CAPE CODDERS REMEMBER COOLIDGE, CLEVELAND AND KENNEDY
“I always come back to the Cape and walk the beach when I have a tough decision to make. The Cape is the one place I can think and be alone.”
-John F. Kennedy
Hyannisport is a popular destination for many visitors to our area seeking a glimpse into the era of President John F. Kennedy and the Summer White House on Cape Cod. The Hyannis Chamber of Commerce reports having over 40,000 people annually who visit their information center and ask how they can get a closer look at President Kennedy’s life on Cape Cod. The Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport was not only where President Kennedy invited many heads of state and world leaders to meet and relax with him, but a family summer retreat where he spent many of his happiest days. JFK found peace and tranquility on Cape Cod, and once said, “I always come back to the Cape and walk the beach when I have a tough decision to make. The Cape is the one place I can think and be alone.”
During the Kennedy Administration, a bill created by Act of Congress established the Cape Cod National Seashore. President Kennedy hoped preserving this tract of shoreline would ensure the continued enjoyment of this land by people from Cape Cod, Massachusetts , New England, and the United States.
President Kennedy ‘s Hyannisport residence, however, was not the only Summer White House on the shores of Cape Cod, nor is JFK the only U.S. president remembered by Cape Codders as having ties to our area. As we choose our president for the next four years this November, we thought it would be an appropriate time to recall the history of U.S. presidents on Cape Cod. We have collected excerpts from Cape Cod Legends and editions of Cape Cod Magazine from the 1920st hat include stories about the other Summer White House on Cape Cod and its owner Grover Cleveland and a first-hand account of a Cape Codder’s sojourn to the White House to meet President Coolidge.
After his first term in office (1885-1889), Grover Cleveland purchased an estate at Gray Gables on Buzzards Bay. He named the grey-shingled estate Tudor Haven, which became the Summer White House when he served as president again (1893-1897) In an article in the May 1925 edition of Cape Cod Magazine”, C.W.W.” remembers Cleveland as a president who local residents considered a neighbor who was good humored and unpretentious:
“Grover Cleveland endeared himself to the Cape folks immediately and lastingly. This much is evident from the tone of reminiscences, narrated to me by a number of citizens in Bourne and Sandwich of sufficient years to remember him. If for no other reason, the fact that he liked fishing to the extent of braving all sorts of weather was enough to establish him solidly in the hearts of these people who dig quahaugs in their front yards and catch bass out back. And they still recall that he disliked to be hailed “Mr. President,” but insisted upon being called Grover or Mr. Cleveland.
Gray Gables, as Mr. Cleveland soon renamed Tudor Haven, viewed today hardly seems to possess the sumptuousness which appeal to presidents of recent administrations. But its location, for beauty and quiet and sea breezes, would be hard to duplicate anywhere else in New England. The house of many angles, greyed by passing seasons rests far out on a low promontory jutting into the waters of Buzzards Bay. Across the bay gleams white what· appears to be a more elegant residence that of the late General Taylor owner of The Boston Globe. The New York boat passes within a stone’s throw of the house, on its way through the canal.
The Boston Globe once asked Mr. Cleveland, soon after his coming to the Cape, why he chose Buzzards Bay.
He answered as follows:
Gray Gables, Buzzards Bay, MA July 28, 1892
To the Editor of the Globe:
I suppose the inquiry addressed to me will be well answered if I state in a few words why I have established a summer home at Buzzards Bay, and what advantages and beauties attracted me he re. I come to Buzzards Bay to spend my vacation because of all places within my knowledge it is the most comfortable and convenient. So far as my location is concerned extreme summer heat is unknown. Boating and bathing are all that could possibly be desired, and the drives about me are full of interest. The fishing which to me is a most important consideration, is excellent. All manner of sea fishing is near at hand and when one tires of that he has but to turn his back to the sea and within easy reach are numerous fresh water ponds where all sorts of fresh water fishing is to be had.
I like my residence too, because my neighbors are of that independent sort who are not obtrusively curious. I have but to behave myself and pay my taxes to be treated like any other citizen of the United States.
Very truly, [Grover Cleveland)
Cleveland’s advent to the Gray Gables estate, which until then had been mostly farm land, naturally brought about certain improvements, particularly in the matter of clearing of- trees and new roads. “Brad” Wright, now living in Pocasset, had been employed by Cleveland to take charge of this work. George T. McLaughlin [postmaster of Sandwich] tells· one which demonstrate s that ”Brad” Wright was not necessarily awed by his illustrious employer, and perhaps explains why he became so close a friend of the president as to be the care taker of Gray Gables during the winter and skipper of his fishing trips in the summer.
Cleveland had just returned to his vacation home from a short absence in Washington. He came down the road which the men were constructing under Wright’s supervision. Watching their progress for a few minute s he said to Wright, ‘Isn’t there any thing we can do to hurry this work along, Brad?’ ‘I dunno , – maybe so,’ was Brad’s leisurely reply. ‘They’re doin’ pretty well. And I’m busy seein’ that they do it right. But if you’re in a real hustle, Mr. President, supposin’ you peal off your coat and vest. There’s a shovel, and a dump cart over the re.’ After Cleveland’s roaring laughter had subsided, declared George, he turned back to the house. ‘Let’s jus t leave it supposin’,’ he chuckled.”
Knowing of Cleveland’s fondness for fishing, it’s not surprising that among Cape Codders’ stories of him, we found a fish tale, both in the literal and figurative sense. The following version of the story appears in Cape Cod Legends, a 1935 publication:
”Among the distinguished people who have appreciated the charms of Cape Cod, were Grover Cleveland and his close friend Joseph Jefferson, the famous actor.
