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.