Coolidge Blog

1924: The High Tide of American Conservatism

By Garland S. Tucker III     The following is adapted from Garland S. Tucker III’s new book, 1924: Coolidge, Davis, and the High Tide of American Conservatism (Coolidge Press). […]

A Misunderstood Decade

By John H. Cochrane     This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of the Coolidge Review.   The 1920s were the single most consequential decade for the lives of […]

Casa Utopia: The Tale of an American Collective Farm

By Amity Shlaes     This review is from Amity Shlaes’s regular column “The Forgotten Book,” which she pens for “Capital Matters” as a fellow of National Review Institute.   […]

Coolidge Books for the Holidays

By Jerry Wallace   M. C. Murphy, Calvin Coolidge: The Presidency and Philosophy of a Progressive Conservative A new biography of Calvin Coolidge is certainly worth your attention. Mark C. […]

Joseph Fountain: Witness to the Inauguration

August 2, 2023

by Paul D. Houle

Joseph Fountain, the twenty-four-year-old editor of the Springfield Reporter, scooped every reporter in Vermont—indeed, in the world—with his account of the presidential inauguration of Calvin Coolidge. He had been one of the few people to witness the momentous event. As the years passed, several prominent leaders in Vermont doubted Fountain’s presence at the ceremony, even excluding him from an exhibit about the inauguration. Fountain’s supporters rushed to his defense, and a visit from First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson to Plymouth in 1967 cemented Fountain’s story as an authoritative account of the homestead inauguration.

Witness to History

On the night of August 2, 1923, Fountain sat on the porch of the Adna Brown Hotel in Springfield, Vermont, with Congressman Porter Dale; L. L. Lane, president of the New England division of the Railway Mail Association; and Herbert Thompson, commander of the Springfield American Legion Post.1 At the time, Dale was seeking support for his candidacy in the upcoming special election for the vacant United States Senate seat.2

Around midnight, a policeman interrupted the meeting. The officer informed Dale that the Western Union Telegraph office was calling for him, and a rumor was circulating that President Warren Harding had died in San Francisco. A clerk then rushed out of the hotel and informed Fountain that the chief of the Boston bureau of the Associated Press, G. B. Littlefield, was calling for him.3

Littlefield confirmed Harding’s death and instructed Fountain to go to Coolidge’s home in Plymouth to assist the other reporters. The group hailed a taxi and raced to the Coolidge homestead thirty miles away.

Several other reporters made it to Plymouth before Fountain arrived. On the way to Coolidge’s home, the taxi crossed paths with another vehicle. The cars stopped, and Fountain stuck his head out of the window. In the other vehicle he saw John Knox, a reporter who had just left Plymouth to file Coolidge’s first statement to the press. Knox told Fountain, “Mr. Coolidge has gone to bed. . . . Coolidge will take the oath in the morning; there’s no use going up there.”4

Fountain turned and looked at Congressman Dale for his thoughts. “We’ll go on,” Dale replied.5 Dale wanted to persuade Calvin Coolidge to take the presidential oath immediately.

When the taxi arrived at the homestead, Dale sought out John Coolidge, the vice president’s father and a longtime friend, to offer his assistance. Dale then exchanged pleasantries with Vice President Coolidge and introduced him to Fountain.

Congressman Dale urged Coolidge to take the oath right away. As a notary public, John Coolidge was the only person present who could administer the oath, but the vice president wanted to be absolutely certain that his father qualified to administer the oath. Coolidge went to the Cilley store, where he called Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes confirmed that Coolidge’s father had the authority and advised Coolidge to take the oath immediately.6 Calvin Coolidge then returned to his father’s house, where, in the presence of Fountain, Dale, and others, he took the oath of office at 2:47 AM on August 3, 1923.

