After three months of wearing their Sunday best, sweeping already-clean sidewalks and smiling for the photographers, the people of Marion finally let loose with a night of celebration after Warren G. Harding was declared the winner of the 1920 presidential election on Nov. 2, 1920.
The Marion community worked hand in hand with Sen. Harding’s campaign to welcome more than 600,000 visitors, serve up thousands of frankfurters and organize dozens of parades down Center Street to Harding’s front porch on Mount Vernon Avenue. When the ballots were counted, Harding had garnered 60.3 % of the popular vote, while Democrat James Cox tallied 34.1 %. It was a landslide.
Supporters of Warren G. Harding stand with signs during his campaign at his Marion, Ohio home. Photo via Ohio Memory.
“All day long, enthusiasm ran high and by night it had reached its zenith,” The Marion Star gushed in the next day’s newspaper. “Marion citizens, people from the rural districts and surrounding cities and towns as well as people from a greater distance who had come to Marion to help in the jollification, of which they felt so confident, crowded the business section of the city early in the evening, ready to do honor to the nation’s choice.”
Warren and Florence Harding greet supporters from their front porch in Marion. Photo via Ohio Memory.
Harding’s election day – and also his 55th birthday – started in an ordinary way with breakfast in the dining room of his modest, green-painted home. Frank Blacksten, the Harding’s longtime chauffeur, drove the senator and his wife, Florence, to the couple’s polling place — the Huber garage on South Greenwood Street, which is now home to Owens Electric. Not only did Mrs. Harding vote for the first time that morning, but she was able to put an “x” in the box next to her husband’s name. Women had earned the right to vote just two months before, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. After a round of golf at the Scioto Country Club near Columbus, Harding’s dinner back in Marion was highlighted with a pink-iced birthday cake, one of nearly 200 cakes sent to the home by admirers from all over the country.
Florence Harding (far right) sits with two women during the “Front Porch Campaign” of 1920. Photo via Ohio Memory.
The early election results coming into Marion by telegraph early that evening were promising. As Harding’s totals grew, so did the crowd in front of Harding’s newspaper office on East Center Street. The three-story Marion Star building stood just west of the original part of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. A large piece of canvas had been attached to the building across the street, and a lantern projector flashed election bulletins from the newspaper building onto the screen. Later, an amplifier was added to the makeshift operation so those who could not crowd in to view the canvas could hear the results – even though the cheers, clanging of cowbells and beating of drums made that increasingly difficult.
Warren G. Harding setting type at the Marion star, with a sign for Union label Typographical of Marion, Ohio, in the background. Photo via Ohio Memory.
With the vote totals steadily tilting more in Harding’s favor, Cox conceded the election. Soon after, Harding, who had been hosting a small group of friends at his home, was surprised to find 50 employees from the Marion Star at his front door. They wanted to be the first to congratulate the boss. They presented Harding with a solid gold newspaper makeup rule, inscribed with his birth year (1865) and election year (1920), as well as the “November 2” date of both his birthday and election day.
Harding, tears glistening in his eyes, told the group: “You and I have been associated together for many years. I know you and you know me. I am about to be called to a position of great responsibility. I have been on the square with you and I want to be on the square with all the world.”
Few in Marion went to bed before midnight that night. The Hardings reportedly finally turned in about 5 a.m. The Marion Star said it all: “It was a wonderful night for Marion and the ‘open house’ she kept during the hours between sundown and morning will be one never to be forgotten.”
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