Plymouth Notch, Vermont (JFK+50) It was 94 years ago at 2:47 a.m. local time that Calvin Coolidge took the oath of office as President of the United States. A little over 40 years later, Lyndon B. Johnson took the same oath. The news quickly spread across the nation and the world in both cases despite the fact that there seems to have been only one newspaper reporter at each event.
Martha Reeves Lang, whose mother attended the Coolidge's first return to Plymouth Notch after the inauguration, writes that Joe Fountain*, editor of The Reporter of Springfield and an AP correspondent, was "the only newsman at the Coolidge inauguration on August 3, 1923."
This information contradicts a UPI report of August 3, 1923 which read...
"There were no reporters--it probably was the first inauguration in history without them--but those who saw it, afterward pictured it vividly."
A telegram, originating in San Francisco, arrived at White River Junction at 10:30 p.m. August 2, 1923. Western Union cabled the Cilley Store across the street from the Coolidge homestead in Plymouth Notch. It had the only telephone in town but no one answered.
A call was then made to Bridgewater, ten miles from Plymouth Notch, and the message was "delivered to the Coolidge house" by Secretary George Christian.
Mr. Coolidge received it by midnight. Reporters representing the Associated Press and United Press International were at the residence but they were told that the swearing-in would not take place until the next morning and they left.
Joe Fountain was 20 miles away but drove to Plymouth Notch upon hearing the news of President Warren G. Harding's death. Calvin Coolidge, in the meantime, was persuaded to take the oath immediately.
At 2:47 a.m., August 3, 1923, Calvin Coolidge stood with his hand on the Bible in the parlor illuminated by a single kerosene lamp of the homestead in Plymouth Notch. The oath was given by Colonel John Coolidge, the new president's father, a Notary Public. Witnessing the ceremony were Grace Coolidge (Calvin's wife), Congressman Porter Dale, Erwin Geisser (Calvin's aide) and Joe Fountain. (see portrait below)
In contrast, Lyndon B. Johnson stood with his hand on a Catholic missal in the stateroom of Air Force One which sat on the tarmac of Love Field in Dallas, Texas. The oath was given by Judge Sarah T. Hughes. Witnessing the swearing-in were Lady Bird Johnson (LBJ's wife), and Jacqueline Kennedy (JFK's wife). There were 27 people crammed into the stateroom including Sid Davis, correspondent for Westinghouse Broadcasting, who was the chosen "pool" reporter to cover the ceremony. (see photo below)
*Joe Fountain was born in 1899 in Colchester, CT. (now Winooski) & enlisted in the U.S. Army on April 7, 1918. JF moved to St. Albans in 1930 & worked in public relations for the Central Vermont RR. Later he worked in NYC. Joe served as mayor of St. Albans 1966-1968.
"Coolidge sworn in following death of President Harding," August 23, 1923, UPI archives, www.upi.com/
"History Space: A Cool celebration," by Martha Reeves Lang, July 29, 2017, Burlington Free Press, www.burlingtonfreepress.com/
"The man who witnessed JFK's death and LBJ's oath," by Scott Wise and Greg McQuade, November 22, 2013, www.wtvr.com/
November 22, 1963
Photo by Cecil Stoughton