"Things of the Spirit" is masterful and moving – a rich, vibrant, supremely cinematic treatment of a remarkable American life. Among its many accomplishments, this unforgettably fine film destroys, once and for all, the myth that there is anything dull or mediocre about the underappreciated Calvin Coolidge... The marvelous thing about Karol's documentary is that it unequivocally reestablishes the stature Coolidge enjoyed during his lifetime – making clear in a way that no one can dismiss or deny the reasons for his phenomenal popularity... The piece is so evenhanded that I believe it stands a real chance of winning awards – even Emmy awards, or an Oscar for best documentary feature... The best part of this project is its unquestioned artistry – just as a work of documentary craft and heart...quite simply, the finest documentary I've ever seen.

Michael Medved
— chief film critic for the New York Post, cohost of PBS's Sneak Previews, syndicated columnist, and author of books on media and society


An absorbingly interesting and much needed revaluation of a much underrated president.

Louis Auchincloss
— writer and biographer of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt


“Things of the Spirit”
provides an amazing and moving story of Presidential character, strength and achievement... Through a remarkable collection of period images and film footage — tied together with texts from his own personal writings — Calvin Coolidge no longer remains a stoic, silent footnote in history. His is an important, poignant and truly American story nearly lost to us forever — but now with care, skill and thoroughness, it has been resurrected. Thank you for sharing it with our audience and for allowing us in so many ways to meet President Coolidge truly for the first time.


  John E. Hilboldt — Director, Lectures and Seminars at The Heritage Foundation


Extraordinary film and history making... Calvin Coolidge is probably one of the most misunderstood figures in the history of American politics.

For one thing, he was an unusually progressive Governor of Massachusetts and embraced virtually all of the important reforms of the Progressive Era... "Things of the Spirit" tells this story and more... It does a remarkable job of uncovering archival film that I, for one, had never seen before. It gives us a special look at the 1920s in a way that helps to counteract the almost cartoon-like quality of much of the reporting of the history of that decade.

But it also captures an almost wistful Coolidge who had the courage and decency to admit after he left office that the early years of the Great Depression had presented the country with economic and human challenges that were beyond the capacity of him and others like him who had grown up in a less complicated era.

"Things of the Spirit" is an important historical happening. I strongly recommend it.

Michael S. Dukakis
former Governor of Massachusetts and Democratic nominee for President of the United States


"Things of the Spirit"
is a revelation. It transforms gripping history into an inspiring work of art. The film completely dispels the cliché notion of New Deal historians that Coolidge was a small-minded materialist "Babbitt" whose Presidency served only as a prelude to disaster. See it. You'll never think the same way about Calvin Coolidge again.

George Gilder
— president of the Gilder Technology Group and frequent contributor to Forbes, The Economist, Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal


You have made me a believer in Calvin Coolidge. I think you may be personally responsible for changing the public perception of Coolidge... I loved the Coolidge quote from his last message to Congress. Wouldn't it be exhilarating to hear those words from a present day president.

Philip H. Hoff
former three-term Governor of Vermont and Democratic candidate for the United States Senate


A month before the September 11 attack on America, my wife and I saw the one-hour preview of "Things of the Spirit," a remarkable documentary on the personal and political life of Calvin Coolidge. The film's producer, John Karol, is enormously competent. The archival and contemporary footage is dazzling. We came away deeply moved and inspired. What's relevant about Calvin Coolidge and the 1920's? In addition to basic human values, "Things of the Spirit" addresses tax cuts, farm subsidies, racial harmony, foreign policy, American cultural and economic expansion, materialism, prosperity, depression, welfare and more. As Karol rightly observes: "Times change, but the human condition and the American political dilemma remain the same." "Things of the Spirit" examines enduring personal values and public concerns - all the more significant since September 11. As one viewer put it, the film is "a gift to the American people."


John McClaughry
president of The Ethan Allen Institute


"Things of the Spirit"
...is a thoroughly unique and interesting presentation of the life and times of the complex (and remarkably progressive) Calvin Coolidge. It is also a compelling look at American life in the 1920s. John Karol and Vermont Public Television have put together a rave portrayal that cuts through the silly clichés and stereotypes about the period and presents it realistically and honestly. Great stuff – and that comes from a man who has looked at hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of documentary effort. John Karol is a particularly talented and competent filmmaker.

