This Week Then: Looking Back on President Warren Harding's Last Speech

Plus: Three anniversaries atop and above Mount Rainier
| Updated: July 25, 2019
President Warren G. Harding in motorcade on First Avenue, Seattle in 1923

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Harding's Last Speech

On July 27, 1923, crowds lined Seattle streets to welcome President Warren Harding, who was on a planned 40-day tour of the Western United States. He arrived late to the city, after his Army transport collided with and nearly sank a destroyer at the entrance to Puget Sound. Once in Seattle, he smiled and waved his hat to well-wishers, greeted schoolchildren in Volunteer Park, met with boy scouts at Woodland Park, and ended his day with an hour-long address at UW Stadium. The speech would prove to be his last. After leaving Seattle, he fell ill en route to San Francisco and died six days later.

Three years earlier, Harding received overwhelming support from Washingtonians in the 1920 presidential election. Campaigning on a "return to normalcy" platform during an economic downturn brought about by the end of World War I, the Republican carried every state in the nation, except in the South. Once in office, Harding cut taxes, raised tariffs, and supported anti-immigration legislation underway in states such as Washington. He packed his administration with friends, relatives, and business associates, several of whom became mired in financial scandals that came to light after Harding's death.

The public mourned the president, mostly unaware of the extent of the deep corruption within his administration. Two years after his death, a Harding memorial -- comprised of a bandstand with bas-relief sculptures -- was dedicated in Woodland Park, commissioned by a local Elks Lodge and sculpted by Alice Robertson Carr. But as time passed, Harding's reputation became more tarnished and slowly deteriorated, as did the memorial. In the late 1970s the concrete elements of the structure were broken up and used as landfill for the Woodland Park Zoo's new African Savannah exhibit.

Great Heights to Reach

This week marks three anniversaries atop and above Mount Rainier. On July 28, 1896, Olof Bull carried his violin to the summit and played several solos -- including "Nearer, My God, To Thee." Thirteen years later, on July 30, 1909, the summit had other visitors of note, when a group of suffragists joined The Mountaineers to plant a "Votes for Women" banner atop the mountain.

On July 25, 1920, Seattle aviator Herbert Munter became the first person to overfly the peak when he soared above the summit in his Boeing Model 8 biplane. Ever the showman, Munter circled the peak three times before crossing over it. Spectacular for the time, his feat of aviation was bested 30 years later when another intrepid pilot actually landed his plane atop the mountain.


Racial Provocation

On July 26, 1924, some 13,000 members and supporters of the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally near Issaquah, more than 40 years after the town's previous bout with racial unrest. Twenty years later, Seattle struggled with potential racial violence, and the Civic Unity Committee was praised on July 24, 1944, for its efforts to quell concerns. Two decades later, on July 25, 1963, the first sit-in arrests of Seattle's modern civil rights movement demonstrated that racial unrest was hardly a thing of the past.

Field of Aviation

On July 26, 1928, Boeing Field opened in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood, on a day that William Boeing called "just about the happiest one of my life." Many Boeing aircraft took their maiden flights from the field, including the B-17 Flying Fortress, which first rose skyward on July 28, 1935.

Awkward Navigation

On July 26, 1934, the battleship U.S.S. Arizona rammed and sank a purse seiner off Cape Flattery. On July 27, 1963, the ferry Nisqually collided with with a Chinese freighter. And on July 25, 1971, Seattle's monorail clanged into a steel girder at Seattle Center, injuring 26.

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