Wow! Her Grandfather Was the Carriage Driver for President William Howard Taft

A button missing on your coat could cause you to be replaced.

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In October 1909, my mother, Geneva Maze—a 15-year-old schoolgirl—stood patiently on a San Francisco street to see President William Howard Taft in a parade in his honor. The president likely was a memorable sight, but Geneva was more impressed by the man driving Taft’s carriage. It was her father, Emile Maze.

Emile, a carriage driver since 1890, worked for an elite livery stable company that catered to the wealthy of San Francisco. Clients expected perfection. Once a woman complained that her driver had only one button instead of two on the back of his coat. She demanded he be replaced. Grandfather Emile had lost the button en route to the client’s house and had no choice but to return to the stables to have a new button sewn on.

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All drivers had a black silk top hat and three long coats, each corresponding to the color of the vehicle they were driving. They followed a stiff etiquette. Drivers did not help riders into the carriage but kept their eyes gazing forward, awaiting instructions. And they were not to look at their passengers but focus on the tails of the horses.

Likely his nearly 20 years of experience made my grandfather the best choice to drive President Taft in 1909. On the day of the parade, he polished the maroon landau and groomed the two geldings, coincidentally named Taft and Sherman, and then donned his maroon coat.

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He kept his eyes on the horses while his passengers boarded. They included the mayor of San Francisco, Gov. James Gillett and Archibald Butt, the presidential aide who later died on the Titanic. When the landau sagged heavily to one side, Emile knew that the hefty Taft had taken his seat. The carriage took a grand tour, winding along the streets of the city. The president was pleased to see all of the rebuilding since the earthquake of 1906.

At the end of the parade, in front of the St. Francis Hotel, Emile looked at his passengers for the first time. With a kindly smile, Taft put out his hand and Emile shook it. Then the president said something to his aide, who handed my grandfather a $50 bill— an enormous tip for someone who earned $2.50 a day.

Emile often spoke of his day of glory and wondered if other presidents would have been so generous. He liked to joke that Calvin Coolidge probably would have charged him $50 to shake his hand.

Originally Published in Reminisce