastated in July, 1924 when their youngest son, Calvin Coolidge, Jr. passed away from pathogenic blood poisoning.

Today if a student of mine receives a blister from new shoes or because they stubbornly didn’t mind their mom about wearing socks, its not real big deal except for a little pain and discomfort and an ‘I told ya so’ or two. However, in 1924 there were no antibiotics. Calvin, Jr. received a blister after playing a game of tennis on the south lawn of the White House on June 30, 1924. He wore sneakers without any socks and didn’t tell anyone about his blister. By July 3rd the infection had reached his bloodstream, and he was listless and had a high fever. He was tranferred to Walter Reed General Hospital.
(This picture is Calvin, Jr. and was taken on a farm. His father usually hired the boys out as farm hands when the family was on vacation.)

In his book, Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President, Donald R. McCoy quotes President Coolidge stating, “He [Calvin, Jr.] was asking me to make him well. I could not.”

Calvin, Jr. was 16 years old when he died July 7, 1924. McCoy states President Coolidge took the boy’s passing extremely hard and planning for his campaign for the upcoming election was left to drag. Coolidge later said that when his son died, the power and the glory of the presidency went with him. Many of his scheduled campaign speeches were left to others.

It’s understandable that the Coolidge family was not in a festive mood when it came time to light the National Tree again, but Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge pressed on with the second National Christmas tree as well as finishing his second term. Robert H. Ferrell wrote in his book, The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge, the passing of that slender youth was so much like him, both in looks and in quiet earnestness, undoubtedly drove him back to work, taking refuge in the day-to-day routine rather than contemplating his triumphs or looking ahead to others.
Another first that involved the Coolidge presidency was he issued the first official Christmas message to the American people in 1927 on White House stationary. Because so many people requested a greeting from the president he asked newspapers to print it so everyone could see it.

This Christmas card (at left) is identified at many sites as the Coolidge Christmas card for 1927. It is the source of a Christmas quotation attributed to President Coolidge….Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.


The Tour Marm said...

Two thoughts on this:

Most of my West Coast students on tour do not wear socks or hose. Blisters abound! I try to have the teachers talk to the students about wearing socks, closed-toe shoes (no sandals), and comfortable shoes (almost an impossible task for girls!) before the trip.

Visiting places like Williamsburg that have copious amounts of 'road apple' debris from horses can be a recipe for infection.

Thought 2: This concerns his son: (During my last New England fall foliage tour with adults, I started the day with two Calvin Coolide quotes and told one story!)

Calvin Jr. arrived at work at his job bundling tobacco leaves later in the same morning that his father had been sworn in as President. His employer said "Well, think of it. You are the son of the President of the United States." "Yes, sir," young Coolidge said. "Which barn do you want this tobacco put in?" Apparently others thought since he was now the President's son that it would be the start of his having a silver spoon in his mouth.

Later, the same day, one of his co-workers said "If my father were President, I wouldn't be working in a tobacco field. Calvin said "If my father were your father you would."

EHT said...

Thanks for adding something to my picture of Calvin, Jr., Tour Marm. Who knows maybe my pic of him was taken on that very day.

June said...

It's so easy for us to forget that presidents, et al have feelings. How bizarre it is today to think of someone dying from a blister...not all that long ago. Though I am seeming to think that I heard of someone doing just that not that long ago. Can't think of who though. Also, I thought Cal's card message was/is a perfect sentiment.

EduClaytion said...

Great post and great blog. I'm glad I found you and will be back. I'll also be linking to you from a new History site I've just created.