One of the minor inconveniences of age is that, after one has passed the two-century mark or so, one finds oneself laughing at things and unable to explain to the younger folks why they were funny. One even finds it difficult to predict whether anyone else will see the joke, because it is not easy to tell how much of the history one lived through is still in current memory.

Dr. Boli was browsing through the digital collections at the Library of Congress, and he found the use of this picture to illustrate this collection very funny. But he was not sure that anyone else around him would see the joke. Is this funny to anyone else?


  1. The Shadow says:

    Nope. I hope you will deign to explain the joke.

  2. Von Hindenburg says:

    That has to be either a deliberate gag by a very clever web developer or an AI who has developed an interest in history. I chuckled once I got it.

    Either that or the storage budget for this archive is very small.

  3. John Salmon says:

    Wrong President, whatever the joke is.

    Woodrow Wilson-academic/bigot/horrible human being-was POTUS, not the excellent Calvin Coolidge as pictured.

  4. Dr. Boli says:

    Yes, the joke is that “Silent Cal” was famous for saying nothing whenever he could get away with it—a habit we would find absolutely delightful in our current politicians, who have nothing to say but cannot keep themselves from saying it anyway. The most famous story about him is the one about the dinner party where the woman sitting next to him told him she had bet she could get three words out of him. “You lose,” he replied. To announce his retirement, he sent the message, “I do not choose to run for President in 1928.” Many observers remarked that it was the longest statement of his presidency.

    In 1933, someone brought Dorothy Parker the sad news that Coolidge had died. “How could they tell?” she responded.

    As Mr. Salmon points out, Coolidge deliberately cultivated the “Silent Cal” shtick, which spared him a lot of trouble. “Well, Baruch,” he told Bernard Baruch, “many times I say only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to people. Even that is too much. It winds them up for twenty minutes more.”

    Twitter would have been good for Coolidge. He could have released his State of the Union address as a tweet once a year, and then been done with speechifying until next year.

    All this is why anyone who lived through the Coolidge era would think it was a deliberate joke to make Calvin Coolidge the face of “American Leaders Speak.”

    It was widely believed, by the way, that the reason Coolidge could afford to have such a hands-off style in the White House was that the real administering was being done by Andrew Mellon, “the greatest Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton.” “Three presidents served under him,” they used to say about Mellon. He was one of the few holdovers from the Harding administration, because he was competent and not terribly corrupt by Harding standards. One of the others was Herbert Hoover, whom Coolidge despised, but who was popular with the public. Then came the Great Depression, and neither Hoover nor Mellon was quite so popular anymore.

  5. Mary says:

    I thought it was funny.

  6. Coolidge is also famous for having the “Coolidge Effect” named after him. As this is a family newspaper, I won’t go into detail here.

  7. Occasional Correspondent says:

    Coolidge was said to be an educated man, able to be silent in five languages. or was it six?

  8. markm says:

    Silent Cal as the cover boy for this collection leaves the impression that it will contain only short and to-the-point speeches. I suspect that is a quite misleading impression for all of the others.

    • Dr. Boli says:

      The first thing that came to Dr. Boli’s mind was a ten-inch record with three minutes of quiet surface noise.

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