Calvin Coolidge's Obituary

[From page 1 of The New York Times, January 6, 1933]

[With grateful thanks to Ted Diamond for transcription!]


    Northampton, Mass--Jan. 5-Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States and the only living former President, died about noon today of a sudden heart attack in his dressing room in his modest estate, "The Beeches." He was 60 years old.
     His wife, Mrs. Grace Goodhue Coolidge, who had just returned from shopping, found the body when she went upstairs to call Mr. Coolidge for luncheon. He was lying on his back, with a calm expression on his face as if he had died without pain or suffering. He was in his shirt sleeves.
     Mr. Coolidge had been complaining for several days of what he regarded as slight attacks of indigestion, but it was not known that he was suffering from heart disease. He underwent a periodic physical examination recently and no organic trouble was found.


     Mrs. Coolidge bore up bravely under the shock of the unexpected tragedy. She was alone when she found the body, but immediately summoned Harry Ross, the former President's secretary, who was in the house at the time. Mr. Ross took charge of the arrangements. He telephoned to John Coolidge, the ex-President's son, at his office in New Haven. John Coolidge motored here this afternoon with his wife, the former Florence Trumbull, daughter of the former Governor Trumbull of Connecticut.
    In keeping with the simplicity of Mr. Coolidge's nature and his life, Mrs. Coolidge decided that her husband would have preferred, if had been able to express his opinion, funeral services of the utmost simplicity. Such will be their nature.
     Instead of having the body taken to Washington or to Boston, to lie in state in places where he exercised the power of government as President of the United States and previously as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mrs. Coolidge ordered that her husband's body remain in his home in this city, where he lived before and after his Presidential career.
     The former President slept in his own bedroom tonight with a light in the room and no one present in the house except members of the family and the household
     Funeral services will be held at 10:30 o'clock Saturday morning in the Edwards Congregational Church on Main Street, this city. It is a historic edifice named after Jonathan Edwards, who lived here.
    The church is that which the Coolidge family attends. There the former President worshipped last Sunday.


    Although it is understood here that many distinguished persons from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston and elsewhere will be here for the funeral, and that President Hoover will attend, the presence of these dignitaries will not affect the plans for services of the most unostentatious character. The funeral sermon will be preached by the Rev. Albert J. Penner, the pastor, and there will be an organist and a choir.
    The names of the honorary pallbearers will be announced tomorrow.
    Following the funeral services, the body will be taken by automobile to Mr. Coolidge's birthplace, Plymouth, Vt., where the former President will be buried in the old cemetery where lies his father, who administered the Presidential oath of office to him in the family home at Plymouth when President Harding died. There also, the former President will rest with his son, Calvin, who died in the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, and with his ancestors for generations back.
    Meanwhile, expressions of the grief of the nation and of the world flowed into this city tonight by telegraph and telephone as the news of the former President's death spread. Hundreds of telegrams of condolence reached the Coolidge home.
    President and Mrs. Hoover, Chief Justice Hughes and Alfred E. Smith were among the first to send messages. Later, the messages came in such numbers that members of the household were unable to find time to open them and put off this task until the morrow.
    This charming college community was plunged into the deepest mourning. On the public buildings, the Smith College building and some of the private homes and business places flags were at half staff. Over Mr. Coolidge's picture in the lobby of the Northampton Hotel, centre of the city's social life, black crepe was hung.
    A meeting at the City Hall, at which the Mayor was to have read an official report upon the state of the municipal government, was canceled, an in its place was held an impromptu memorial meeting, at which the Mayor voiced the city's deep feeling of loss at the passing of its most distinguished citizen and former Mayor, together with its sincere affection and admiration for his sturdy New England character
    Mr. Coolidge was formerly Mayor of Northampton, and the present Mayor, Homer C. Bliss, in his address, said that Mr. Coolidge had the respect of every citizen of this city, as the fourteenth Mayor of Northampton and the thirtieth President of the United States.


     The people gathered in groups at corners in the centre of the city and discussed Mr. Coolidge's death in hushed tones. He had been such a familiar figure in Northampton for years, and had continued to go about his daily manner right up to this morning, the very day of his death, that the city received and discussed the news with an air of unreality, as if it could not be true.
    The circumstances of Mr. Coolidge's death were related tonight by his secretary, Mr. Ross, in the law offices of Coolidge and Hemenway, in the Masonic block, at 25 Main Street, where the former President spent this morning.
    "Mr. Coolidge got up about the usual time, 7 o'clock," said Mr. Ross
    "After he had breakfast his chauffeur, Joseph Bulkosky, drove him down here to the office. He arrived as usual about 8:30 o'clock, and I met him here.
    "He seemed to be all right during the morning, and did not complain of anything at all today, although for some days past he had been complaining of slight attacks of indigestion. He did not call his physician for these attacks, but treated himself with household remedies.
    "The only thing that I observed this morning at all unusual was that he seemed a little restless because there was not much with which to take up his time. He had been feeling this way for a few weeks.
    "He followed his usual routine this morning. He went over the morning correspondence, signed his outgoing mail and read the morning newspaper.
    "About 10 o'clock he said to me, 'Well, I guess we'll go up to the house.'


