Ohio has been the birthplace of 8 Presidents, so it had to be expected that we would eventually visit a few Presidential sites. There are three main sites related to Warren G. Harding in Marion, Ohio: the house he lived in and did most of his campaigning from, an exhibit of Harding ephemera in the basement of Heritage Hall just a few blocks away, and his memorial near the cemetery just a mile south. We’re going to start at his house.
Warren G. Harding House
Harding was different (it seems) from many Presidential candidates in that he didn’t really enjoy campaigning all that much. Instead of going around glad-handing people around the country, he instead had people come to him in Marion. And boy, did they come. Thousands upon thousands of people flocked to his front yard (and the yards of every one of his neighbors), and he would give lengthy speeches from his porch. Harding won the election in a landslide.
Much as today, he was constantly surrounded by a pool of press figures. Harding actually built a cozy house for them to use in his backyard.
To the right of the Press House was a traveling ballot trailer used in Columbus from 1880 to 1940. Unfortunately, we could not go inside although there were steps to the door.
As it stands today, the Harding house site is in a major state of flux. The folks running the site mentioned several times that they are currently in the process of buying all the properties directly behind the Harding house, and building an actual Presidential Library and Museum scheduled to open in 2020, the 100th anniversary of his election. As we found out on this day, that’s probably a good thing as actual Harding information and artifacts are pretty well spread out around town.
Inside the Press House, there were a few small cases of some of Harding’s possessions. We were only able to snap a couple quick pictures, and not able to read any of the info, before we were quickly brushed off to the front porch for the house tour.
The house tour was decent, but not terribly interesting. It’s a very typical, very cramped late 1800s house. Part of the house is under renovation, so we couldn’t see part of the house at all. The most interesting story about the house is probably its renovation history. The Ohio History Connection, when they first gained control of the Harding site, renovated the house to its original look from when it was built in the 1800s. Except, the Harding’s didn’t live in it in that configuration. So part of the money the current caretakers collect through admission, donations, and souvenirs, is to renovate the house to what it looked like when the Harding’s actually lived there.
One rather intriguing fact (given Harding’s reputation as a ladies man…a reputation we are not done exploring today) is that he had at least 13 statues of nude women scattered throughout the house. We also learned that Harding’s wife really liked collecting dishes.
A tour of the Harding House costs $8, and takes about an hour (including intro film).
After our tour, we were off to Heritage Hall in downtown Marion (roughly half a mile away).
Heritage Hall used to be the local Post Office. Today, it technically holds three museums: the Wyandot Popcorn Museum, the Marion County History Museum, and in the basement, a Warren G. Harding museum (among some other truly bizarre things). I will discuss some of those other things in my next post, but today I want to focus on the Harding area.
The Harding room is truly your typical ephemera collection. Paintings, pictures, newspaper clippings, and some of Harding’s personal possessions. One of my favorite pieces is Harding’s desk from the time when he owned the local newspaper.
There are a couple cases dedicated to materials from the commemoration of Harding’s death. I particularly like the title of the book: “A Calm Review of a Calm Man.”
This collection was a nice surprise, since it’s not really mentioned in any of the materials I read up on for this excursion. I suspect that when the actual Harding Museum is completed that these items will move there. Until then, I heartily recommend a trip to Heritage Hall in Marion. Again, I will cover the rest of it in more depth in the next couple weeks. It’s only a $4 entry fee and you get free popcorn when you leave!
After Harding’s sudden death in 1923, a foundation was started by Dr. Charles Sawyer – Harding’s personal doctor – in order to build a memorial for Harding in Marion. The Memorial structure was completed in 1927, but wasn’t officially dedicated until 1931. A large part of that delay had to do with the Teapot Dome Scandal which took place under Harding’s watch, but didn’t really break until years after his death. Harding’s tomb is a stunning piece of architecture. Over 100 feet in diameter, and over 50 feet high, Harding and his wife are both buried in above-ground tombs behind a gate.
There’s not a whole lot to actually do at the tomb except pay respects, and maybe do a lap around the outside. It is well worth the stop to just experience the grandeur of this site. Sadly, Harding was the last President to have a monument of this type built upon death.
There’s one REALLY curious aspect to the grounds of the Harding Memorial, and I just have to wonder just how intentional it was way back in 1925 when it was designed. As I’ve mentioned before (and will one more time in a minute), Harding was well known to have had several affairs, and at least one illegitimate child. I have to wonder if that information was on the designer’s mind, because there’s a picture on a small display that shows an overhead view of the grounds before all the trees matured, and well…
Viewing the Harding Memorial is free.
Across the street from the Harding Tomb is the very large Marion Cemetery. In this cemetery are a couple Harding related stops worth seeing in order to get the full Harding experience.
- The Receiving Vault where the Hardings were interred for several years while the Memorial was being built.
- Charles Sawyer – Harding’s personal doctor. Many that have studied Harding’s death believe he misdiagnosed an enlarged heart, and possibly a series of heart attacks as food poisoning.
- Carrie Phillips – Harding’s best known and longest lasting mistress. They were together over 15 years.
- Amos Kling – Harding’s father in law. Kling hated Harding, and really hated that his daughter, Florence, loved him. Kling disowned her.
Also in the same cemetery is one of the best known “Roadside Attractions” in Ohio: the Merchant Ball.
The Merchant Ball is a 5,500 pound granite ball that for some unknown reason keeps slowly rotating on its base. That light gray spot was placed on the bottom originally, and has been replaced a couple times over the years. At this point, it’s probably too much of a tourist attraction for anyone to want to place it back again. The Merchant family all have spherical headstones as well, which makes this almost look like a little solar system.
In my next post, I will take you again inside Heritage Hall to see the Popcorn Museum, the Marion County History Museum, and the rest of the truly glorious basement…
If you would like to see more pictures from this trip, please visit the flickr album.
Thanks for reading!