Florence Kling Harding (image above, wearing a sort of 1920s-style mourning Burka) was First Lady during the Warren G. Harding administration. She intersected with “Doc” Sawyer, “Madame X”, a Washington, DC astrologer and seer, Evalyn McLean, morphine-addicted wife of the owner of the Washington Post newspaper, Gaston Means, shady bagman and fixer for the gang which surrounded President Harding, Harry Daugherty, gang leader, and of course with Warren G. Harding himself.
It was Harry Daugherty who early on had taken Warren Harding as his protégé and carefully nurtured his investment until the time was ripe, when Harding rose to the office of U.S. president following the 1920 election. Women had just won the right to vote, and these suffragettes flocked to the symbolic leadership of Florence Harding. It was a time of the newly begun prohibition, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages; it was a time of jazz, the flappers, and a return to “normalcy” following the horror of World War I. The time was ripe for a First Lady who defied old ways of what a woman should be.
It was the Democrats who had opposed giving women the vote and – get this – it was the Republicans who favored women’s suffrage. To African-Americans the Republican Party was still the party of Abraham Lincoln and they tended to overwhelmingly vote Republican. At the 1920 Republican Party convention in Chicago, where Warren G. Harding was nominated, there were 175 African-American delegates who were courted by the Harding campaign. Did those delegates know that Warren G. Harding was a mulatto who “passed” for white? It was a topsy-turvy situation, with the Republican candidate and his wife representing the forces of progressivism, not like today where the Democrats are supposedly progressive.
Around 1916, sidetracked by Washington, DC high society, Florence Harding had encountered an unlikely friend. Evalyn Walsh McLean, wife of Washington Post newspaper owner Edward McLean, was at a glittering party. Also in attendance was the prim-and-proper wife of the new senator from Ohio, Warren Harding. Mrs. Harding wandered away from the noisy crowd and entered the drawing room. There, she played sad melodies on the piano. Evalyn chanced to hear the music and she too wandered into the drawing room. By unusual chemistry, the two hit it off fabulously well. They were “vinegar and water”: Mrs. Harding reserved and intellectual, with withered neck and swollen ankles; Evalyn McLean, a young wild daughter of Irish immigrants.
Evalyn McLean had grown up dirt poor in Colorado. Her father, Tom Walsh, prospected for gold out west. When she was 12-years-old, Tom Walsh discovered a gold mine and became enormously rich. The family moved into a marble mansion in Washington, DC. By her mid-teens Evalyn began to be afflicted with “the Irish curse” and was drinking alcohol daily and surreptitiously. By the time she married Edward McLean, she had added laudanum to her addictions. The newlyweds roared through Europe on a binge of whiskey, fast cars, and wild spending. In Paris, Evalyn purchased the legendary Hope Diamond, once owned by Marie Antoinette and said to carry a curse: “all those dear to the owner will perish suddenly and horribly.” Within a year of buying the gem, Evalyn’s mother-in-law was dead. Then her father died painfully from lung cancer. “Dear to the owner” of the bewitched diamond were Mr. and Mrs. Harding, one of whom eventually did die suddenly and horribly. (Further background: “Hoover Gets Hope Diamond”, Ersjdamoo’s Blog entry of June 28, 2013)
Florence Harding, while her husband was a U.S. senator from Ohio, had consulted with “Madame X”, alias Madame Marcia, and actually one Marcia Champney, a Washington, DC astrologer. “Should Warren seek the presidential nomination?” wondered Mrs. Harding. Madame Marcia foretold that Warren G. Harding would receive the Republican Party’s nomination, but not until after 12 noon on the Saturday of the convention. The astrologer advised Mrs. Harding to have the Harding campaign hang tough and there would be eventual success. Sure enough, as foretold, the Republican nominating convention remained deadlocked until after 12 noon that Saturday, thereafter a Harding consensus built and Warren G. Harding was indeed nominated as the Republican Party presidential candidate on the same day.
Madame Marcia, consulting the stars, also foretold that Mr. Harding would later be poisoned, and die a “sudden death.”
A tug of war for Harding’s soul: when Warren Harding dared to give a presidential pardon to socialist antiwar leader Eugene Debs, what good angel was whispering in Harding’s ear? Did Harry Daugherty (image above, center) advise Harding to then actually invite Debs to the White House? More likely is that Florence Harding wanted to open doors to a multitude of Americans. Harding met with Debs in what his wife called “the peoples’ house” and the genial president discovered that he liked the radical leader.
Warren Harding was out of his depth as U.S. president. He depended on his advisers to decide things for him. He also, throughout his life, carried on numerous extramarital affairs, sometimes having two outside romances going on at the same time. Harding was a mediocre, small town Lothario, who’d have been content with poker games and liquor, chasing skirts, and newspaper stories. But his wife pushed forward his career, as did Harry Daugherty. When Warren G. Harding moved into the White House after winning the 1920 election, two dominant factions vied for control of the amiable romantic: Florence Harding and Harry Daugherty.
Helping Mrs. Harding gather intelligence on political matters was her close friend, “Wild Evalyn” McLean. Since her husband owned the Washington Post newspaper, some reporters from the Post served as spies for the Florence Harding faction under the guise of being merely journalists.
Close also to Mrs. Harding was Charles E. Sawyer, a.k.a. “Doc” Sawyer. He had been the Hardings’ personal physician for years in their hometown of Marion, Ohio. Because Doc Sawyer was aligned with the Florence Harding faction, odd-jobs man Gaston Means, aligned with the Daugherty faction, depicts Sawyer as some sort of quack in Means’ book, The Strange Death Of President Harding. But Sawyer was a skilled homeopathic practitioner and had innovative ideas on health care. It was just that Sawyer was not in the looming embodiment of medical conformity, the American Medical Association, which caused him to be easily depicted as a semi-kook.
Hoping to gain further real intelligence on Washington, DC ongoing skullduggery, Florence Harding entrusted Doc Sawyer with finding a skilled investigator who could help them. Sawyer, out of his depth in political matters, went to the U.S. Justice Department and conferred with William J. Burns, head of the Bureau of Investigations. Since Burns was aligned with the Daugherty gang, he assigned Gaston Means to Mrs. Harding’s fledgling intelligence apparatus. Means, though, worked as a double-agent: he supposedly was gathering intelligence for Florence Harding but he primarily served as a spy for the Daugherty faction.
And what about organized crime payoffs to the U.S. Justice Department — “protection money”, i.e. bootleggers must pay kickbacks to the feds or else they will send “untouchables” like Eliot Ness to make things difficult for the bootleggers. Did Al Capone refuse to make payoffs to the feds for “protection”?
——- Sources ——-
Anthony, Carl Sferrazza. Florence Harding. ISBN: 0-688-07794-3.
Means, Gaston B. The Strange Death Of President Harding. New York: Guild Publishing Corp., 1930.
(A version of the above blog entry first appeared at my old Conspiracy Nation web site on September 29, 2002.)