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Early in their marriage, Calvin and Grace Coolidge welcomed their first son, John, on September 7, 1906. A second son, Calvin Jr., was born on April 13, 1908. Calvin Jr. was a happy boy with a fun sense of humor. His father thought that he looked like his beloved mother who had passed away when the future president was only 12 years old.

After their father became vice president, the Coolidge sons went to Mercersburg Academy prep school about an hour away in Pennsylvania. Therefore, they were only in Washington, D.C., during school vacations. The Coolidges chose this school on the advice of their friend, Dr. Joel T. Boone, who served as assistant White House physician during the presidencies of Harding and Coolidge, and who had attended Mercersburg Academy himself. Dr. Boone befriended the boys and spent time with them during their school vacations. He rode horses, played tennis and pool, and showed them sites around town.

Dr. Boone (right) rides horseback with Calvin Jr.

Both of the Coolidge sons were at home in June of 1924, less than a year after Calvin Coolidge became president. These family photos, which were to be used in the upcoming 1924 presidential campaign, were taken on Monday, June 30.

Calvin Coolidge Jr., President Coolidge, Prudence Prim, First Lady Grace Coolidge, and John Coolidge

The Coolidge sons played tennis that day on the White House tennis courts.

Calvin Jr. did not wear socks and got a blister on the third toe of his right foot. He soon felt ill and ran a fever. Dr. Boone attended him day and night. An infection in the toe caused blood poisoning and terrible pain. The 16-year-old was taken to Walter Reed Hospital where doctors tried to save his life through various means, including surgery. His parents moved into a room across the hall. Calvin Jr. faced his illness bravely, but he needed antibiotics which were not yet available to treat his infection. On July 7, he passed away.

On July 9, a formal funeral service was held in the East Room of the White House. The service included hymns and readings from the Bible.

Marine guard at the White House during the funeral of Calvin Coolidge Jr.

Time magazine reported that less intimate friends gathered on the north lawn during the funeral.

President and Mrs. Coolidge and their son John, along with members of the president’s cabinet, several presidential aides, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank W. Stearns, who were close friends of the Coolidges, boarded a special train which carried the body to Northampton, Massachusetts, where the family had lived before Coolidge became vice president.

The president’s father, John, and Grace’s mother, Mrs. Andrew Goodhue, joined them there for a funeral service at Edwards Congregational Church on July 10. The train then took the body and the mourners to Ludlow, Vermont. From there, a funeral procession of cars traveled 12 miles to Plymouth Notch, where there was a graveside service and burial at the local cemetery where generations of Coolidges had been laid to rest.

The president and his wife and son went to his father John’s home for a few hours before leaving for Washington at 6:15 p.m. that evening. The president’s father accompanied them to Washington. This photo of the four remaining Coolidges was taken on July 18.

Calvin Jr.’s brother, John; his mother, Grace; his father, Calvin; and his grandfather, John Coolidge

In his Autobiography, Coolidge said this of Calvin Jr.’s death: “When he went, the power and the glory of the Presidency went with him.” One day at the White House, President Coolidge told a visitor: “When I look out that window, I always see my boy playing tennis on that court out there.”

This photo of President Coolidge and his father was also taken on July 18, 1924.

Two years later the president’s father became gravely ill. President Coolidge tried to get his father to come to him in Washington, but he wanted to remain at home. He said that speaking with his father on the telephone was a poor substitute for being with him in his last days. When his father’s doctors told him that his dad’s time was short, the president began the journey to Plymouth Notch, but he passed away in March of 1926 before President Coolidge could get there. Concerning this, Coolidge said: “It costs a great deal to be President.”

Sometimes it is hard for the public to appreciate the great personal sacrifices that famous people make while living their very public lives. A quiet life is a precious gift. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul wrote:

But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 
and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life
and attend to your own business and work with your hands,
just as we commanded you, 
so that you will behave properly toward outsiders
and not be in any need.
1 Thessalonians 4:10b-11

On the fifth anniversary of the death of Calvin Jr., his mother, Grace, wrote this poem. My heart grieves for Grace Coolidge and for President Coolidge, who suffered the loss of his mother and sister in his youth and a son and his father while in the White House. Some of you may be suffering the same griefs today. My heart grieves for you.

Praise God that you have opportunities every day to prepare your children for the inevitable griefs that we all face as members of the human race. Praise Him for providing Jesus as the answer to every one of those inevitable griefs.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life;
he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,
and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.
John 11:25-26a

Praise Him, too, that He is the God of all comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 
who comforts us in all our affliction
so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4

To read Charlene’s entire series on Calvin Coolidge, click here.

All photos courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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