Richard W. Carlson
former president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting


"Things of the Spirit"
is the kind of film historians can enjoy, praise, and use with good conscience in the classroom. It sets a high standard for historian-filmmaking which has yet to be recognized by the industry. Many thanks to the dedicated filmmaker for taking the time to tell a story properly and authentically. John Karol's film should be held up for emulation to all who venture into film archives in the search of reel history.

Peter C. Rollins
— Editor-in-Chief, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies


I have just completed a course taught by D.A. Pennebaker and am in awe of the tenacious resilience of documentary filmmakers. Your Coolidge documentary is mind-boggling. It seems you are correcting a host of historical misperceptions and misinformation and in all regards redefining the man. [After seeing the one-hour "Things of the Spirit" preview,] I read your Q & A newsletter with great interest and enjoyed the Web site. The scale and freshness of your endeavor is exciting and inspirational. You are the most independent, dedicated, and well-rounded filmmaker I have met.

Sean Clauson
recent graduate, New York University Institute of Film and Television


"Things of the Spirit"
is the best documentary I have ever seen. It rescues Calvin Coolidge from the shadows of half-remembered history. It shows him to be a thoughtful, admirable man of superb character. Surprisingly, this president and his central ideas are pertinent now. Coolidge and his great Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon knew that capitalism will flourish when three conditions are present: low taxes, sound money (low inflation) and light regulation. This produced the "Coolidge prosperity." This documentary is admirably suited to instructional purposes, since segments can be shown as complete in themselves.

Jeffrey Hart — Senior Editor of the National Review


[T]he mosaic approach works well to bring a wide variety of materials into the telling of separate but closely interrelated stories... the overall result is a compelling picture of Coolidge and his times that makes sense of the man and incorporates much of what specialists on the period have recently learned and continue to debate. It was an honor to be associated with the project.

Prof. Ellis W. Hawley
— historian and project advisor commenting on the completed story edit of "Things of the Spirit"


What a revelation! And a lesson for my students in historical inquiry... "Things of the Spirit" demonstrates, with intellectual rigor and surprising warmth, the study of history as I would like my kids to know it. First — there are two sides to every issue. (Why has it taken so long for the side sympathetic to Coolidge to emerge?) Second — a wide variety of primary and secondary sources should be examined. (Mr. Karol has secured the famous and the obscure in his balanced study.) And finally — the past speaks to the present, sometimes urgently. But we must tune our ears, since some voices, like the Vermont hills, are above shouting.

Bruce Paul Richards
— history teacher, Oxbow High School, Bradford, Vermont


(Audience Response Cards)

  Excellent -- What a gift to the American people.

  Excellent scholar commentary. Abundance of primary source material. Congratulations!

  Thorough and scrupulously fair.

  I thought the film is an outstanding documentary on the life and times of Calvin Coolidge. I was amazed by the archival film clips that you acquired.

  Excellent work here. I found the entire work very stimulating and informative.

  "Your Son, Calvin Coolidge" – positively stunning. The archival film was priceless."

  Excellent blend of archival photos and film – You have put together an amazing work of excellent history.

  "The Needs of Education"– excellent. "I Thought I Could Swing It" – wonderful! impressive. "Your Son..."– very moving. "Saint Calvin" – Duff was wonderful. "I Know My Work Is Done" – beautiful.

  Think it's terrific that you've rescued all those old films.

  Excellent. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication.

  Excellent – "Things of the Spirit" reflected the spirit, the time and the feeling of a man who served his country with dignity, honor and devotion.

  I feel privileged to have seen the documentary. The reminiscences of the folks from Plymouth are priceless.

  I thought it was great – especially the pictures of the family.

  Very moving. What a treat to see those last films of Pres. Harding.

  Thought the episodic exposure to Cal was beautifully done.

  I was fascinated – even transfixed – by "Things of the Spirit." Incredibly informative! Entertaining! Seriously, it's the best documentary I've ever seen!

