The Harding Memorial is a circular monument of white marble and is suggestive of a round, Greek temple. Unlike a temple, though, there is neither a doorway nor a roof. Instead, it forms an open court described as a “cloister.” Being open to the sky provides space for a garden plot surrounding the tomb and honors President Harding’s wishes to be buried in a simple grave under a tree and under the stars.
A Greek Ionic colonnade stands in front of the circular wall forming the open court. The columns of this structure support a terrace filled with green plants and shrubbery. The two black granite tombstones, decorated only by two bronze wreaths at the heads of each stone, indicate the resting places of President Warren G. Harding and his wife, Florence Harding. The President’s wreath is designed with palm leaves, and Mrs. Harding’s wreath is adorned with roses. A bed of ivy covers the ground surrounding the tombstones. Enclosing the entire court and colonnade is a stance of 46 Doric Greek columns, stunning and majestic. The plan originally called for 48 columns, one for each state in Harding’s era, but money fell short and the design was amended.
The setting of the monument is open and uncluttered. Rows of elm trees form the shape of the Latin cross, with the tomb placed at the intersection of the arms of the cross. The main approach follows the tree of the cross. Behind the elms are clusters of trees and shrubbery.
The entire memorial is built of Georgia white marble, furnished by the Georgia Marble Company of Tate, Georgia; the only variation from the plain, white marble is in the floor, where gray and white squares produce a mosaic style.
Henry Hombostel and Eric F. Wood of Pittsburgh, Pa., were the architects of the monument, and the structure cost $783,103.
On Oct. 11, 1923, shortly after President Harding’s death in August, the newly formed Harding Memorial Association started a nationwide fund-raising campaign to fund construction of a memorial.
Over a million contributors from all parts of the United States and the Philippines, as well as several European countries, contributed the sum of $977,821. Included in the list of contributors were about 200,000 schoolchildren who gathered pennies for the fund-raising effort.
While funds were being raised, the association also had to decide whether the memorial would be built in Washington, D.C., or in Marion. Many national leaders wanted the President buried in the nation’s capital. The memorial association, though, strongly felt that Harding would have preferred Marion as his final resting place.
Following President Harding’s death on Aug. 2, 1923, and his subsequent funeral, his body was placed in the Receiving Vault in Marion Cemetery until the memorial was completed. Florence died in 1924, and her body also was placed in the vault. The Hardings’ bodies were moved to the memorial and buried there in December 1927. President Herbert Hoover officially dedicated the memorial in 1931.