It is Presidents Day weekend, a time to honor America’s presidents. Since four presidents were born in this month, George Washington, William Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan, it seems like a good time to celebrate presidents.
It was in 1800, one year after the death of our first president, that February 22, Washington’s birthday, became a day to honor and remember this great patriot. Originally, his birthday was celebrated as a holiday in only the District of Columbia. However, by the 1880s it was a national holiday to honor George Washington and all of America’s presidents.
Some of us are old enough to remember that George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays were days “off” on alternating years. One year it was Lincoln’s birthday February 12 that was the holiday, and the next year it was Washington’s birthday, February 22. It didn’t matter what day of the week the birthday was on. If it was on a Wednesday, then that’s the day schools, banks, post offices, and many private businesses were closed.
In the 1960s, a movement began to place federal holidays on Mondays in order to give workers regular three-day weekends. States such as Illinois, that had long honored Abraham Lincoln’s birthday as a state holiday, were not quick to agree that the third Monday of February would now be the national holiday. And the state of Virginia still wanted the national holiday named for George Washington. Indeed, the 1971 executive order signed by President Richard Nixon named the holiday on the third Monday in February as “Washington’s Birthday”. But calling that Monday “Presidents Day” had already begun. However, today federal calendars still call the third Monday in February Washington’s Birthday.
A visit from a President thrills people. In 1999, President Bill Clinton came to St. Paul for an event. I had friends who worked at Fort Snelling, which is near the airport. The next day they told me about how they stood on a hillside along the freeway, which had been totally closed to regular traffic, as the presidential motorcade turned out from the airport and headed east. These friends were not political people. They voted for different parties’ candidates. But their eyes were shining as they described the motorcade breezing past them, American flags fluttering on each side of the limousine’s hood, and realized that the most powerful person in the world was passing by.
In August 1928, President Calvin Coolidge came to Hibbing. Based on numerous stories I’ve found, the excitement of his visit was a never-to-be-forgotten moment for the Hibbingites of the time.
Calvin Coolidge served as President from 1923 to 1929. Known as “Silent Cal” for his quiet demeanor and minimal utterances, Coolidge loved the outdoors. Washington D.C. in the summer is often a steamy, humid place. So more than one summer he decided that he, his family, and his staff would move to a “summer White House”.
In 1928, the summer White House he chose was the Cedar Island Lodge on the Brule River in northwest Wisconsin. Famous for its fishing, Coolidge’s favorite activity by this point in his life, the Brule is still a treasured fishing area. The privately owned Cedar Island Lodge still exists.
Superior’s Central High School became the President’s staff’s offices and the school’s library was the President’s private office. By all accounts he spent very little time there, much preferring catching trout and learning to paddle a birch bark canoe, accompanied by John LaRock, a local Ojibway well-known as an outdoors guide.
Now and then that summer, President Coolidge did take little trips around the area. One of those trips brought him, his wife, and their adult son John to the Iron Range for the day.
Although there are stories written by professional journalists about this esteemed visitor to Hibbing, I like the following report the most. It appears at the front of the 1929 Hematite, Hibbing High School’s yearbook. The author of this piece isn’t named, but Edna Gunderson is listed as the Editor-in-Chief. The cover page also notes that the Hematite is published by “The Seniors of Hibbing High School”.
Remember that the town was still in the process of moving and the high school was only five years old when the President visited. What I most enjoy about this report on the visit are the details and language used to convey the joy of this day in Hibbing’s history.
~ Mary Palcich Keyes
Hibbing is one of a few villages honored by a visit of the President of the United States.
Last summer, according to his custom, President Coolidge looked around for a summer residence away from the heat and toils of a city. What could be more pleasant than Cedar Island Lodge on the Brule River in Wisconsin? So here came our President to the great delight of the people of this part of the country.
All Hibbing people were thrilled and the village officials sent the President an invitation to visit Hibbing. We realized that we had some very unusual things to show him, but the President of the United States hasn’t much time to spare even in his summer vacation. Imagine our surprise when Mr. Coolidge informed us that he would visit Hibbing on the seventh of August! Business was suspended all over the Range; Hibbing was cleaned up and polished as never before; wires kept the crowds from the streets; thousands of people from all over the countryside came to give homage to their Chief.
At last the long-awaited event was at hand. The President’s train rolled into the North Hibbing depot at a little past noon. The Presidential party was given a welcome by the town officials. Mrs. Coolidge received two bouquets, one from the Presbyterian Church of Hibbing, and the other from Buhl and Chisholm residents.
The President, Mrs. Coolidge, and John Coolidge were seated in an open Lincoln and followed by many cars of newspaper and camera men and Hibbing residents. Preceded by police, the procession moved slowly up First Avenue to the Hull-Rust pit where about twenty minutes were spent. After viewing the Buffalo pit also, our distinguished visitors proceeded down Third Avenue to Howard Street and down Howard to Ninth and thence up to the high school. The party alighted here and President Coolidge was shown the entrance hall, auditorium, library, and study hall of our school by Superintendent Richardson. The auditorium was fully lighted and the organ was being played by Mrs. Ralph Nelson when the President entered. The party then rode to the Recreational Building and then to the South Hibbing depot where they embarked to visit Virginia.
Hibbing people will always retain a fine remembrance of the Coolidges. They all seemed to be extremely friendly and democratic and they endeared themselves to the hearts of the Hibbingites. President Coolidge expressed his interest in the people by his cordial smiles and nods, while Mrs. Coolidge won everybody’s respect and admiration by her gracious and friendly attitude.