  Beautifully done! Can't wait to see the finished product.


The [archival] film John Karol has unearthed is of extraordinary historical significance. Equally important is the personalization of history which runs throughout Mr. Karol's treatment. Calvin Coolidge may be unique among twentieth century presidents in waiting so long for a chronicler to show him whole, as a character and not a caricature, as an integral part of a pivotal era and not a bit player in the Roaring Twenties...

John Karol's exhaustive treatment presents a leader who broke most conventional rules of political gladhanding, a rigorous thinker who fit no neat grooves of right or left, an administrator who restored faith in government after the Harding scandals, and an evocative symbol of a rugged, honest, self-demanding Americanism...

Now, after seeing what John has done, not only in assembling precious archival footage but in weaving a verbal tapestry of Coolidge's life and times, I am convinced that, 56 years after he died, President Coolidge has at last found his biographer of record...He humanizes the past without ever trivializing it...The documentary project will, I am convinced, find a large audience. It will teach millions of television viewers what they need to know about their country's past. It will discredit casual assumptions until now accepted as gospel truth.

Richard Norton Smith presidential biographer, historian, and former director of four presidential libraries




How impressed I have been with John Karol's willingness to get into the literature of the Coolidge era. He has made himself a veritable scholar of the period...he has a very considerable depth of knowledge…he also has breadth. He senses the sweep of the period
an enormous era of change…Mr. Coolidge was so clear-sighted that the example of his years surely can help solve many of today's confusions.

Robert H. Ferrell historian, author, editor, and distinguished professor of history emeritus at Indiana University




I have followed with great interest from the beginning the evolvement of John Karol's documentary film concerning my father's presidential administration. I have been greatly impressed with the tremendous amount of film records that he has unearthed by dint of his unending search of every possible source. His interpretations of the events and persons shown in the films are entirely his own, which is as it should be. I believe they are factual. I feel that he has done an outstanding job, one which will be of inestimable value in revealing and reviving that particular period in history.

John Coolidge President Coolidge's son



(Audience Response Cards)

  A strong sense both of the real person [Calvin Coolidge] and of his times. I felt present with him and tears came with his death.

  Very moving film. The Plymouth, Vermont speakers, the long scene of his father’s funeral procession in the snow, grounded the film dramatically in rural New England values. Good dialogue in the beginning with the voices of the skeptics about a film on Calvin Coolidge. The tax cut segment was surprising — only Coolidge, JFK, Reagan did [major] tax cuts. Most surprising that Coolidge was so popular. His charm really comes through.

  Even in preview form, the film is a treasure.

  Wonderful balance of a personal and political journey. Beautiful use of old footage otherwise hidden/lost forever. Nicely contextualized with Vermont scenes, Plymouth town, the houses, etc. The blend of elder Vermonters, political footage, personal letters, and historian analysis is great to watch and learn from.

  I enjoyed all the archival footage immensely, and I think the different perspectives from all the historians were helpful in giving the audience a more complete picture of the era. The interviews with Plymouth residents also were very helpful and showed his background.

  The content was excellent. The archival footage was very interesting and was used very well in conjunction with the readings, quotes, and historians’ comments. I enjoyed the way the film was set up with historians’ comments first and then Coolidge’s story to refute and/or confirm those opening comments.

  Wonderful use of original documents and film — put together well. Thoroughly enjoyable and extremely informative.

  A stirring film about a President who was level-headed and dear to the hearts of all people. A man to be admired for his beliefs and respect and love for his family. A man who knew his own mind and acted accordingly.

  Wonderful. Very moving. I am now, too, a Calvin Coolidge fan. Thank you for making the film.

  Very well done, touching and informative. I appreciated this depiction of an overlooked President. It seems as though his personal example is his greatest message, and this film conveys his character very well, very poignantly. (Student)

  I was able to more fully understand the different things he went through and even though he was President, he constantly reflected on his family. I found the film very insightful and interesting. (Student)

  Kudos! Go forward! More power to you!


(Audience Response Cards)

  A very powerful film. A story that needs to be told.

  I’m overwhelmed with the knowledge you have provided in this film. I had no idea of this part of our history. Your film fills that void.

