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The Most Famous Porch in America?

August 22, 2011
I have been fascinated with the life of Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States of America, ever since I first read Francis Russell’s wonderful biography of Harding, The Shadow of Blooming Grove. I only came across the book after reading an interview with James Ellroy in which he mentioned he was planning a novel on Harding and The Shadow of Blooming Grove was a source of inspiration. Sadly, Ellroy’s Harding novel never came to fruition, but I have kept up my interest over the years. So when I was visiting friends in Ohio this summer, I resolved to visit Harding’s home in Marion, Ohio, now a museum maintained by the Ohio Historical Society.

Warren G. Harding Home in Marion, Ohio

Harding was perhaps the last presidential candidate to run a significant ‘Front Porch Campaign’. While his Democratic opponent James M. Cox was crisscrossing the country at great expense, Harding gave many speeches from the front porch of his house. The house also served as his campaign headquarters. Harding was noted for being an eloquent and impressive orator, and his speeches were attended by thousands of Americans. The campaign was also highly effective in generating press interest.

Warren Harding Memorial

Harding died in 1923 at the age of 57 after a short illness developed during an exhaustive nationwide tour. He was resting at the Palace Hotel, San Francisco and his doctors believed he was getting better. Harding was a mere two years into his presidency and the public grief at his passing was immense. Marion is a fairly nondescript place but the impressive Harding memorial looks like something you would find in Ancient Rome. Harding is buried there with his wife Florence who died sixteen months after his passing. The memorial was completed in 1927, but it would not be dedicated until 1931 by President Herbert Hoover due to scandals about Harding’s administration surfacing after his death. For this reason, the Republican party tried to distance itself from Harding, but it was the Republican President Herbert Hoover who eventually dedicated Harding’s tomb. Harding’s reputation has suffered over the years and he is sometimes considered America’s worst president. Russell compares him to JFK: they were both good-looking and charismatic politicians who came to the presidency on a wave of good-will. As both presidents died in office, their deaths constituted national tragedies, and yet both their reputations have suffered with the passing of time.

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