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Portrait of Harry Truman in St. Augustine

Winter White House - 1921 Style

Florida has always had an attraction for U.S. Presidents.

Harry Truman vacationed at Key West, the Kennedys were often in Palm Beach, and President Nixon has established a Florida White House on Key Biscayne. The Ancient City has also basked in the sun of presidential favor.

Just prior to his inauguration on March 4, 1921, President-elect Warren G. Harding came to St. Augustine for a winter visit. His sojourn is recorded in a series of photos taken by P. A. Wolfe, which show him wearing a top hat strolling on the Fort Green, amid a large crowd at a ceremony at the Castillo de San Marcos, and chatting chummily with a local mother and her baby. If he kissed the child, as any self-respecting politician might be expected to do, Wolfe's camera missed the shot.

Even before his nomination in 1920, Harding loved St. Augustine and often visited here. After the election in which he defeated James M. Cox (and his running mate, who was none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt), the new Republican President decided to come to St. Augustine to rest and relax, and made the Ponce de Leon his headquarters. It was not all rest, as it was here he picked his new cabinet and conferred with many prominent men.

He arrived via the Florida East Coast Railway, and was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd at the station, so many of them that it has hard for the Secret Service men to keep him from being overwhelmed with his well-wishers. One of the attractions of the city for Harding was the St. Augustine Links (as it was known in those days), where he played lots of golf with Senator J. S. Frelinghuyser and others. Like the Eisenhower era in the 1950's, many minor political figures soon took up golf as a means to presidential favor. A photograph shows the President elect on the links, clad in the knickers which were then obligatory garb for the sport. According to his golfing companions, when he made a bad shot, his favorite expression was "Oh, Gosh!" (There may be those who find this hard to believe.)

Senator Frelinghuyser owned a handsome yacht, the Victoria, which came into Matanzas Bay to pick up the President elect and his party and take them off on a deep-sea fishing trip to the Florida Keys. Harding thoroughly enjoyed the jaunt, except for its conclusion when the Victoria went aground off Mosquito Inlet and he had to disembark, go by car to Ft. Lauderdale, and finally take the train back to St. Augustine.

When Harding walked about the Ancient City's streets, as he often did, he was warmly greeted by everyone he met, and most of them also wanted to shake his hand. Local residents, who remember the Harding visit, recall that there was one citizen who evidently did not keep up with current events. He was a local policeman, entrusted with enforcing a five mile an hour speed limit on the streets around the plaza. The presidential limousine exceeded this snail-like pace one day and the officer promptly stopped the party for "speeding." When told that he had just arrested the president-elect, he replied: "Well, he was breaking the law wasn't he?"

They didn't fool around about law and order in 1921.


 
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