Death in the White House - Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding
29th President 1921 - 1923

Warren G. Harding's administration was plagued with scandals like Teapot Dome. He may have learned enough about the corruption in his cabinet and appointments before his death to realize that his presidency was about to crumble. Harding set out on a cross country trip of good will to explain his policies to the people. He suffered from high blood pressure and an enlarged heart. The strenuous trip took its toll. He was the first President to visit Alaska and seemed to enjoy his time there, but on the return south he fell ill. His train reached San Francisco and on July 29, 1923, he checked into the Palace Hotel, room 8064. Soon after, doctors determined that he had pneumonia. By August 1st his fever and accelerated pulse had subsided. He made plans to go fishing the next day off Catalina Island. That night Mrs. Harding read to him to help lift his spirits. She read a flattering review of his presidency by Samuel Blythe of the Saturday Evening Post. He fell asleep and Mrs. Harding left the room. Later a nurse entered to check on the President and noticed that his face was twitching, his mouth dropped, and his head then rolled to one side. It was concluded that he suffered a stroke. There is evidence that he had long suffered from heart problems and could have had a sudden heart attack. Rumors abound that the actual cause of death may have been food poisoning, perhaps by Mrs. Harding, or the mob. Mrs. Harding did not allow an autopsy to be performed.

Funeral Procession
Harding's sudden death while on a tour of the west turned his train into a funeral train for the return trip to Washington. The train was draped in black, but not elaborately. Harding's body was placed in the drawing room at the Palace Hotel on Friday and moved to the train that evening. The train departed at 7:15 p.m. After passing slowly through many of the towns along the way to allow mourners a view, the train arrived in Washington on Tuesday, August 7th, at 10:22 p.m. Harding's body was removed to the White House, and then on Wednesday laid in state at the Capitol Rotunda where a funeral service was held. Some 10,000 school children were recruited from Washington's playgrounds to strew Pennsylvania Avenue with flowers as the funeral procession moved from the White House to the Capitol. Wednesday evening the train began the journey home to Marion, Ohio, arriving Thursday, August 9, 1923.

The following letter was written by F. R. Rees of Bolivar, Missouri to his wife and children on August 10, 1923. Rees had been visiting his parents in Patriot, Ohio, and decided to travel to Marion for the funeral. The letter is now part of the Marion County Historical Society collection.

"Caught train for Marion this morning at 9:10. Got there about 11. Streets crowded from depot to [George T., the President's father] Harding's home both sides. When we got off of train every body you would ask would say no earthly chance to get to see him. They were lined up for 1½ to 2 miles just as thick as they could stand on the sidewalk. People stood in line from early morn until 2 or 3 o'clock and there were a lot of people that didn't get to see him at all.

I think half of the flags in U. S. A. were there and all the flowers in Ohio and many from other states...

Well I walked 3 or 4 miles and it begun to look like I come a long ways to see the remains of Mr. Harding and would have to come back and tell you I didn't get to see him, so I begun to try and figure out a way. They U. S. soldiers from everywhere and the Boy Scouts directing traffic and people they keep you on the run all the time. That's all you could hear - "Keep moving."

So I decided I was going to get in that line if possible and if you didn't get up at the head end of line you never would get in the house, so I went two squares back of the Harding house climb back fences and thru back yards and finally got in the back yard of home that was beside the Harding home. There were several people sitting in the front yard and they two or three empty chairs there. So just walks up and sits down and rests a while and after I sit there about 15 min I just gets up and slips in line and I was in the house in 5 min after I got in line. After they got in the yard they marched twos and after they got the back porch they went in one at a time. He was in the front room. The casket sit to the right as you come in at the back door. In the room were only 3 men - 2 soldiers and a detective or took him to be. They told you to step fast. It was a mighty fine casket. Mr. Harding I believe look as natural as any any (sic) corps I ever viewed."

“An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.” ~ Benjamin Harrison

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