Since everything was closed Saturday morning and we couldn’t do anything about the truck, Lee and I decided to keep our plans and visit the Warren G. Harding Home and Memorial This location was only a little over an hour away and I was ashamed to say I have never even heard of it let alone been there. Marion, Ohio is a nice sized town north of Columbus and I have driven past it more times than I count. The presidential library is right in town and only 5 miles or so from the freeway.
The library is a beautiful white structure that has a small museum inside. Behind the museum the house he lived in is available to tour and this was particularly interesting because he conducted a large portion of his campaign from its front porch. He ran for office right towards the end of World War I and his entire campaign was around returning to simplicity. Since he owned the Marion Star newspaper he was able to reach a wide audience from his front steps. This tactic also allowed his wife Florence to campaign with him because she had a kidney ailment that made it difficult for her to travel.
The house tours ran on the hour, so after we arrived we took a look at the museum first. It was very small with minimal artifacts, which is surprising since we later learned they have a warehouse full of treasures they rotate through the museum. I did like the way it was laid out though and particularly enjoyed how much they talked about Florence. As I mentioned before learning about the first ladies is one of the most enjoyable parts of these visits for me and Florence was absolutely a modern woman.
One of the most famous things about Harding was his dog Laddie. He adored that dog and it was very famous across the country. We actually learned that several years ago the house was broken into and the only thing that was stolen was Laddie Boy’s collar. He was a complicated guy but I give him credit for loving his dogs and he was also a very hard worker. He usually worked from 8am to midnight and by all accounts he personally completed large quantities of work.
The fact that he owned a newspaper was a huge advantage when he was running for office although the lack of a lawyer’s degree and much higher education did not make him a likely candidate for president. Like many others he originally wasn’t a front runner, but he was chosen because he was an “average man” from a middle state. He was also very healthy and had a big personality in stark contrast to Wilson who had a stroke while in office and was frail. It’s actually ironic that Harding died before Wilson. After visiting Alaska, Harding had an acute gastrointestinal attack and ended up dying suddenly.
His death shocked the country and there were huge lines of people at both his burial train procession and in DC and Ohio.
Despite a relatively short time in office both the president and first lady accomplished quite a bit. Florence was a women’s advocate and met with several famous women of the time. She provided a forum for women scientists, athletes, and musicians and was a patron of Girl Scouts of America and fought for women’s equality.
Despite its size the museum was interesting, but once again the house was the star of the show. Harding built the house for his wife when he was only 25 so it was not situated on a large estate but on a regular street. Over time the two houses on either side were bought by the parks system and torn down, but originally it was a fairly modest home. He did add a press house during his campaign and the front porch was added later as well. The porch is where he made his famous campaign speeches and he had two a day every Tuesday and Friday. People would travel by train to Marion to see him speak and would walk the 1/4 mile to the house. Often 5,000 people would crowd the streets to see him talk and even more interesting was the fact that he wrote all of his own speeches himself.
The tour of the house itself was fascinating and the tour guide himself was very good. Several questions were asked about the Harding’s personal life and the guide did not shy away from those topics. We learned that Florence was married prior to her marriage to Warren and had a son who was raised by her father. Warren had several affairs over the years and the woman right before the presidential campaign was actually paid off with a years tour in Europe with her husband during the campaign. Although Florence and Warren had no children together, he did have an illegitimate child with another mistress and DNA testing has proven that her line came from him. We learned all this standing in a very simple foyer and it definitely added to the tour. These were real people with real challenges and those facts were woven in as we explored. The house doesn’t have the grandeur of many others we have visited but I liked that it was a true slice of how people really lived in the 1920’s.
Thousands of people came to this simple house and ultimately that was why his campaign was a success. Florence would let the children come into the house and play with Warren’s elephant collection and there was a horseshoe pit in the backyard. At night they would roll their record player out on the porch and folks would dance and sing. Despite Warren being for Prohibition, drinks could be had and the men smoked big cigars outside. The house really came alive with those stories and for that reason if nothing else I am glad we visited.
Supporting our Blog
We very much appreciate your support of our blog.