Few people are aware that the museum about Calvin Coolidge, the Northampton mayor who is the only Pioneer Valley resident to rise to the presidency of the United States, is located on the second floor of Hamp's Forbes Library. Or at least few people seemed aware of it when I stopped by yesterday as the museum's only customer. It's free and open to the public, if only the public would get their butts over there.
Calvin Coolidge was once considered by historians to be a minor American president, but has been considerably upgraded in recent decades. Liberal historians, anxious to justify Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, unfairly denigrated the preceding presidents. However today Coolidge is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the small government, balanced budget school of American conservatism. In a famous example of Coolidge's enhanced stature, when Ronald Reagan was first sworn in as President, he had a portrait of Roosevelt removed from the Oval Office and replaced by one of Coolidge.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the museum to local visitors is the section devoted to Coolidge's long career in Northampton. He started in politics as a prominent Hamp attorney, and the door to his office is on display.
Here is one of the ballot boxes that were in use when Coolidge was elected to Northampton's mayoralty.
This display shows how the flag festooned downtown of Northampton exploded with pride when their former mayor was elected to the presidency. The election of Republicans do not get as warm a reception in modern Northampton politics. Hamp still loves Silent Cal, but they don't much vote for his party anymore.
He was called Silent Cal because he was one of those rare politicians who believed a leader should be judged by what he does, not by what he says. In a famous story a woman is said to have confronted Coolidge at a White House dinner and exclaimed, "I bet my husband five dollars that I could get you to say more than three words."
Coolidge looked her in the eye and replied, "You lost."
Even Coolidge's own son was forced to work in the tobacco fields of Hadley, as shown in this photo on display.
When someone said that they would never expect to do such sweaty labor if they were a president's son, young Cal Jr. replied, "You would if you had my father!"
Coolidge's stern manner caused the nation to laugh when pictures appeared in the media after he was forced to wear an Indian headdress on a visit to a Sioux reservation.
That famous headdress is on display in the museum protected behind glass.
The Indians gave Coolidge a collection of artifacts, including these peace pipes.
Hey, I'll bet you could fit a lotta ganja in those babies!
When Coolidge was found dead on the floor of his Northampton home The Boston Globe had these screaming headlines: (click photo to enlarge)
The museum is free and open most afternoons. To find out the exact hours click here.
I'm saddened to hear of the death of Heath Ledger, one of the stars of Brokeback Mountain. I thought it was brave for him to take that role, not just because he was a straight actor playing a gay person, which can sometimes damage an actor's appeal, but because the film also dealt with an extremely taboo subject - homosexual infidelity in a straight marriage. Some of my most intense affairs were with married men, and it was long overdue to see a serious artistic treatment of this surprisingly common but hidden aspect of modern marriage.
Of course I also regret he died because he was sexy as hell.
Apparently his death was drug related. Damn, what a waste.