Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Harding Home

I was in Columbus over the last few days for a conference (the Midwest Archives Conference). On the way back, I made a detour through Marion, Ohio, the hometown of Florence and Warren Harding to tour the Harding Home.

This is a gorgeous home and very well kept. The house is close to all actual Harding possessions, which makes it an absolute joy to go through. Definitely makes you feel as if you really are visiting the Hardings! While we often think about presidents as wealthy men, the Harding house really gives off a more middle class feel – upper middle class, but more middle class nonetheless. The house isn’t a mansion and many of the furnishing, while lovely, are normal pieces of furniture. It definitely gives you a different view of the Hardings.

The house is two stories with a basement. The tour encompasses the two main floors and the front porch. The house was built by the Warren for Florence in 1891.

Warren Harding speaking from his front porch

The front porch, as you can see from the first picture is really beautiful. It actually isn’t the original front porch – it was added about the time Harding became Lt. Governor of Ohio. The legend is that the original porch fell in due to all the visitors congratulating him on his victory. When they were building the front porch, Florence noticed a house down the street (still standing in Marion) that had a rounded front porch that she really liked. Warren told her she could have it that way IF they repainted the house. Why did he want this compromise? Well, the original house was painted red (Florence’s choice) and Warren said it made him feel like he was living in a barn. So the house was the repainted the color it is today and Florence got her front porch. It was from this front porch that Warren Harding conducted his “front porch” campaign in 1920.

Now I’m not going to spoil the tour for you, so I’m going to just name a few of my favorite pieces in the house. The house has three fireplaces on the first floor. To save space and heat, they all meet in one central chimney. They have the most beautiful tiling on them! The colors are really stunning! Also on the first floor is the dining room, which holds a lot of various Harding china and glassware, including pieces that they bought in Europe. The library includes many of the Hardings original books and was Warren’s favorite room. The first floor has three stained glass windows, all of which are perfectly preserved and exquisite.

The second floor has several bedrooms and a modern bathroom. There are four bedrooms: Marshall’s (Florence’s son by her first husband), the master bedroom, a guest bedroom and a maid’s bedroom. Marshall’s room and the master bedroom have really interesting windows. The windows have an outer rim of small multicolored glass. It is really different! The master bedroom contains the matched bedroom set (with twin beds due to Florence’s ill health – nephritis) and has the Hardings inaugural clothes on display. As a note, the museum does acknowledge Warren’s affairs (of which one has been verified). The guest bedroom has a couple of real neat things on it. First of all, there is a char in it that has a star and moon carved into it – it was what Florence used it for séances (she was big into the occult). Next, the Hardings’ bird, Pete, has been stuffed and is on display. The last item that I found fascinating was what I thought a doll on display. It was actually a lamp and the bulb would go under her skirt – it was a night light of sorts. It would terrify me of a fire! The maid (Bernice) actually married the chauffeur (Frank) and they lived in the last bedroom after their marriage. The cook (Inez) lived down the street. The items in that room aren’t actually Bernice and Frank’s, but rather various pieces from the Hardings, including Florence’s sidesaddle! There are two staircases to the upstairs – the main stairs and then the maid’s stairs.

The grounds have two other things on it besides landscaping. First, this building is now the office and gift store. It originally was a press house built by Warren and it was a Sears mail order house!

The second doesn’t actually belong the grounds, but has been moved there to preserve it. It is a mobile voting booth that was actually used in Columbus from 1880 to 1940. It is really neat – it is just a tin box with a couple of voting stalls inside that could be hauled from place to place (horses and tractors were both used).

The museum is run by the Ohio Historical Society and is mostly staffed by volunteers. The tour guide I got was a high school teacher who did an excellent job. Some things to remember if you come to Marion:
  • The house is only open for tours for weekends right now (April/May). During the summer, it does have more hours. It is closed completely from November to March. Since the tours are guided, you might want to call ahead to figure out times. You should also call ahead for large groups.

  • The tour costs $6 for adults, $3 for students or Triple A members and free for kids under 5 or OHS members. I actually think that’s pretty reasonable.

  • The museum is pretty easy to find, just follow the highway to Marion and then there are signs to the Harding Home.

Also in Marion is the Harding Memorial, where both of the Hardings are buried. To me it is very ostentatious and I don’t think that the Hardings would really appreciate it. Their house is a middle class dwelling, while the monument is very Greek and overdone. As a note, when it was finished President Coolidge refused to come dedicate it as originally did President Hoover. Hoover finally relented and dedicated it in 1931. Both men were leery of being associated with the scandals of the Harding Administration.

There are rumors that one of the Hardings’ dogs were buried with them, but according to the museum, there is no truth to that story.

So go enjoy the Harding Home and Memorial – they are definitely worth seeing!

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