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August 3, 2013

Oneonta paid tribute to President Harding in 1923

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The Daily Star

---- — Two U.S. presidents have passed away since my returning to live in Oneonta, with Ronald Reagan in June 2004 and Gerald Ford in December 2006. Other than flags being at half-staff, there wasn’t much, if any, local tributes paid to our former chief executives. The opposite was true a few generations ago, demonstrated when President Warren G. Harding died on Thursday, Aug. 2, 1923. Local plans were made right away to pay tribute to the president.

“‘Neath skies as kindly as the spirit of the man to whom the nation was paying its last tribute of love and devotion,” reported The Oneonta Star of Saturday, Aug. 11, “Oneonta did its humble bit yesterday in the country wide period of mourning for the late President Warren G. Harding.”

Efforts were widespread to make it possible for local residents to attend two tributes in Oneonta in the late morning and late afternoon hours. For example the Oneonta Merchants Association decided to close their stores downtown from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. The Manufacturers Association voted to shut down all plants from 10 a.m. to noon and to turn off all power for a short time after 3 p.m. The Oneonta Normal School ended its summer session a day early, moving final examinations to Wednesday and Thursday, in order to be closed Friday, Aug. 10. Even the Oneonta Country Club closed their golf course for an hour starting at 10:30 a.m. Banks closed for the entire day and the post office locked its doors from 4 to 5 p.m. Oneonta’s biggest employer, the D&H Railroad, closed their offices for the day, with minimum necessary operations in the railroad shops.

At around the same time last respects were being paid by friends and family in President Harding’s hometown of Marion, Ohio, a union memorial service began at 10:30 a.m. in the First Methodist Episcopal Church, found today at 66 Chestnut St. The Rev. J.A. Judge of the Chapin Memorial Universalist Church and chaplain of the Oneonta Post of the American Legion delivered the eulogy.

“We should thank God that the President had surrounded himself with able men,” Judge said, “With Coolidge and Hughes at the helm the country is safe.” Judge’s referral to the latter was Charles Evans Hughes, a former governor of New York and U.S. Supreme Court justice, who as a young man had started his career in law by studying at Delaware County Judge William Gleason’s office in Delhi. Hughes served as secretary of state in the Harding Cabinet.

Later that afternoon the Star reported, “The service conducted by the American legion in Huntington park was the tribute of fighting men to a fighting man, the soldiers’ farewell to a departed comrade. At 4:30 p.m., the time announced as that when all that is mortal of Warren Harding would be placed in the vault at Marion, a firing squad from Company G fired three volleys and as the last salvo rang out, ‘Taps,’ the soldier’s requiem, was sounded by the bugler with the detail. It was a simple service but one deeply impressive to the good sized multitude gathered to share in the tribute.”

On Monday: A glance at a busy news month for the area in August 1958.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.