  Congratulations — not only for your meticulous historical research, but also for your masterful film preparation.

  Calvin Coolidge was or is not well known as are many other popular Presidents, so your documentary will provide much needed work on this President. It is simply wonderful to have such archival footage which you are putting together for posterity.

  Very well done! Informative, entertaining, and was a perfect conclusion to the day spent learning about Calvin Coolidge. Your work is admirable.

  Very well done!!!... Excellent choice of Plymouth citizens.

  The film is informative and most interesting. I am anxious to see the completion on PBS.

  Can’t wait to see the entire film, especially more about Grace. Beautiful letters to father over the years. How wonderful to see this just after visiting Plymouth Notch today. The historians and Duff [Gilfond] really added a lot.

  The film of Calvin Coolidge is inspiring and very informative. Calvin Coolidge is a real person with a heart and soul. This film should be shown to all Americans. We need to know the true man. He had depth and strength. Good biography! You revealed the character of a good President.


NOTE: In March 2003, a group of history students from Oxbow High School, Bradford, Vermont, visited the Apertura studio in Orford to view a 70 minute preview of “Things of the Spirit.” Earlier screenings in Boston, New York, Washington and California captured the interest and enthusiasm of college level students and faculty who await the film’s completion and release. I wanted to test the film’s suitability for use in American history courses at the high school level as well. These reviews were received from the juniors at Oxbow High School.

John Karol, Producer

Who in their right mind would make a documentary about Calvin Coolidge? Isn’t he the simple man from East Nowhere, Vermont, who managed to accomplish virtually nothing in his tenure as president? According to John Karol, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Documenting the life of a supposed bump-on-a-log president such as Coolidge would be a foolish, irrelevant and certainly daunting task to most filmmakers, but John Karol is certainly of stronger stock. As a graduate of Yale and an independent filmmaker who received an Oscar nomination for a previous work, Karol shocks viewers with his lengthy elucidation of Coolidge’s image. Removing the tarnish from this much maligned individual gave us a refreshing vista into the personal and professional life of a man who was far from simple and whose intellect was on par with the forefathers of the nation he served. “Things of the Spirit” is an accurate, heartfelt and insightful examination of a misunderstood genius.

 Robb Hughes

I have known about “Silent Cal” for a long time, especially having lived in Vermont for thirteen of my seventeen years. But all I really knew was a comical story about his reticence. When I studied American history in greater depth, my knowledge of Coolidge was merely supplemented by a paragraph in a textbook contending that Coolidge catered to Big Business. Watching John Karol’s preview of “Things of the Spirit” opened my eyes on many accounts. I was surprised by many things, from the true complexity behind Coolidge’s presidency and the biography behind his character, to the amount of precious history in the forms of films, photographs and raw information that is being ignored, inconspicuously edited and just plain forgotten.

 Aly Richards

I sat down before the television expecting yet another boring, repetitive documentary about someone I had been told was incredibly boring himself. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find my eyes taking in beautiful Vermont scenery and my ears the voices of those who had personally known Coolidge. Through his use of original and imaginative sources, Mr. Karol not only tells, but really shows that the former president was more than just a figurehead. The film brings viewers through Cal’s entire life, illuminating its ups and downs, and providing insight into the makings of a truly great man. It was interesting to get another perspective on history and a forgotten president. “Things of the Spirit” is a truly eye-opening experience.

 Suzanne Stockman


Mr. Karol’s unbiased biography of Calvin Coolidge was enlightening. Coolidge is usually portrayed as a flatlander whose presidency is skimmed over in a few paragraphs in most textbooks. Mr. Karol portrayed Coolidge as the down to earth Vermonter whose presidency was just what the people were craving. After viewing Mr. Karol’s documentary, I’m happy to see that this president from Vermont was more than just a placeholder in American history.

