Warren Harding 29th President, 1921-1923

Birthplace, Corsica, Ohio
Warren G. Harding, called “Winnie” by his mother, was born on November 2, 1865, in Corsica, Ohio, now called Blooming Grove. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to the small Ohio village of Caledonia where he was raised. Both his parents were doctors-an unusual distinction for Phoebe Harding, who was granted a medical license based upon her experience as a midwife and in assisting her husband, George Harding. Warren cherished his childhood memories that painted a wholesome and perfect picture book boyhood. An upbringing filled with farm chores, swimming in the local creek, and playing in the village band were the basis of his down-home appeal later in life. Like so many small-town boys in post-Civil War Ohio, Harding, along with his five younger siblings (four sisters and a brother) attended a one room schoolhouse where he learned to read, write, and spell from the McGuffey’s Readers. At age fifteen, he entered Ohio Central College, from which he graduated with a B.S. degree in 1882, having achieved some distinction for editing the campus newspaper.

Harding was born in a small saltbox clapboard cottage. The cottage was torn down in 1896, but the site now has a historical marker and a small stone marker resting on the southwest corner of the actual location of the cottage. The Hardings left Corsica in 1873.

Home, Washington, DC
In November 1914, Republican Warren G. Harding defeated then Ohio Attorney General Timothy S. Hogan for the U.S. Senate. He was made chairman of the Republican National Convention that nominated Charles Evans Hughes in 1916. While in Washington, Senator Harding and his wife, Florence, first lived at 1612 21st Street, NW. This house was later demolished. In July 1917, the Hardings purchased this house, a neo-Georgian style duplex with a terrace and a side entrance. They lived in this house through the end of his Senate term, though Harding used his home in Marion, Ohio during the summer of 1920 to conduct his famous “front porch” campaign. In November 1920, Harding defeated Democrat James M. Cox of Ohio for the Presidency. He resigned from the Senate in December 1920 and was inaugurated as the 29th President on March 4, 1921. This home is now privately owned.

Home, Marion, Ohio
During the summer of 1920, more than 600,000 people visited Marion, Ohio to see Warren G. Harding campaign for President from his front porch. The republican candidate addressed special audiences including groups of farmers, veterans, state delegates, blacks and traveling salesmen. A brass band would meet each group and provide an escort to Harding’s home. Along the mile-long route from the train depot to the house, the Marion Civic Association set up a “Victory Way.” White columns topped by Gilt eagles marked both sides of the road at twenty-five foot intervals. A press building was constructed behind the Harding Home for use by newspaper reporters who covered election activities. That building was the place where correspondents could write their copy. It is now a museum dedicated to Warren G. Harding.

Gravesite, Harding Memorial, Marion, Ohio
Shaken by the talk of corruption among the friends he had appointed to office, Warren and Florence Harding began a tour on June 20, 1923 of the West and Alaska. He hoped to get out and meet people, to shake hands and explain his policies. Although suffering from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, he seemed to enjoy himself-especially in Alaska. On his return journey he became ill with a touch of food poisoning. The presidential train rushed to San Francisco where his condition worsened. On August 23, he suffered either a brain stroke or a heart attack in the evening, while his wife was reading to him. He died quietly and instantaneously.

Word quickly spread that Mrs. Harding, the last person to be with him that evening, had poisoned him to prevent him from being brought up on charges of corruption that soon engulfed his administration. A sensationalist book published in 1930 detailed the allegations against her. Her refusal to allow an autopsy of the president only fed the rumors. Harding left the bulk of his estate, valued at $850,000 to his wife.

The bodies of President Warren G. Harding and Mrs. Harding were buried in the Harding Memorial in December 1927.

Memorial, Marion, Ohio
Plans for raising a memorial fund were begun, shortly after President Harding’s death, with the organization of The Harding Memorial Association on October 11, 1923. It was the purpose of the association to erect and endow a fitting memorial to the memory of the late President, and to plan for the perpetuation and maintenance of the Harding Home at Marion, Ohio. A sum of $977,821.76 was raised for this purpose by popular subscription. There were over a million contributors from all parts of the United States, and the Philippines, as well as from several European countries. Included in the list of contributors were approximately two hundred thousand school children who contributed pennies to the fund.

Early in the year of 1925 a number of America’s leading architects entered the competition for memorial design. The architects who conceived this unusual shrine are Henry H. Hornbostel and Eric Fisher Wood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The commission was awarded to them because of the unusual beauty and simplicity of their design which was submitted, and because this plan in every respect deferred to the wishes of the President for a simple, under-the-sky burial. Edward P. Mellon of New York acted as professional advisor. The constructors of the memorial were E. Elford & Son of Columbus, Ohio.

The first ground was broken for the construction of the memorial on April 26, 1926, and the ceremony of the cornerstone laying took place on May 30, 1926. The stone, in which a collection of records and souvenirs was placed, was laid by Vice-President Dawes. The stimulation given to the eminent architects of this country by a competition for a funeral monument to President Harding produced the present structure, unique in conception, interesting and beautiful in execution, and most appropriate to contain the sarcophagi of President Warren G. Harding and his wife, Mrs. Florence Harding.

The Harding Memorial is a circular monument built entirely of Georgia white marble, furnished by the Georgia Marble Company of Tate, Georgia. The only variation from the plain white marble is in the floor, where a mosaic style is produced with gray and white squares. Its appearance suggests in general a round Greek temple. Upon approaching the monument, one’s curiosity is immediately aroused, since it has not the usual feature of a doorway, and on looking through the columns one sees that it has no roof and instead of being a sepulchral chamber it forms an open court, more aptly described as a cloister. The effect thus produced is not of a funeral or cemetery character, and being open to the sky makes it possible to have a garden plot surrounding the tomb.

The exterior colonnade stands entirely free from the circular wall behind it. The entrance is through this exterior colonnade and through a large opening in the wall behind it. The open court is formed by a Greek Ionic colonnade applied to the inner side of the circular wall. The columns of this structure support a terrace which carries sufficient earth for permanent planting and is filled with green and purple myrtle. In the center of the myrtle bed, under the shade of a beautiful maple tree, are two black granite tombstones, distinguished only by two bronze wreaths at the head of each stone, one designed with palm leaves and the other with roses, indicating the respective places of Mr. and Mrs. Warren G. Harding.

The entire structure with its shrubbery and planting may be aptly described as a garden crypt. It is a shrine of sufficient beauty not to be forbidding or tomblike as is often the case in monuments of this character.