PLYMOUTH NOTCH, Vt. – For the first time in 20 years Tuesday, July 3, fireworks lit up the Plymouth Notch sky to kick off a two-day celebration of American independence and the birth of its 13th president, Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge is the only U.S. president born on Independence Day, and July 4 has been celebrated at his birthplace in Plymouth Notch for many decades. The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site attracted hundreds of visitors for the fireworks, naturalization ceremony, the final rounds of the Coolidge Cup National Debate Championship, and many other traditional and fun activities throughout the day.
The breathtaking fireworks show began at dusk, but only after an astounding portrayal of President Calvin Coolidge himself, by reenactor Tracy Messer.
Events began at 9 a.m. July 4 with a reading of the Declaration of Independence in the Plymouth Union Christian Church. At 10 a.m., the Coolidge Foundation and the United States Citizen and Immigration Services hosted an official naturalization ceremony. The American Legion Honor Guard, Post 31, from Rutland, Vt. presented the colors, led by U.S. Marshal John Curtis. Chairwoman of the Coolidge Foundation, Amity Shlaes, extended a warm welcome to all. She recounted that President Coolidge supported immigration throughout his life, citing his words on immigration, our differences, and our strengths. “Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years of the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.”
Jennifer Sayles Harville, great-granddaughter of Calvin Coolidge, performed the National Anthem, followed by the introduction of guests and remarks from Matthew Denhart, Coolidge Foundation executive director, who spoke of the importance of the contributions immigrants have made to founding and nurturing our society, and the beauty in our unity as a country. Coolidge recognized the importance of diversity and acceptance of disagreement and the necessity of respect for all opinions, especially if they differ from your own. Denhart concluded with a warm congratulations for the 20 immigrants, who hail from 11 different countries.
The Honorable J. Garvan Murtha of the U.S. District Court said a few words. “While the Declaration of Independence enumerated that all men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Murtha stated, “it does not guarantee reality.” The Constitution, a living document, established the ideal framework, but it is the compassion, civility, and freedom of our citizens that makes America great. There are no rights without duties, nor freedoms without responsibilities. J. Murtha closed with an emphatic “Welcome my fellow American citizens. You are welcome here.”
The candidates took the Oath of Allegiance to protect and serve America above all else and were given certificates of citizenship. Bill Wiles, adjunct professor of English from Castleton University, led everyone in “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America,” and John Curtis, U.S. Marshal, led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The newly naturalized citizens immediately began celebrating with their families. It was a beautiful day for all who attended. “There are just so many things running through my mind right now,” Karin Ndzelen, originally from Cameroon, stated. “But mostly it’s freedom, another open door for opportunity for me, my family, my friends, and my country.”
Alex and Tamara Cameran from Canada, stated, “I grew up in a family of politicians, my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather were all involved, and they taught me the importance of voting and of giving back to your country. We’ve lived here [in America] for 17 years, and now we’re finally able to give back to this incredible country we call home.”
Omar M. Palo from Somalia, stated what this day has meant to him and his family. “It means freedom. It’s good to be American.”
At noon, a delegation of the Vermont National Guard led a march to the Plymouth Notch Cemetery, where a wreath sent from the White House was placed at the president’s gravesite in a brief ceremony with members of the Coolidge family in attendance. President Coolidge’s great-granddaughter Jennifer Sayles Harville performed the National Anthem, Taps was played by the National Guard, and members of the Coolidge family read selections from the speeches of President Coolidge.
At 2:30 p.m., the final round of the Coolidge Cup National Debate Championship took place in the Plymouth Union Christian Church, where the final two debaters argued for both sides of this year’s debate resolution: “For the United States, socialism would be a better economic system than capitalism for promoting the well-being of the average person.” The 2018 Coolidge Cup first prize award is a $7,500 college scholarship. The Coolidge Cup is a national high school debate tournament that features top debaters from across the country.
The day, which had been filled with chances to explore the museum, enjoy a barbecue at the Wilder House Restaurant, experience cheese-making at the Plymouth Artisan Cheese Factory, enjoy performances by the Stringfield Springers old-time string band, play various traditional children’s games, and enjoy birthday cake, concluded with a speech by President Coolidge.
The Coolidge Foundation is proud to partner with the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site to host all of these exciting events. The Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Oct. 21.