 Derek James Williams


First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your recent accomplishment. With that said, I would like to comment on the piece. My initial thoughts were that I was watching a film on par with the quality of films one sees on The History Channel. The quality and rarity of the footage was incredible, most of which was taken from either people who are dead today, or nitrate film which is now deteriorated beyond recovery. Also, a large portion of the historians in the film was all names that I recognize from my history textbooks. To get down to specifics, the preview was simply spectacular. Not only was it captivating, with subtle reworked background music at times and several other artistic touches, but it was full of useful information that the world has seemingly forgotten. The interviews with the Vermont natives were great (especially the man in the rocking chair). You show the world that Calvin Coolidge was a man of integrity and reserved brilliance. This film is a true work of art, condensing the finest quality sources and mostly unseen and unheard of films and information around into one easy to follow and captivating film. You created a masterpiece, and thank you very much for having our class over to view the film.

 James C. Gilbane


The documentary “Things of the Spirit” will be an excellent teaching aid. As a DVD, it will be very easy for teachers to single out the issues they want to focus on. As well as a window looking into the life of Calvin Coolidge, the documentary will be an effective way to teach specifics about the time period. The most interesting part of the movie is the scene in which Coolidge’s father is being buried. The letters read during this scene illustrate the type of man Calvin Coolidge was and allow us to see how he changed during his life. “Things of the Spirit” is an extremely affective and informative documentary.

 Erin Gale


from a preview screening at The University of Vermont’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in St. Johnsbury,
November 10, 2004

  “Things of the Spirit” was a beautifully documented film that changed my whole perspective of Calvin Coolidge. It appears John Karol did a spectacular job of capturing Coolidge’s persona and emotion throughout the film. The final scene at the cemetery seemed especially befitting... John Karol has done a remarkable job with the archival footage he has had to work with. John appeared to be very knowledgeable in all phases of film production and I thoroughly enjoyed Wednesday’s lecture.

  “Things of the Spirit” is an extraordinary documentary rendition of the life of Calvin Coolidge. So informative and contrary to the generally accepted interpretation of the man “weaned on a pickle.” Interesting historical coverage — fascinating life story of a president who has been dismissed as “do-nothing” and turns out to be a refreshing and truly ethical man, one true to himself and true to his country.

  Very impressive and moving, even in this [preview] form. I kept seeing relevance to our current situation which I suppose will be true whenever it comes out. I wish everyone could see it, but if you’re getting it out into the schools, that’s a start.

  I strongly believe the selections of CC’s writings will prove more and more prescient and informing of today’s American crisis and the erosion/loss of democracy. I believe the film will prove its value as history, witness, and a rare source of contemplation about our future.This is an outstanding documentary. Coolidge is shown to be a thoughtful, humane person and well-suited to govern in the 20’s. Many myths dispelled. Even handed. Terrific combination of interviews, newsreel footage, and speeches/letters in CC’s words.

  The clarity and insightfulness of the production was wonderful and a tribute to the filmmaker. John Karol has done an excellent job of presenting the story of Calvin Coolidge.

  Thank you for showing us the film! This preview was illuminating and insightful, providing some understandings of Coolidge that go beyond popular images (even caricatures) of him. I am particularly intrigued by his clear thinking as expressed in his writings, and the profound beliefs that he held about loyalty to his roots and devotion to family and duty. The idea that he was a very popular president is new to me... I’d like to add a comment about the scenes of his father’s funeral — the stark black & white images and the voice-over excerpts from his letters to his father all added up to a powerful, moving section.

  The perception in my mind of “Silent Cal” has changed. I now feel I have a three-dimensional view of this president who seemed before almost comically flat. Most surprising was the revelation of his politically liberal attitude in regard to taxes and interest in honoring diversity in America. This film, when ready for distribution, should be a winner. It should be seen by college students majoring in political science.

  I thought the film was excellent. It is balanced, fair, and perceptive, leading us through the myth of “Do Nothing” Cal to the very thoughtful and solid human being. Nice and careful use of archival footage with text or commentary. Hope you continue the project. Good luck.

  Many thanks for your presentation at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury on November 10. It was impressive! I was particularly touched by Coolidge’s 1925 speech after the KKK march in Washington. The process of documentary making was an education, too. I wish you luck on securing financing to complete the project. What an excellent teaching tool!


John Karol, Producer
Persistence Plus Productions
Main Street
Orford, New Hampshire 03777

Tel.: (603) 353-9067
Fax: (603) 353-4646