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In My Words: Even Calvin Coolidge's grave demonstrates humility

Tom Nelson, associate professor of communications, writes in this column about the humility of President Calvin Coolidge

This column was published in the Greensboro News & Record. Views expressed in this column are the author's own, and not necessarily those of Elon University. 


By Tom Nelson

The autumnal equinox has passed, and summer is done. Time to reflect on the past months of warmth.

Tom Nelson, associate professor of communications

It was a summer of travel for me, heading westward ho from Vermont, to Montana and back home through Canada. There was a lot to see and do, but one thing towered over the Rockies and gave more pause than the vastness of Canada. During the early part of my summer adventure, I happened upon Calvin Coolidge’s gravesite in Plymouth Notch, Vt.

The modesty of the 30th President’s grave site is remarkable, especially in contrast to the pomp and circumstance that has crowned nearly every American president since Coolidge. Journalists of the 1920s, the time when Coolidge was president, called him Silent Cal. His silence begs a word to explain it. The word is humility. Coolidge was many things to many people, but the one thing nearly all agree upon is that he was not full of himself.

I snapped a shot of President Coolidge’s grave while I was up in Vermont. I knew the minute I saw it that there was a point to make about Coolidge’s admirable self-effacement.

Look closely at the photo, at the foot of his stone. There are bouquets of plastic flowers and two small American flags.

Plastic flowers on the grave of an American president — and not just any American president. This was our leader during the boom years of the 1920s. He greeted Charles Lindbergh, knew F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and presided over what has come to be known as the Roaring ’20.

Coolidge was at the top when America was at the top. Buried deep in distant Vermont, on a rather lonely hillside, his grave is marked by a plain stone that uses symbol rather than word to tell us discreetly that he was once the president of the United States of America.

And plastic flowers mark the spot.

Rest in peace, President Calvin Coolidge. Thank you for leaving the American people a strong lesson that humility is a virtue in both life and death.


Owen Covington,
10/13/2017 9:40 AM