Left in Andover: The Coolidge connection

By Susan Leader
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

As a young child I used to hike up Weston Road with my mother to Middletown Cemetery, where we enjoyed trying to figure out the stories behind the gravestone inscriptions.

What triple misfortune befell the Chandler family, summers end, 1839? Even the ministrations of Dr. Charles Chandler, husband and father, proved futile.

Leonard L. Lane on wagon, with his family on their Andover homestead, 1910.

Mom marveled at the husbands who wore out multiple wives before themselves yielding to the grassy hillside.

Come late July, we feasted upon wild blueberries blanketing the northeastern slope of the cemetery grounds.

It was rare for me to spend time alone with just Mom. Visiting the cemetery was one of the few outings she had the power to take me on, since it entailed neither the independent use of a vehicle nor the spending of money.

An imposing group monument inscribed LANE dedicated to Leonard L. Lane, his wife Edith Snow and their son Maxwell, who died young, dominates a mossy square jutting west at the upper end of the cemetery. As a destination, this area held the least fascination for us, possibly because no blueberries propagated there.

Our interest might have been stirred, however, had we scrutinized our property deed, for “Poplarwood Farm” was once owned by Lane family members.

The Adna Brown

Leonard L. Lane (?-1942) was a federal railroad postal clerk who rose to the position of president of the New England branch of the Railway Mail Clerk’s Union. The evening of Aug. 2, 1923, as Leonard was relaxing over a drink in downtown Springfield with Joe Fountain, rookie editor of the Springfield Reporter, an urgent telegram arrived at the Adna Brown Hotel announcing the death of President Warren Harding.

Lane decided to tag along with the newspaperman on his mission to scoop the story, 27 miles away at Plymouth Notch, where Vice President Calvin Coolidge was vacationing at his ancestral home.

Vrest Orton, in his book Silent Cal, The Unique Inauguration of Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th President At Plymouth, Vermont, August 3, 1923 provides a detailed account of that epic night in the life of my fellow Andoverian.

“Woodland” and it’s youthful inhabitants, Massasoit Street, Northampton, 1962. Right hand photo is of the author.

(At 3 a.m. on the Coolidge front porch at Plymouth Notch) “Leonard L. Lane was seated in the hammock holding a tiny revolver … the gun was so small he could hold it in the hollow of one hand. ‘I’m guarding Mr. Coolidge,’ Lane informed them. ‘I’m the only federal official on hand.’

“Lane offered the information that Mr. and Mrs. Coolidge were inside with Congressman Dale. Everyone else had gone, he added. George did not ask who everyone else was. He opened the screen door and went in. Lawrence and Granger remained on the front porch talking to Lane and the chauffeur. Granger thought there was going to be a good story from these fellows because they had witnessed what happened.“

Grace Coolidge at the piano, son John on violin, 21 Massasoit St., circa 1918

For the 1962 school year, when I was 11, my family rented a house at 17 Massasoit St. in Northampton, Mass., thereby retracing the steps of Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace, who had taken up residence two doors down, at 21 Massasoit St., in 1905.

I attended sixth grade at nearby Vernon Street School and joined a troop of neighborhood kids playing “Woodland” in the back lots every free moment. No doubt John and Calvin Jr. had done the same.

In Grace and Cal: A Vermont Love Story, Gloria May Stoddard describes those days on Massasoit Street:

“As a mother, Grace had the time of her life. She pitched a tent for John and Calvin Jr. in the backyard. She helped them build a playhouse from a piano box, sawing the boards and pounding the nails with her strong hands.”

Toby Patlove at piano, Miriam Leader on violin, 17 Massasoit St., 1962

Fifty winters afterward, setting our home thermostat low to conserve on heating fuel, my father kept yeoman hours in the reading room at Forbes Library in Northampton. The library’s upper level housed the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum. Although Dad did not share Cal’s politics, the two Vermonters held common ground in their attraction to Northampton, and in their Yankee frugality.

Mom found gainful employment with a professor at Amherst College. Never having gotten that driver’s license, she reveled in the freedom of movement afforded by town living. Her isolation as a rural Vermonter was further relieved when we joined the Jewish community, and new musical friends spurred on her violin playing.

Even after occupying the White House, in 1925 Calvin and Grace retreated not to Plymouth Notch, but to their modest duplex at 21 Massasoit St. It must have been a glum return, as they had lost son Cal Jr. to a fatal infection in the interim.

The Coolidge home on Massasoit Street.

But the Coolidge legend was still alive on Massasoit Street when I lived there in 1962. An elderly neighbor related how Cal read the newspaper as he sat on his front porch. But he was an object of curiosity and would punch a small hole in his newspaper to discreetly return the attention.

Living on Massasoit street after the White House did not last that long. Cal and Grace very soon afterwards upgraded to an imposing mansion on its own private road in another section of Northampton.

My mother’s lifetime search for her own utopia included a dialectic, seemingly shared by Grace Coolidge, between the natural beauty of Vermont and the more worldly and cultural attractions of Northampton, self-described as Paradise City. For both women, the latter won out.

Mom wrote:

“Thick underbrush holds me down, a niche where autumnal weeds of purple aster, goldenrod and poison ivy lurk, they crouch in the brambles that wind and choke.”

As an adult, I understand now how much Mom had dreaded ending up in that Andover cemetery.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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