Death of the President

Claudine Burnett

He Should Have Been In Long Beach

On Aug. 2, 1923, the nation was shocked to hear of the death of the nation’s 29th president – Warren G. Harding.

The economic climate had not been as prosperous in other areas of the United States as in Long Beach where oil was discovered in 1921. A depression in the farm belt caused the Republicans to slip drastically in the 1922 Congressional elections and talk of government fraud in oil leases (the Teapot Dome scandal) led the president’s popularity to slip even more.

In June 1923, President Harding decided to revive confidence in his Republican administration by making a cross country speaking tour. As his train passed through Seattle, Harding fell ill. In San Francisco the trip was halted when doctor’s reported Harding had pneumonia. Shortly after he was dead, apparently of a brain hemorrhage.

Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy, which helped contribute to rumors that the President might have been poisoned.

Aug. 3, 1923, was the date that Harding was to have arrived in Long Beach. He had been scheduled to drive into Long Beach along Cherry Avenue, stopping for a view of the oil derricks and the panorama of the city and harbor.

At Lincoln Park his motorcade was to have halted and be greeted by school children. From Long Beach it was planned he would drive to Wilmington and take a boat to Catalina Island. However, tears, not cheers marked Aug. 3rd in the minds of the Long Beach citizenry.

On Aug. 10, Long Beach joined the nation in mourning. Instead of merely closing businesses during the hours of the funeral, it was decided to close all business, even the Pike amusement zone, during the day. At 1:15 p.m. hundreds gathered to hear the Rev. George D. Knights preside over a memorial service in Lincoln Park.

Calvin Coolidge became the 30th president of the United States on Aug. 2, 1923, upon Harding’s untimely death.

The sudden change in the head of the national government brought several Long Beach residents, relatives of President Calvin Coolidge, into the limelight. Among them were 24-year-old Flora May (Long Beach deputy city tax collector), and her 21-year-old brother Glenn. They were third cousins of the president, and his closest relatives in California.

Their father Samuel Coolidge, a retired mining engineer from Cripple Creek, Colorado, was a second cousin of the president and good friend. Following Samuel’s death in September 1923, the now president sent the family a letter of condolence. L.F. Coolidge, who also lived in Long Beach was a 4th cousin of the president.

Claudine Burnett is a retired Long Beach Public Library librarian who compiled the library’s Long Beach History Index. In her research, she found many forgotten, interesting stories about Long Beach and Southern California, which she has published in 12 books as well as in monthly blogs. You can access information about her books and read her blogs at www.claudineburnettbooks.com.

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