Warren Harding Cause Of Death, The President’s train continued south to San Francisco. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover sent a telegram from Dunsmuir, California, to his friend Dr. Ray L. Wilbur, asking Wilbur to meet and to personally evaluate the President. Arriving at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, Harding developed a respiratory illness believed to be pneumonia. Harding, severely exhausted, ordered that his planned speech be issued through the national press in order to communicate with the public. The President was given digitalis and caffeine that momentarily helped relieve his heart condition and sleeplessness. On Thursday, the President’s health appeared to improve, so his doctors went to dinner. Harding’s pulse was normal and his lung infection had subsided. Unexpectedly, during the evening, Harding shuddered and died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife in the hotel’s presidential suite, at 7:35 p.m. on August 2, 1923. Dr. Sawyer (a homeopath, and friend of the Harding family), opined that Harding had succumbed to a stroke, but doctors there disagreed.
Immediately after Harding died, word of the event quickly spread to the San Francisco streets. People rushed into the Palace Hotel, and rapidly crowded into the hallways. The San Francisco chief of police, Daniel J. O’Brian, finally was able to clear the hotel of the unruly mob, and members of Harding’s official party could come see him.
After some discussion, the doctors issued a release stating that the cause of death was “some brain evolvement, probably an apoplexy.” Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy. In retrospect, scholars speculate that Harding had shown physical signs of cardiac insufficiency with congestive heart failure in the preceding weeks. Naval medical consultants who examined the president in San Francisco concluded he had suffered a heart attack. Dr. Wilbur included in his memoirs a letter from Dr. Charles Miner Cooper in support of their cerebral apoplexy diagnosis, based on Harding’s last observed condition, while acknowledging that no final determination could be made.
Harding was succeeded as President by Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who was sworn in while vacationing at Plymouth Notch, Vermont, by his father, a Vermont notary public.
A story of Harding’s body being laid in state in San Francisco City Hall before being returned to Washington is apparently false. The Examiner for Aug. 3, 1923, states that Harding’s “remains will not be taken from the hotel except to go directly to the train.” The Chronicle for Aug. 3 and 4, 1923, says the same thing, that Harding’s body was taken from the Palace Hotel directly to the train depot at Third and Townsend. The funeral train made a four-day journey eastward across the country-the first such procession since Lincoln’s funeral train. Millions lined the tracks in cities and towns across the country to pay their respects.
Harding’s casket was placed in the East Room of the White House pending a state funeral, which was held on August 8, 1923, at the United States Capitol. Unnamed White House employees said that the night before the funeral, they heard Mrs. Harding talking to her dead husband. According to the historian Samuel H. Adams, Harding’s death was mourned by the nation and the average citizen felt a “personal loss.” Harding was entombed in the receiving vault of the Marion Cemetery, Marion, Ohio, on August 10, 1923. Following Mrs. Harding’s death on November 21, 1924 (from renal failure), she was buried next to her husband. Their remains were re-interred December 20, 1927, at the newly completed Harding Memorial in Marion, dedicated by President Herbert Hoover on June 16, 1931. The delay between final interment and the dedication was partly because of the aftermath of the Teapot Dome scandal. Harding was survived by his father Dr. George Tryon Harding, who died on November 19, 1928. Harding and John F. Kennedy are the only two presidents to have predeceased their fathers. Harding’s term of office was the shortest of any 20th-century U.S. President.
Harding’s sudden death led to theories that he had been poisoned or committed suicide. Suicide appears unlikely, since Harding was planning for reelection in 1924. Rumors of poisoning were fueled, in part, by a book called The Strange Death of President Harding, in which the author (convicted criminal, former Ohio Gang member, and detective Gaston Means, hired by Mrs. Harding to investigate Warren Harding and his mistress) suggested that Mrs. Harding had poisoned her husband. Mrs. Harding’s refusal to allow an autopsy on her husband only added to the speculation. According to the physicians attending Harding, however, the symptoms prior to his death all pointed to congestive heart failure. Harding’s biographer, Samuel H. Adams, concluded that “Warren G. Harding died a natural death which, in any case, could not have been long postponed”.