Please note: A expanded version of this story appears in our book Haunted Marion, Ohio.
The entire tour group was just the two of us, which made us feel a little awkward but didn’t seem to bother our tour guide. Although I had grown up in Marion, it was my first tour of the Harding Home. Seth, who had already been on a tour with one of his classes from school, informed me, “It’s kind of boring. I mean, you can’t even touch anything. Can’t take pictures either.”
The tour turned out to be all right, mostly because Seth seemed to know every rumor and scandal that had ever been associated with Harding and his presidency and, believe me, there were plenty. “Is it true that Harding had a black grandparent?” “What about the rumors that he had affairs with other women and one of the women tried to blackmail him?” “I also read that some people believe Florence Harding may have poisoned Harding because she wouldn’t allow an autopsy to be performed on him. What do you think?” “Was Harding really a member of the KKK?” To her credit, our tour guide attempted to address all of these questions, though they seemed to fluster her a little bit.*
Those lurid questions, however, were not the reason we had come to the Harding Home. In researching stories to include on the Spooky Marion website, we had come across the Haunted Ohio series by Chris Woodyard. These books include a couple of fascinating spooky stories about President Harding and the Harding Home. We had come to see, firsthand, the “Harding Death Clock” and the “Finch of Doom.”
The Death Clock
According to our tour guide and the Haunted Ohio IV book, the clock, which is on the wall above the first landing of the main staircase, was a wedding gift. For years it worked perfectly, both before and after Harding’s death. However, Woodyard writes, “on August 2, 1973, at 7:30 p.m., the clock inexplicably stopped.” Coincidentally (or perhaps not), this was exactly – down to the very hour – 50 years after Harding’s death. Furthermore, Woodyard writes, “on Thursday, one week later, the clock began to run – as mysteriously as it had stopped on the previous Thursday.” When Seth asked our tour guide if the clock had stopped for anyone else since then, she said that Harding Home volunteer (and local Harding High School teacher Shannon Morris) claims to have seen it stop, though she didn’t say whether he was there to see if start again. For the record, the clock was ticking away when we saw it.
The Finch of Doom
Maybe a more interesting story is the one about a pet finch owned by Mrs. Harding. Actually, Mrs. Harding is the central figure in almost every supernatural story surrounding the Hardings and their home. In Haunted Ohio V Woodyard writes that Mrs. Harding believed in astrology and regularly consulted a clairvoyant named Madame Marcia.
Our tour guide pointed out that the banister posts at the foot of the stairs were carved to look like owls – animals rich is supernatural symbolism – and that a chair in one of the bedrooms was known as the “medium’s chair” (though whether or not a medium actually used it is unclear).
According to our tour guide, Mrs. Harding wasn’t particularly fond of Petey the finch, but since it was a gift, she felt compelled to take it. Perhaps to show her displeasure, she named the bird Petey after her ne’re-do-well first husband. Mrs. Harding would cover the birdcage with a cloth at night, and the bird would go silent. However, on the night before Mrs. Harding and her husband were supposed to depart for Alaska, the bird inexplicably began to sing from beneath his covered cage. For Mrs. Harding this was a bad omen, and rightly so. Harding died on the trip.
According to Woodyard, Petey ended up out-living both President Harding and Mrs. Harding. Visitors to the Hading Home can now see Petey, stuffed and under a glass jar, in one of the bedrooms of the Harding Home.
*Believe it or not, these questions are not as half-baked as they sound. As recently as 2008 the New York Times Magazine ran an article about Harding titled “Our First Black President?” Furthermore, the truTV website has an interesting article titled “The Strange Life and Death of President Harding” that touches on the blackmail that was sometimes a result of Harding’s numerous affairs as well as the possibility that Florence Harding murdered him. Finally, in their 2005 national bestseller Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner write, “By the 1920s, a revived Klan claimed eight million members, including president Warren G. Harding, who reportedly took his Klan oath in the Green Room of the White House.” Levitt and Dubner later retracted this claim since their source, Stetson Kennedy’s book The Klan Unmasked, is now generally believed to be unreliable at best and an out-and-out fabrication a worst.