The Assassination of Warren G. Harding

Aug 2012
1,554
#1
Apologies for the sensationalist title, I just thought it sounded snappy.

But yes, Warren G. Harding, a very controversial President and a rather contradictory figure. He himself was apparently quite honest, and yet those within his inner circle mired his administration in scandal, scandals he was fortunate enough to avoid by dying before they came to light.

Yet the matter of his death was a matter of some contention afterwards. He was on a speaking tour, but quickly fell ill and died, with both Harding's mistress and an FBI agent writing tell-all books alleging that the President had been poisoned.
This was in large part due to the behavior of his wife, Florence, who ordered the President to be embalmed before an autopsy could take place and then rushed to destroy many of Harding's papers.

It's one of those stories in American history which really interests me. But what do you make of it? Do you think there's any possibility that President Harding was poisoned? And if so, is his wife the only suspect?
 
Aug 2012
1,554
#3
Maybe she found out about his mistress or his love-child?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nan_Britton
Quite possibly. His wife's jealousy is the reason most often given, easy to believe given Harding's apparent nymphomania. (He himself apparently said "It's a good thing I am not a woman. I would always be pregnant. I can't say no.")
I heard a story somewhere that he had such women in and out of the White House all the time, and on one occasion was nearly caught mid-act, because he decided to fornicate in an Oval Office cupboard.
 
Apr 2009
4,428
Alabama, USA
#5
Apologies for the sensationalist title, I just thought it sounded snappy.

But yes, Warren G. Harding, a very controversial President and a rather contradictory figure. He himself was apparently quite honest, and yet those within his inner circle mired his administration in scandal, scandals he was fortunate enough to avoid by dying before they came to light.

Yet the matter of his death was a matter of some contention afterwards. He was on a speaking tour, but quickly fell ill and died, with both Harding's mistress and an FBI agent writing tell-all books alleging that the President had been poisoned.
This was in large part due to the behavior of his wife, Florence, who ordered the President to be embalmed before an autopsy could take place and then rushed to destroy many of Harding's papers.

It's one of those stories in American history which really interests me. But what do you make of it? Do you think there's any possibility that President Harding was poisoned? And if so, is his wife the only suspect?
He was the guy who ate a bowl of cherries and drank a pitcher of lemonade, right? I just assumed he had the rotten luck of getting sick (without the poisoning plot) and dying from the illness. I seem to remember a documentary where a woman was convinced Harding was poisoned with arsenic, so medical researchers exhumed his body, ran tests on it but found no traces of arsenic overdose.

So if he did die via poison, it must've been some other poison other than arsenic.
 
Aug 2012
1,554
#6
He was the guy who ate a bowl of cherries and drank a pitcher of lemonade, right? I just assumed he had the rotten luck of getting sick (without the poisoning plot) and dying from the illness. I seem to remember a documentary where a woman was convinced Harding was poisoned with arsenic, so medical researchers exhumed his body, ran tests on it but found no traces of arsenic overdose.

So if he did die via poison, it must've been some other poison other than arsenic.
Yes, I was reading about the cherries. At the time, Harding's doctor, Charles Sawyer, also thought that his illness could have been caused by bad seafood. Both are possible, of course, and more likely than the poisoning hypothesis.

It also helps to source the rumours, because the most outspoken proponent of the theory was a man called Gaston Means - a member of Harding's "Ohio Gang", and really quite an unsavory character. He was involved in bootlegging, was a known con-artist and was jailed for perjury.

It was actually during this imprisonment that he wrote the book suggesting the President had been poisoned. And whilst he WAS in a position to know all kinds of dirty secrets about the Harding administration, it's also far more plausible that it was simply an attempt by a well known huckster to make some money.
 

unclefred

Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
6,731
Oregon coastal mountains
#7
Probably the most notable scandal of Hardings administration-the Teapot Dome scandal.

After his death, the Duchess locked herself behind doors and burned box after box of the President's papers, correspondence and records. The warehouse where many of them were kept had black smoke pouring from the chimney for days.

"While visiting San Francisco, Harding died, in part because of Sawyer's harmful treatment of purging. The president was only 57, and his death marked yet another scandalous intrigue. All sorts of conspiracies circulated — suicide, poisoned by his jealous wife, killed to cover up further scandals. Mrs. Harding added to the brouhaha by rushing back to Washington in advance of her husband's body to systematically burn White House documents and records. Then, a year later she died — along with Harding's secrets — while convalescing at a sanitarium run by Doc Sawyer"

Hidden History: For scandal, you can't top Harding - tribunedigital-sunsentinel
 
Aug 2012
1,554
#8
Whilst researching this subject, I have seen a few mentions of what seems to be another theory as to President Harding's death - which seems to be something of a local legend in San Francisco.
Opposite the Palace Hotel is bar called The House of Shields. The story goes that Harding was there when he died, enjoying the company of one of his many mistresses.


To avoid the disgrace of the President being found dead in such an establishment - during prohibition, no less - a secret underground tunnel was used to convey Harding back to his hotel.
Here is an article about The House of Shields, which makes reference to this odd story:
https://savingplaces.org/stories/the-house-of-shields-in-san-francisco#.WwhRxSAh3IU
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
14
United States
#10
I suspect that his wife found out that he was cheating, then poisoned him in bed.
According to a history book on Presidents I once read by David C. Whitney, Harding's wife was in a room with him by his bedside, reading to him. He died in that very room while she was reading to him. This was after she had discovered his cheating. Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy.
I wonder if she poisoned and killed him out of anger.
 
Last edited:

Similar History Discussions