Travel Treasures Close to Home: Ohio Presidents Part III
by Tom Reed
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Story filed June 12, 2008
In these times of high gas prices, many of us are thinking about attractions in our own backyard. These may be in Greater Cleveland, elsewhere in Ohio, or in neighboring states. Here is the third in a series on Ohio Presidential sites by freelance travel writer Tom Reed.
In this presidential election year, visiting the homes of past presidents can give us a look at how much the political process has changed, and also how it has remained the same.
Going to the home of Warren G. Harding in Marion, Ohio is a case in point. Given Hardingís reputation as one of the worst presidents in American history, you might be inclined not to spend much time or effort learning about him. But his life tells us much about politics in the early part of the last century.
Sit on the porch of the home and try to imagine what the front porch campaign of 1920 must have been like. Photographs show thousands of people crowded around to hear his speeches. He made about 40 speeches here, attracting as many as 600,000 people during the course of the campaign. His Democratic opponent, Ohio Governor James Cox (yes, both candidates were from Ohio) campaigned across the country and derided the front porch strategy. But it worked for Harding, who won 60 percent of the popular vote. Nevertheless, he was the last presidential candidate to run such a campaign, thanks largely to a new-fangled device known as radio. Harding was the first president to have a radio in the White House, and the first to address the nation by radio.
Harding was media savvy for his time. He was a newspaper publisher before he got into politics, serving as a state senator, lieutenant governor, and U. S. Senator. To accommodate the hordes of reporters covering the campaign, he built a press house, which today serves as a museum and visitor center. The building was ordered in kit form from a Sears catalog, at a cost of $1,000.
Harding made a practice of learning all he could about the groups coming to Marion, so he could tailor his speeches to their interests. Sound familiar?
Tour guides take you through the Victorian home and tell you about his life and presidency. The scandals that beset his administration are not ignored by the guides or the museum exhibits, but are not highlighted either. Some of the scandals did not come to light until after Harding died suddenly of a heart attack in 1923. And itís pointed out that although some of his cabinet members were corrupt, others were of unassailable integrity, such as Charles Evans Hughes, Andrew Mellon, and Herbert Hoover.
The restored house at 380 Mt. Vernon Avenue was built in 1891 as a wedding gift of Harding to his wife Florence. Almost all the furnishings are original.
During the summer months, the home is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and holidays. For more information, call 1-800-600-6894 or visit ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/places/c03.
The Harding memorial, the final resting place for Warren and Florence Harding, is an imposing structure a mile-and-a-half away. The circular monument of white Georgian marble is located in a 10-acre landscaped setting at the corner of State Route 423 and Vernon Heights Boulevard. It is open year-round during daylight hours.
The memorial also represents the end of an era in another respect, being the last of the elaborate presidential tombs. Later presidents are buried in simpler plots.
Previous stories in this series on Ohio presidential sites have dealt with Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley. Go to Reedís Read index to access them.
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Copyright 2008 Tom Reed