They loved the old Cape towns, enjoyed contact with Cape Cod people, and together revelled in their favorite pastime -fishing the Cape Cod streams.
The morning after the birth on Cape Cod of President Cleveland’s son, Richard, Mr. Jefferson called ·upon the president to offer his congratulations.
Approaching Mr. Cleveland, the veteran actor extended his hand and asked, ‘How much did the boy weigh, Mr. President?’
‘Fifteen pounds,’ answered Mr. Cleveland.
Dr. Bryant, the Cleveland family physician, who was present, interrupted to say, ‘You are in error, Mr. President. The boy weighed ten pounds.
Mr. Cleveland replied, ‘Doctor, the boy weighed fifteen pounds – I weighed him myself on the scales that Jo and l use when we go fishing.”
Like Grover Cleveland , Calvin Coolidge is portrayed favorably in the pages of early editions of Cape Cod Magazine. A 1923 editorial characterizes President Coolidge, the former governor of Massachusetts , as a modest man:
“Calvin Coolidge has long been a prominent figure in Massachusetts politics. He had made public service his life work. He was never a money maker and preferred to serve the public rather than his own pocketbook. He was modest and unassuming and avoided controversy and wrangling. He considered speech as a means of imparting thought and not as something to be used without stint in promoting personal interests. The people of Massachusetts long ago learned that whenever he spoke he had something worthwhile to say; that when he made a decision he made no apologies for it; that he didn’t talk for the sake of attracting attention to himself.
The writer cannot claim a close personal acquaintanceship with the president, but like most Massachusetts people who have come in contact with him, has learned to respect and admire him and to realize that he had the best interest of the people at heart in all his actions; that he had no pride of office, no ambitions for personal aggrandizement, no desire to impress his personality upon others and did not seek to build up a political following by using the usual suave methods of most politicians.
Many incidents have been related about him when he was governor of Massachusetts. At times his extreme modesty was embarrassing. The writer remembers that upon one occasion when it fell upon him to preside at a banquet at which the governor was to be the guest of honor, elaborate preparations were made in advance to receive him. As he approached the banquet hall a scout stationed there was to pass the word along in order that the guests might arise and salute him as he entered the door. No such signal was given, however. Suddenly the governor appeared at the gathering and took his seat beside the presiding officer before anyone was aware of his presence. In fact there were many there who were expectantly awaiting his arrival, unaware that the quietly attired man who sat on the right of the presiding officer was the governor of the state. He had approached the hotel through a back entrance and quietly _made his way to the banquet hall without notice, thus dodging the Reception committee stationed at the front door to receive him. This action was characteristic of Mr. Coolidge when he was governor of Massachusetts. ”
In a more personal essay titled “Carrying the Clams to Coolidge” (Cape Cod Magazine, May 1926), Captain George C. Cahoon recalls his visit with Captain David B. Phillips to the White House where they presented the president with pails of clams and oysters they brought from Cape Cod:
”Captain David B. Phillips, of West Dennis, and I left Chatham on the afternoon of April 29, bound for Boston and Washington. Alden H. Kenyon, president of the Kenyon Company of Boston, made the trip with us. When we reached Boston we went to Mr. Kenyon’s office and there dressed up in oil clothes and rubber boots. Then with our pails of clams and oysters we walked over to the Back Bay station.
There we were surprised to find many newspapermen and photographers waiting for us. After disposing of them we boarded the Federal express for Washington.
Next morning at 7:30 our party, headed by Mr. Kenyon, arrived at the New Willard hotel. There we were met by the reporters of the Washington Post. Congressman Gifford of Cotuit took us from the New Willard at noon to the White House in our oilskins, rubber boots and sou’westers. Captain Phillips and I carried a pail of clams and one of oysters. On the steps of the White House we were again met by photographers.
Ten minutes later we were called into the White House and at 12:25 were introduced to the president by Mr. Gifford. I presented the clams to President Coolidge with a short speech. He then invited us out onto the front lawn to have our pictures taken with him. When we were all ready to have them taken, the president told Captain Phillips he had better take his pipe out of his mouth or people would take him for the vice-president.
After this we were escorted back to the hotel by Congressman Gifford, highly pleased at the cordial reception that we received from the president, who gave us nearly twenty minutes of his valuable time.
After dinner the Congressman took us through the House of Representatives, the Senate and also the Supreme Court, each of which was in session. From there Mr. Kenyon furnished a car with a guide who showed us the most important places in Washington. We left the city and crossed the Potomac to the Arlington cemetery, putting in nearly two hours looking at the monuments and statues of the noted men who were laid at rest there, and the stones which marked the graves of nearly six thousand unclaimed bodies from the World War.
The view from the grave of the Unknown Soldier across the Potomac to Washington was one of the most beautiful sights one would wish to look upon.
On the way back to the hotel our guide took us through the multi-millionaire district. After supper we left on the Federal express again, and reached Boston Saturday morning at 8:30, arriving at the Ferguson in Hyannis in time for supper there.”
From the time of Cleveland and Coolidge to JFK, these presidents impressed many Cape Codders, some of whose recollections are chronicled here. Coolidge is recalled for his amiable reception of Cape Codders at the White House. Cleveland and JFK are remembered as presidents, but also as neighbors who found in Cape Cod a peaceful retreat that brings so many people to Cape Cod today.
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