    "We drove out to The Beeches, and went into his study on the ground floor. Mrs. Coolidge was getting ready to go downtown for her regular morning shopping. She came into the study and chatted with us awhile. As she got up to go out the door without calling the car, Mr. Coolidge said: 'Don't you want the car?'
    "'No,' she replied, 'It's such a nice day, I'd rather walk than ride.' These were their last words together.
    "We both liked to talk about the place at Plymouth, and that was what we talked about this morning. The life there in the home of his ancestors was very close to Mr. Coolidge's heart.
    "'I think,' he said this morning, 'that I shall spend as much time up there every year now as I did last year.'
    "You know, he went to Plymouth before or about the first of July last Summer, and did not come back until Nov. 3. The reconstruction of the house has been complete, and he was looking forward, as he said, to spending four or five months there every year hereafter.
    "We also reminisced about the partridge shooting we had had up there. Mr. Coolidge was a good shot, you know, and he liked partridge shooting.


    "There was also some talk about his hay fever, which he always gets in the Summer, and which bothered him quite a bit last Summer. A bad cold in July also knocked him out for a week of ten days, but he had completely recovered, and I would have said that he was in the best health this morning.
    "He also spoke of a jig-saw puzzle which had been sent to him as a New Year's gift from Springfield and which the family had just worked out. I don't think he solved it himself, for he never was much interested in that sort of thing, but he told me about it. It was a picture of George Washington, and his own name, Calvin Coolidge, was cut into the background. He took me to look at it yesterday, and again today.
    "During our talk in the study, which lasted for an hour to an hour and a half, Mr. Coolidge got up perhaps a dozen times, walked out of the room and came back. He was always like that--restless and liking to putter around. He did not seem to like sitting still for any length of time.


    "About 11:30 o'clock he got up and went upstairs. I did not see or hear from him again. Between 11:30 and 12 o'clock, however, he went down to the cellar, and the chauffeur and the gardener, Robert S. Smith, saw him there. He stopped and talked for a moment with Smith, who was stoking the furnace and who fixes the time at 10 minutes to 12.
    "I usually leave the house at 12 o'clock and drive downtown with the chauffeur for lunch, but Mr. Coolidge had not said he was through with me, so I waited in the study, while the chauffeur waited downstairs.
    "Mrs. Coolidge returned home from her shopping at about 12:25 o'clock. She went right upstairs without taking off her hat or coat. She was going to call Mr. Coolidge for luncheon. First she looked in his bedroom, and then, across a little corridor, in his combination dressing room and bathroom.
    "There she saw him lying on the floor. She immediately ran downstairs and called me from the study, and I ran upstairs with her.
    "Mr. Coolidge was lying on his back on the floor, with his arms outstretched and with a calm look upon his face. I sensed at once that he was dead. There was no sign that he had suffered any pain. His death must have come immediately and painlessly, judging by his appearance.
    "He was in his shirtsleeves, having taken off his coat and vest, and we believe that he was preparing to shave before luncheon.
    "He often came to the office in the morning without shaving, and then shaved before luncheon.


    "I told Mrs. Coolidge that I had better call Dr. Brown (Dr. Edward W. Brown, the Coolidge family physician, who is also the medical examiner here) and ran downstairs to do so. Dr Brown came in a few minutes, and pronounced Mr. Coolidge dead about fifteen minutes before his body had been discovered, as closely as one could judge under the circumstances."
    Mr. Ross then telephoned to John Coolidge and to some close friends of the family, and a little later notified local newspaper men.
    The body remained for a while upon the floor of the dressing room, but soon was placed in the bed in the former President's bedroom
    Dr. Brown made the following statement tonight:
    "There is no doubt that Mr. Coolidge died as the result of a sudden heart attack. The technical name for his fatal attack as it will appear upon the death certificate is coronary thrombosis--the bursting of the large artery entering the heart."
    He said that an autopsy had been discussed, but that Mrs. Coolidge was opposed to it, and that it would not be performed.


