Harding Memorial in Seattle's Woodland Park is dedicated on March 29, 1925.

  • By Fred Poyner IV
  • Posted 12/05/2018
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20684

On March 29, 1925, a new memorial to President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) is dedicated in Seattle's Woodland Park. Sculptor Alice Robertson Carr (1899-1996) created the sculptural elements of the memorial, which was designed by architect Daniel Huntington (1871-1962). The work was commissioned by a local Elks Lodge in Seattle. The completed public sculpture combines relief and statuary and is the second sculpture Carr created for the park during her career. The theme of the memorial is based on a speech Harding gave on that site in the park to a large assembly of Boy Scouts in 1923, with many details from that event incorporated into the final memorial design and presentation.

Presidential Visit That Will Inspire Memorial

President Warren G. Harding was a fraternal Brother of the Elks, through Elks Lodge No. 32 in Marion, Ohio, and was also appointed Honorary President of the Boy Scouts of America on March 7, 1921, shortly after he became the 29th President of the United States. In June 1923 Harding embarked on a tour westward across the United States, giving speeches along the way to business groups, veterans' hospitals, historic sites, and community clubs, sometimes as many as 11 in one day. The tour was referred to by the president as his "Voyage of Understanding."

After visiting Alaska and making a brief stop in Vancouver, B.C., Harding traveled south to Seattle. On July 27, 1923, he gave a speech at Woodland Park as the guest speaker at a picnic for Boy Scouts and other boys of the state hosted by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE). President Harding's words of encouragement to the 30,000 assembled boys, Boy Scout Masters, Elk Lodge members and their families, would leave a lasting impression to the assembled throng that day:

"I want our Republic, this wonderful America of ours, this free America, beckoning with equal opportunity to all its children, to be a land of homes ... I wish for such a state in America, and I wish for the boys and girls in Washington a continuation of the careers which are suggested by this splendid meeting today" (Harding, 338-339).

While many of the boys present that day were Scouts, not all of those who attended belonged to the organization. The Elks were sponsors for many "Boy Day" events around the country, as a day dedicated to boys in general ("Salt Lake City Lodge ... "). The program was an annual event in some communities and offered parades, athletic contests for prizes, baseball games, music, and goodwill from mentors.

For the Boy Scouts at Seattle's picnic, the chance to see the president seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The timing of the presidential visit also coincided with the Boy Scouts National Jamboree being held in the city, which accounts for the large number of Scouts in attendance that day.

Harding continued his Seattle visit that afternoon at a whirlwind pace, despite a consultation with his physician following the Woodland Park speech over pains in his abdomen. But by the time he left that evening he was quite sick, and upon arrival in San Francisco his doctors confirmed he had pneumonia, a condition further exacerbated by a recurrent heart problem. After his planned speech on foreign relations, which he was unable to deliver, had been released to the press, Harding was convalescing at his hotel on the evening of August 2, 1923, when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and died.

Calls for New Memorials Nationwide

It was a testimony to Harding that calls for memorials in the wake of his death were immediate and widespread across the nation. The Elks instructed all subordinate lodges to include in their order of business a service announcing the death of "Brother Harding" (McFarland). The Seattle Park Board sent Mrs. Harding flowers, and acknowledged her thank-you letter at its meeting on September 12, 1923. The Boy Scouts put out a nationwide call for support in the December 1923 issue of Scouting magazine, so that scouts might have an opportunity to help make contributions to the Harding Memorial Association. Several memorials were proposed with planning begun for sites in Milton, Ohio; Vancouver, British Columbia; and in Woodland Park in Seattle.

Leading the effort for the Woodland Park memorial was a committee from Elks Lodge No. 92 in Seattle. The Elks wasted no time, with an original concept of the memorial envisioning a bronze statue of Harding placed on the site where he had delivered his speech and the Oath of Allegiance to the assembled boys only a month before. Just six days after the death of the president, the Elks filed a petition for the erection of the statue at Woodland Park, which Park Board Commissioner George C. Wheeler granted.

Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace (1866-1924), who was one of three cabinet members with Harding on July 27, publicly endorsed the Seattle project with a telegram to the Elks: "The statue of Harding in posture of administering the oath would perpetuate a thrilling incident of national importance and be a constant inspiration to youth of [the] great Northwest ... wish you success" ("Wallace Backs Fund").

A fundraising campaign by the Elks Lodge began in August and secured many donations from businesses in downtown Seattle as well as a pledge of support from the office of Mayor Edwin Brown. Members of the Elks also helped organize support from across the state. More than 1,100 boys from Snohomish County met on August 30, 1923, at the Everett Elks lodge to lend aid to the memorial effort.

