8/2/1923: Vice President Calvin Coolidge becomes U.S. President upon the death of President Warren G. Harding

 

Harding went to bed early on the evening of July 27, 1923, a few hours after giving a speech at the University of Washington. Later that night, he called for his physician Charles E. Sawyer, complaining of pain in the upper abdomen. Sawyer thought that it was a recurrence of a dietary upset, but Dr. Joel T. Boone suspected a heart problem. Harding felt better the next day, as the train rushed to San Francisco; they arrived on the morning of July 29 and he insisted on walking from the train to the car, which rushed him to the Palace Hotel  where he suffered a relapse. Doctors found that his heart was causing problems, but he also had pneumonia, and he was confined to bed rest in his hotel room. Doctors treated him with caffeine and digitalis, and he seemed to improve. Hoover released Harding’s foreign policy address advocating membership in the World Court, and the president was pleased that it was favorably received. By the afternoon of August 2, doctors allowed him to sit up in bed. Florence was reading him “A Calm Review of a Calm Man” at 7:30 that evening, a flattering article from The Saturday Evening Post; she paused to fluff his pillows and he told her, “That’s good. Go on, read some more.” She resumed reading when Harding suddenly twisted convulsively and collapsed back in the bed; doctors were unable to revive him with stimulants.  His death was initially attributed to a cerebral hemorrhage, as doctors at the time did not generally understand the symptoms of cardiac arrest.

Harding’s death came as a great shock to the nation. He was liked and admired, and the press and public had followed his illness closely and been reassured by his apparent recovery. His body was carried to his train in a casket for a journey across the nation followed closely in the newspapers. Nine million people lined the tracks as his body was taken from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., where he lay in state at the United States Capitol rotunda. After funeral services there, the body was transported to Marion, Ohio for burial.

In Marion, Harding’s body was placed on a horse-drawn hearse, which was followed by President Coolidge and Chief Justice Taft, then by Harding’s widow and his father. They followed it through the city, past the Star building, and finally to the Marion Cemetery where the casket was placed in the cemetery’s receiving vault. Funeral guests included inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist businessmen Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Warren and Florence Harding rest in the Harding Tomb, which was dedicated in 1931 by President Hoover.