Grave Sightings: Warren G. Harding

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

For one of the least-liked presidents in history, Warren G. Harding has a heck of a gravesite in Marion, Ohio. As even the official White House site notes, Harding’s presidency was "fraught with scandal.” From the Teapot Dome bribery scandal to adultery accusations that would make Bill Clinton blush (apparently, Harding referred to his penis as “Mount Jerry”), Harding did very little to endear himself to the public during the 29 months of his presidency.

Despite his shortcomings, Harding died while in office—he had a cerebral hemorrhage following a plethora of other health problems—and when that happens, people tend to respond lavishly. (See James Garfield.) Private donors contributed $978,000 to construct the massive memorial shown above. Some $200,000 of it came from children who mailed in their pennies.

Like other presidents who died or were killed while in office, Harding’s body went on a train tour from the Capitol through many small towns and big cities before arriving at his hometown of Marion, Ohio. The monument you see here was still in the planning stages, so his casket was placed in the receiving vault instead. When Florence Harding passed away a year after her husband, she, too was placed in the receiving vault. They were moved to their final resting place on December 21, 1927.

The funny thing is, Harding himself probably would have opposed the lavish gravesite. He requested a simple burial under a tree and the open sky—and while the architects took great pains to make sure these wishes were technically honored, they may have slightly embellished the rest.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.