Carr Selected for Woodland Park Once More

By the time of Harding's passing, young sculptor Alice Carr had already completed her preliminary design for a proposed fountain relief in Woodland Park's new rose garden. Carr was a sculptor familiar to both the Seattle Parks Board and another local group, the Lions Club, for her work on that project. Yet the members of Elks Lodge No. 92 were still looking for a suitable sculptor to undertake the Harding memorial and its statuary, as evidenced by a letter sent to the Elks Committee in late August by Lillian Hocking (1903-1980) on behalf of her father William R. Hocking (1881-1952).

Lillian Hocking was a student of the sculptor James A. Wehn (1882-1973) while attending the University of Washington. In the letter she extolled Wehn's experience and artistic abilities, noting his ties to the local Boy Scouts as their "Examiner of the Department of Sculpturing" and advising the committee to secure Wehn's services for the Harding statue.

However, it was Carr who ultimately received the commission for the Harding memorial, due in no small part to the fountain she had installed in the rose garden at the park in 1924 as the city's first publicly commissioned public sculpture by a female artist in Seattle.

The Elks made progress on plans for the Harding memorial with the assistance of the Seattle Park Board. During the October 15, 1924, meeting of the board's commissioners, it was moved that Commissioner Hill be appointed as a committee of one to work with Elks Lodge No. 92 on a suitable plan for the memorial. Owing to a desire to make the memorial more utilitarian and serve as a functional bandstand, the final design agreed upon by the Elks and the park board omitted any statue of Harding. Instead, Harding's portrait was to be rendered in bas-relief as part of a panoramic scene recalling his administering the Pledge of Allegiance to the assembly of boys on July 27, 1923.

Seattle architect Daniel Huntington was confirmed as the designer of the memorial by the Park Board of Commissioners on November 26, 1924, with the understanding he would be paid 10 percent of the memorial's total cost or $850, whichever amount was less. Meanwhile, Carr was tasked to complete all the memorial's sculptural elements.

Large-scale Relief with Boy Scouts on Either End

Between December 1924 and January 1925 Carr modeled the 22-foot panoramic relief in clay at her Seattle studio. The relief showed a life-size figure of Harding in profile with his right hand raised and a group of 27 Boy Scout figures flanking him on either side. Details of the relief recalled the day of Harding's visit to Woodland Park, and the moment of pride he must have felt for the group as one with them, their shared love of country and sense of duty. Most of the figures were Boy Scouts shown in uniform, with a handful of boys described as "younger brothers" also visible within the ranks ("Beautiful Bandstand ...").

While the faces were less distinct in detail, Carr did include some specifics. One Scout held an American flag, another held a dog by its collar. Most of the figures had their right hands aloft, in the act of taking the Boy Scout oath of allegiance. This relief was considerably larger than the fountain relief Carr had done for the Woodland Park Rose Garden: When fully cast in concrete it measured some 25 feet long and seven feet high.

While the size of the relief was enough to nearly fill Carr's studio on Madison Street, it was not the sole element of the memorial she created as part of the Elks' commission. In November 1924, the Park Board conveyed its preference for having two Boy Scout statues also included as part of the memorial and that these should be cast in bronze, not concrete.

Carr modeled these two statues approximately four feet in height, with each Boy Scout in uniform and shown standing at attention with right hand raised in the three-finger Boy Scout salute. The two figures showed different boys, lifelike in every detail. One depicted a thin-faced boy, approximately 12 years of age; the other boy was shown with more rounded facial features. Both were dressed in the Boy Scout uniform of the 1920s: knee leggings, shorts, long-sleeve shirt with breast pockets, belt, and neckerchief secured with a neck-tie. The cast bronze statues found placement at either end of the finished relief, on raised platforms that had them level with and in front of the relief's figures.

A dedication in bronze lettering to the late president was inset into the front façade of the concrete memorial, noting details of Harding's visit on July 27, 1923. Even the placement of the memorial was, by design, at the same spot as Harding's speech, in the northeast quadrant of the park's grounds. By early March 1925, all but the finishing touches, including covering the memorial façade in stucco, were completed.

As part of her contract for the new Harding memorial, the Elks had sought assurances from Carr on the timing for completing the memorial. Carr recalled "being placed under a liquidating damage clause in a contract, where I was to pay $50 a day for every day on or after the 29th of March that it was not ready to be dedicated" (Carr to Beckworth).