Armed with this momentous story, Fountain rushed back to his office in Springfield. Upon arriving there, he picked up the phone and relayed the story of the inauguration ceremony to Littlefield. As Fountain said later about his scoop, it was “a lucky fluke, aided by a little planning and lots of luck.”7


Dale, Fountain, and Joseph McInerney, Coolidge’s chauffeur, all wrote accounts of that dramatic morning. All included Fountain in the group of people present. Erwin Geisser, Coolidge’s stenographer, acknowledged Fountain’s presence when he was later interviewed by the New York Times. But Calvin Coolidge, in his autobiography, omitted any mention of Fountain’s presence. Coolidge’s omission was probably an oversight. As one journalist wrote years later, “Coolidge was not writing about Fountain. Joe was writing about Coolidge.”8

Fountain eventually took a position with the Canadian National Railroad as their public relations director. In 1966, he conducted a successful campaign for mayor of St. Albans, Vermont. Later that year, the Eastern States Exposition, a large agricultural fair, chose to re-create the Coolidge parlor from August 3, 1923, complete with life-sized figures of the participants. The organizers of the exhibit omitted Joe Fountain’s figure. Asked for a statement on the exclusion, one state official replied, “Coolidge doesn’t say Fountain wasn’t there, but he doesn’t say he was.”9 Another official stated, “I doubt if Fountain was there.”10 Yet another said, “Fountain may or may not have been there. If he was, he was probably sitting in the kitchen.”11

This official repudiation of Fountain’s presence created an uproar. Ed Price, a prominent Vermont reporter, defended Fountain’s presence at the inauguration, as did Vrest Orton, the former chairman of the Vermont Historic Sites Commission. Orton wrote in an editorial, “To omit from the list of persons present at this dramatic ceremony the name of Mayor Joe Fountain of St. Albans, who was not only there but the only newspaperman present and the one who sent out the story, later in the morning, is to omit one of the chief actors of this drama.”12 Less than a week later, Governor Philip Hoff personally apologized to Fountain and confirmed that visitors to the exhibit would be given a mimeographed announcement acknowledging Fountain’s presence at the inauguration.1314

While the response placated Fountain, a visit less than a year later by Lady Bird Johnson cemented Fountain’s claim. On June 11, 1967, the first lady spoke in Plymouth at a ceremony to establish the Calvin Coolidge homestead as a National Historic Landmark.15 She ensured that Joe Fountain sat on the stage with her, and he escorted her through the homestead to share his story of that morning. Following the visit, Mrs. Johnson sent Fountain a thank you note. “I know how many memories you must have of that early morning event in the parlor,” she wrote, “and you were kind to want to be there with me the other morning.”16 Fountain’s presence at the inauguration ceremony would never be seriously questioned again.

Photo Courtesy of the LBJ Presidential Library L-R Joe Fountain, John Coolidge, Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, Mrs. John Coolidge. June 11, 1967.

1 “Burlingtonian Only Newspaper Man to See Coolidge Sworn In,” Burlington Daily News, August 7, 1923, (accessed September 16, 2022).

2 Joe H. Fountain, Homestead Inaugural (St. Albans, VT: North Country Press, 1950).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Merlo J. Pusey, Charles Evans Hughes (New York: Macmillan Company, 1951), 563.

7 “Vt. Witness to Coolidge Swearing-in Dies,” Burlington Free Press, November 3, 1981, (accessed September 29, 2022).

8 “Joe Was There,” St. Albans Daily Messenger, September 20, 1966, (accessed September 1, 2022).

9 Ed Price,“‘Times’s Account Clearly Shows Joe Was There,” St. Albans Daily Messenger, September 13, 1966, (accessed August 31, 2022).

10 “But Pamphlets Won’t Say Who Was at Coolidge’s Swearing-in,” St. Albans Daily Messenger, September 16, 1966, (accessed August 31, 2022).

11 Ibid.

12 Vrest Orton, “Eight People Were Present,” Burlington Free Press, September 14, 1966, (accessed September 1, 2022).

13 “Fountain Gets Hoff Apology,” St. Albans Daily Messenger, September 20, 1966, (accessed September 1, 2022).

14 “Moulton Never Questioned Fountain’s Eyewitnessing,” Times Argus, September 21, 1966, (accessed September 2, 2022).

15 Press Release, “Remarks of Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson at the Calvin Coolidge Home, Plymouth, Vermont, 6/11/1967,” “Mrs. Johnson-Speeches,” Reference File, LBJ Presidential Library, (accessed January 13, 2023).

16 Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, Letter to Joe Fountain, June 16, 1967, WHSF Alpha Fountain Box 801, LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives and Records Administration, Austin, TX.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>