    Smith, the gardener, who was the last person to talk with the former President, said:
    "I was down in the cellar just before noon stoking up the furnace when Mr. Coolidge strolled by. There was nothing unusual in that. Mr. Coolidge used to walk all around the place, so when I saw him watching me as I threw some coal on the fire, I just said good morning."
    "He said something; I don't remember what. Something about the fine weather, I think, and then he walked off."
    Dr. Brown also said that he had examined Mr. Coolidge about a month ago and had found nothing wrong with him organically at that time.
    In the house at the time of Mr. Coolidge's death, besides Mrs. Coolidge, Mr. Ross, the chauffeur and the gardener, were Miss Lillian Nelligan, the maid, and Mrs. Bessie L. Bryson, the cook
    None of them heard Mr. Coolidge fall or any other sound from the second floor that would have alarmed them
    Among the first to call at the Coolidge house to offer condolences in person this afternoon was Mrs. Arthur R. B. Hills of Yadenville, near here. She is a close friend of Mrs. Coolidge.


    William Whiting of Holyoke, an old friend of Mr. Coolidge, who served in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce toward the end of the Coolidge administration, also visited the house. Frank Stearns, long associated with Mr. Coolidge as a friend and in politics, arrived here this evening.
    Mr. Coolidge was to have gone to New York next Tuesday for the regular monthly meeting of the board of directors of the New York Life Insurance Company next Wednesday noon. Train reservations for the trip had been made by Mr. Ross.
    Mr. Ross said that Mr. Coolidge's only activities recently outside of the Northampton law office had been in connection with his position as director of the life insurance company and his chairmanship of the National Transportation Committee, which also took him to New York on occasional visits.


    It was Mr. Coolidge's practice to visit his law office twice a day, morning and afternoon. After lunch, Mr. Ross said, the former President would take a nap every afternoon. Depending on the length of the nap, he would return to the law office, sometimes as early as one o'clock, and sometimes not until 4 P.M. In the latter case, he would stay only fifteen minutes before returning home.
    Mr. Coolidge spent his days quietly, with his correspondence and his newspaper reading, and had not been doing any writing of late according to his secretary. A few days ago he and Mrs. Coolidge celebrated her birthday quietly at home. The next day newspaper men asked the secretary if there had been any special birthday ceremony, and Mr. Coolidge told him there had not.
    Mr. Ross said that Mrs. Coolidge was bearing up bravely tonight and that she had shown fine fortitude under the shock.


    James Lucey, the aged Northampton cobbler to whom President Coolidge once wrote a letter saying that if it had not been fro the shoemaker the President would not then be in the White House, was heart broken. The old man stood in his shop, pipe in hand, arm resting on the counter, and recalled the days when he and Calvin Coolidge used to exchange their views upon life.
    "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. He was the best friend I ever had," said the cobbler of the former President. "I've known him ever since November of the first year he went to Amherst College. My sympathy goes out to Mrs. Coolidge and their son, John."
    Since Mr. Coolidge returned to Northampton, after President Hoover succeeded him on March 4, 1929, his day-to-day program varied little, except when he had some newspaper or magazine writing to do. He was rarely ill and was believed by every one here to be in the best of health. Few knew of his recent attack of indigestion, if that was the nature of the attacks.
    Upon his return from Washington he moved beck to the half of a small frame double house which he had rented and in which he had lived when he practiced law in Northampton and married Grace Goodhue, the school teacher, twenty seven years ago.
    Some time later, however, he bought the small estate, "The Beeches," with a rambling two story frame house of fourteen rooms and he and Mrs. Coolidge have lived there since.


    He refrained from any active participation in political affairs, even in his home State. Only a few days ago an effort to get an expression of his views toward the selection of a Republican State Chairman in Massachusetts brought a reply from his secretary that he was not well enough informed to make any suggestion.
    He was very much interested, however, in the railroad situation, as brought out by the testimony before the National Transportation Committee, and was hopeful that a constructive solution of the problem would result from these meetings over which he presided.
    After he had been President a few weeks, and had passed through the trying time of the funeral of his late chief, and then was dealing with a threatened suspension of work in the anthracite coal fields, a friend said to him:
    "Mr. President, you appear to be standing the strain well."
    "Haven't been under any strain yet," he replied
    The former President was quiet and determined, and not given to display or parade; a man who did not create situations, but rather met with them as they arose. He was wont to make his own decision after careful analysis and study, but he never failed to avail himself of the views and advice of his friends and advisers.


    Mr. Coolidge was a great reader and devoted much of his spare time to works of law, government and history. In fact, reading was his chief recreation. If it could be said that he had a hobby, it was constitutional law. He was a profound student of the Constitution. At a time before he became President, when changes in the fundamental law seemed to be regarded as the only cure for most of the existing ills, he declared that it was not a change that is needed in our Constitution and law so much as there is need of living in accordance with them.
    The former President never had shown any aptitude for athletics, even during his earliest school days. The growing national passion for golf left him untouched. After he assumed the Presidency he sought recreation and exercise occasionally at horseback riding, but generally contended himself with brisk early morning walks as a means of keeping fit for the arduous tasks of his office, which had broken the health of more than one President before him.
    Upon leaving the White House he prided himself on the fact that he was in better physical condition than when he entered it, and better physically than most of his predecessors when they retired from the office.