Completion of the work by the deadline was not an issue. The Elks presented the Harding memorial to the city on March 29, 1925. Present were more than 2,000 citizens including many Boy Scouts from local troops who recited the Pledge of Allegiance as part of the memorial's dedication ceremony. Leading the pledge was Theo Johnson, Exalted Ruler of the Seattle Lodge No. 92 BPOE. That was followed by Park Board President Orison J. C. Dutton (1868-1944) and his acceptance of the memorial on behalf of the City of Seattle. Bands from both the Queen Anne and Ballard Elks lodges provided music to add to the celebration. Many of those present remarked on how the event compared to the day when Harding gave his speech nearly two years ago.

New Outlook on Memorial as Part of Woodland Park Zoo

Over the years the Harding memorial in the park was used by various groups, such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, for programs commemorating Independence Day and Flag Day. Public use of the memorial for such observances declined after 1948. As memories of those who originally attended the Harding speech faded into history, so too did the memorial's revered status as a public monument. Over time, Harding's reputation as a sitting president also was a factor in the decline of the memorial.

For half a century, the Harding memorial remained a fixture in Woodland Park. However, by the 1970s its ongoing disrepair and deteriorated condition reflected a growing public disaffection with it. The final report of a Citizen's Advisory Committee for the Seattle Zoo, released in July 1971, unequivocally stated "that structures not related to the Zoo such as the Harding Memorial, Cannons, Locomotive, be removed from the grounds" ("Recommendations for Design Development of Zoo"). A follow-up article in The Seattle Times reported that the once-noble sculpture was one of several "unzoolike objects" that the Parks Department identified as "not in keeping with zoo atmosphere and in the way of zoo expansion" (Johnsrud).

Between August 1978 and September 1980 a new African Savanna exhibit took form in a central area in the Woodland Park Zoo. During this time the bandstand and relief of the Harding memorial was broken up and used as fill for the new exhibit's landscaping. The African Savanna exhibit was opened to the public on July 16, 1980, with Seattle Mayor Charles Royer (b. 1939) presiding over the ceremonies.

Carr's daughter, Nina Ward (b. 1933), has suggested that the fate of the Harding memorial relief might not have bothered the sculptor: "My mother wasn't happy with the casting of the group of boy scouts. She said the eyes were not right, and they were not what she had in her model. I don't think she would have minded that they were buried" (Ward email).

However, two sculptural components of the memorial were spared. The statues of the Boy Scouts standing at attention were transferred to the Scouts' Chief Seattle Council Office. One of the statues remained at the Seattle council office site, while the other was later placed on display at the Camp Parsons Museum for the Boy Scouts on Hood Canal in Jefferson County.


Sources:

Warren G. Harding, Speeches and Addresses of Warren G. Harding, President of the United States, Delivered During the Course of His Tour from Washington, D.C., to Alaska and Return to San Francisco, June 20 to August 2, 1923 (Washington, D.C.: James Murphy, Official Reporter, U.S. Senate, 1923), 338-339, copy available at Internet Archive website accessed December 4, 2018 (https://archive.org/details/speechesaddresse00hard); "Salt Lake City Lodge Carries Through 'Boy Day' Program," The Elks Magazine, August 1923, p. 50; James G. McFarland, "President Harding," The Elks Magazine, September 1923, p. 5; "Wallace Backs Fund," The Seattle Times, August 30, 1923, p. 3; "Beautiful Bandstand on Spot Where Late President Spoke Will Commemorate His Address to Boys," The Seattle Times, January 11, 1925, p. A-12; Byron Johnsrud, "Cannons, Anyone? Unzoolike Objects Must Go," The Seattle Times, November 14, 1971, p. A-23; Alice Robertson Carr to "Mr. Beckworth," n.d., copy in possession of Fred Poyner IV, Issaquah, Washington; Nina Ward, email to Fred Poyner IV, February 27, 2016, in possession of Fred Poyner IV; "Recommendations for Design Development of Zoo," July 1971, Document 2028, p. A-II, Published Documents Collection, Series 1801-92, Seattle Municipal Archives, Seattle, Washington; Park Board Minutes, November 26, 1924, Board of Park Commissioner Minutes, August 1921-December 1925, vol. 8, p. 293, Series 5800-01, Minutes of the Board of Park Commissioners, 1890-1991, Seattle Municipal Archives; Fred Poyner IV, Seattle Public Sculptors -- Twelve Makers of Monuments, Memorials and Statuary, 1909-1962 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2017).


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