The Perils of Pilfering From a President

The young man tried to be quiet as he rifled through the contents of the dresser drawer. He was desperate for funds to pay his way back to college. That desperation drove him to break into a room of the Willard Hotel in hopes of finding something of value. and searched for something of value while its occupant slept.

President Calvin Coolidge

Moving as quietly as possible, he attempted to accomplish his thievery without waking the room’s occupant. He found a small piece of jewelry and snatched it. Before he could take a step toward the door, however, he heard a voice shatter the silence. “I wish you wouldn’t take that,” said the voice.

As the young man struggled to find any excuse that would get him out of trouble, his eyes dropped to the purloined item in his hand. He saw the words engraved on the piece: “Presented to Calvin Coolidge, Speaker of the House, by the Massachusetts General Court.”

Only then did the young man realize that the room he had chosen to burgle was occupied by the President of the United States. Coolidge, just a few days into his presidency, was staying at the Willard Hotel while Florence Harding, widow of President Warren Harding, prepared to vacate the White House.

The young man prepared himself for the worst. He had been caught red-handed by the most powerful man in the country. In an instant, his concern about how to get back to college was trivial. Instead of an education, he could see nothing but imprisonment for his future.

To his astonishment, Coolidge sat on the edge of his bed and said, “If you want money, let’s talk.” They discussed the young man’s predicament, his options, and the possible consequences for his actions. To his utter relief, when the young man left the room, he was not wearing handcuffs. Instead, he carried $32, giving to him as a loan, by the President of the United States. Coolidge permitted him to leave in a way that avoided unwelcome contact with the Secret Service. Leaving the hotel and his brief career as a criminal behind him, he returned to college and finished his education.

Remembering the graciousness of the man he intended to burgle, he made good on his promise to repay the loan. Coolidge’s notes record the loan was repaid in full.


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