Bittinger: Swearing In Ceremony

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(HOST) As the nation prepares for the inaguration of Barak Obama, commentator Cyndy Bittinger is reminded of the Presidential Swearing-In ceremony that took place in a Vermont farmhouse.

(BITTINGER) Each year, fourth graders press their noses up against the glass of the "Oath of Office Room" in Plymouth to see the Bible, kerosene lamp and pen used to sign the oath.  Easily one of the most important historic sites in Vermont, the room – indeed the whole village – is protected by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, and recalls that day – August 2, 1923 – when the country stood still waiting for the new president. Well, it wasn’t exactly motionless, as a model T driven by W.A. Perkins had to make its way up the winding road that night from Bridgewater with the telegram alerting Vice President Calvin Coolidge that Warren Harding had died on the West Coast. Calvin’s father, a notary public, swore his son in as president in the wee hours of the morning.

History mystery sleuths should pounce on one aspect of this event – the paper oaths typed up by Coolidge’s stenographer are missing or lost in some vault in Vermont or Washington, DC.  Such a valuable piece of history should be found and put on display.

Another unusual aspect of this homestead ceremony is that the reporters camped out in Woodstock made a beeline for Plymouth but largely missed the story.  Coolidge issued a public statement of condolences to the bereaved widow and added his reassurance to the country that Harding’s policies would continue.  Most of the press took that statement and left.  They failed to stay long enough to witness the Vice President being sworn in as President by his father.  Only Joe Fountain of The Rutland Herald got the real story that traveled over the wires to make the next day’s headlines.

When Calvin and Grace Coolidge stepped out of the farmhouse, townspeople formed a line to congratulate them and cheer them on.  Housekeeper Aurora Pierce was the only one put out that day.  She had not been awakened to witness the oath taking ceremony and the newspapers described the kitchen’s kerosene lamp as being greasy, a detail to which she took great exception, since she cleaned each lamp daily.  Neighbor Ed Blanchard had to shoo his cows off the road to make room for taxis and cars filled with gawkers wanting to see the new president.

Another untold story concerns a second oath issued in Washington by a federal judge.  When Coolidge returned to the Capitol, there was some concern about the legality of a Vermont notary being able to swear in a federal official, and a U.S. President at that.  So Coolidge was sworn in a second time and the new president asked everyone who knew about it to keep quiet, out of consideration for his proud father and so as not to diminish the dignity of the simple farmhouse ceremony.

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