The Story Behind Warren G. Harding's Mysterious Death

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

During the summer of 1923, President Warren G. Harding and First Lady Florence Harding did what many do during the warmer months: They decided to take a road trip. The couple, along with a presidential entourage, embarked upon a journey they called the "Voyage of Understanding," a cross-country speaking tour that included stops in Alaska. Though much of the trip went well, by the end of the summer, Harding would end up dead and his wife's reputation under attack.

There were signs that something was amiss with the 29th U.S. president early in the trip. He tried to play golf on July 26, but was so tired he could only manage a couple of holes. He fumbled during a speech the following day, mistakenly calling Alaska "Nebraska" and clutching the podium for balance. He became ill later that night, which his doctors blamed on spoiled seafood.

And on August 2, 1923, the 57-year-old president died suddenly at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Doctors declared a stroke the cause of death, and, per his wife’s wishes, he was embalmed just an hour later. The rush to embalm, combined with Florence's refusal to allow an autopsy or even a death mask, raised more than a few eyebrows. She engaged in more suspicious behavior after his death, when she systematically went through Warren's papers and destroyed a wealth of files and correspondence.

After the funeral was over, Florence was said to remark to friend Evalyn McLean, "Now that it is all over, I am beginning to think it was for the best."

In 1930, former F.B.I. agent Gaston Means wrote a book that accused Florence of offing her husband. It wasn't accidental food poisoning that had made Harding sick a few days before his death, he argued—it was Florence's ambition. Unlike other First Ladies of the era, Florence was deeply involved with her husband’s presidency and once told the press, "I have only one real hobby—my husband."

Her vested interest in Warren's legacy lends a bit of credence to the "motive" Means alleged Florence had—his reputation. Killing off her husband, Means suggests, was the only way to protect his name. Florence was worried that Warren's affairs—including one that resulted in a child—were going to tarnish his legacy, one that was already sullied by the Teapot Dome bribery scandal and other controversies that happened during his administration.

Means’ ghostwriter later admitted that the book had been largely fabricated, but the damage had been done. The public already believed that Harding's sudden death was suspicious; Means' book had simply added fuel to the fire. And Florence wasn't around to refute the accusations. She died in 1924, a little over a year after Warren's untimely demise.

But if there was no foul play afoot, why deny an autopsy? According to the National First Ladies’ Library, Florence may have been trying to protect the reputation of her husband’s doctors. Dr. Sawyer, in particular, is thought to have given Harding some stimulants that may have helped induce the president’s fatal heart attack on August 2. Rather than drag Sawyer’s name through the mud—and perhaps bring her own judgment into question—Florence could have opted to simply close the book on the whole thing.

If that truly was her goal, however, denying the autopsy may have done more harm than good. Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur was present the night of Harding’s death and later recalled how the public immediately blamed the doctors for his untimely demise. “We were accused of starving the President to death, of feeding him to death, of assisting in slowly poisoning him, and of plying him to death with pills and purgatives. We were accused of being abysmally ignorant, stupid and incompetent, and even of malpractice,” he wrote in his memoirs.

Unlike fellow possible poison victim Zachary Taylor, Harding's body has never been exhumed and tested for poison—but modern-day doctors believe Harding suffered a heart attack.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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What Benefits Do Presidents Get After They Leave Office?

Barack Obama walks on the colonnade after leaving the Oval Office for the last time as President on January 20, 2017.
Barack Obama walks on the colonnade after leaving the Oval Office for the last time as President on January 20, 2017.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Former presidents have pursued a range of careers after departing the Oval Office. While many presidents have written books or made post-office careers of giving speeches to earn income, others have started nonprofit organizations to continue the charitable endeavors they were able to support during their presidential tenures. William Howard Taft took a different route when he went on to become a Supreme Court Justice. But after holding the highest office in the land, are presidents working because they have to—or because they want to? And what retirement benefits, if any, do former commanders-in-chief get?

According to the Former Presidents Act, which was passed in 1958, ex-presidents are entitled to a handful of benefits following their presidency, including a pension and funds for travel, office space, and personal staff. Dwight D. Eisenhower passed the act largely to help Harry Truman, who struggled to support himself after leaving the White House. Truman turned down a slew of cushy job offers, explaining that, "I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the Presidency."

Today, more than 60 years later, former presidents can thank the Former Presidents Act and similar legislation for their lifelong benefits. The Secretary of the Treasury currently pays a lifetime annual pension of just north of $200,000 to Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. If a former president dies before their spouse, the spouse gets an annual pension of $20,000 as well as franked mail privileges and lifelong Secret Service protection (unless they remarry).

The Government Services Administration pays for office space, furniture, staff, and supplies. It also reimburses them for their move out of the White House and any work-related travel they do. The amount of money former presidents get for their office space and staff varies. In 2010, for example, Carter’s office in Atlanta came in at $102,000 per year, while Bill Clinton’s New York office was $516,000.

Besides a pension and office-related funds, former presidents get lifelong Secret Service protection for themselves, their spouses, and their children under 16. In 1985, 11 years after resigning the presidency, former President Richard Nixon decided to forgo his Secret Service detail. Claiming that he wanted to save the U.S. government money—his Secret Service protection cost an estimated $3 million each year—Nixon opted to pay for his own bodyguard protection rather than have taxpayers fund it. Although Nixon was the only president to refuse Secret Service protection, his wife opted to drop her protection one year earlier.

Nixon's decision to resign the office of the presidency was probably a smart decision, financially speaking, as the Act indicates that a president who is forced out of office via impeachment would not be entitled to these post-presidency benefits. But because Nixon resigned before he could be impeached, the Department of Justice ruled that Nixon should be eligible to receive the same financial benefits of his fellow former presidents. Similarly, because Clinton was impeached but acquitted, his retirement benefits were safe.

Some critics point out that living former presidents, with their millions of dollars of income from speeches and books, shouldn’t use taxpayer money to supplement their already vast incomes. But it looks like benefits for former presidents are here to stay.

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