Perhaps my favorite item in the collection is the most utilitarian piece of equipment. Rod cases don’t have the same appeal that rods, reels, and flies do; however, this case was the essential “Cool Cal”. The “Name” field the luggage tag reads very matter-of-factly, “The President”. If “duh” were an expression used back then it probably would have prefaced that title. The luggage tag also gives us clues as to Coolidge’s destination, Reynolds Mansion in Sapelo Island, Georgia. A summer retreat for the President in 1928, the mansion started as Spalding Plantation Manor from 1810 until the Civil War. After being damaged by Union troops during the Civil War, the home was damaged and fell into disrepair. In 1912, construction of a rebuilt version of the house was started by Detroit automotive engineer Howard Coffin completing in 1925. A history of the home tells of Coolidge having a suite on the second floor complete with an office containing a phone line that was a direct connection to the White House and capitol. Secret service workers also stayed in rooms on either side of Coolidge during his stay. In the good old days the leader of the free world could actually get away with unplugging from the daily rigors of the presidency. Many of the early presidents including John Quincy Adams, Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, and Coolidge turned to fly-fishing as their escape.
The piece that carried the most mystery in the collection was Coolidge’s tackle box. The box was not open on display in the gallery so I was excited and unsure what to expect when we opened it. We were surprised to find it virtually empty. On one side sat a couple of conventional trolling lures and everyman items such as some “No-Skeeto” mosquito repellant cream and a scale. As with most things in life, President Coolidge was a very precise man who left nothing to chance. There are many pictures of Coolidge fishing or holding up his catch, not because he was boastful but, according to friends’ accounts, he grew weary of the usual questioning of fish stories and wanted photos and detailed information to procure when called out on it – hence the scale in the tackle box. In today’s terms, Coolidge would be the modest guy with the GoPro who keeps most of his footage to himself and friends instead of publishing it on social media.
The other half of the President’s tackle box contained a case of silk fly line and two conventional tackle lures. These interesting jointed shrimp lures might have been used when fishing in the saltwater on Cape Cod (he was known to fish the ponds around that area for trout) but more likely on his trips to the Reynolds Mansion or the Cabin Bluff resort in Georgia, where he was known to frequent in the summer. While Calvin Coolidge’s tackle box did not reveal any hidden treasures or 24k gold lures (although there was a neat looking mother-of-pearl spinner in one of the compartments) it reinforced his simple persona as “just another” fisherman.