More than 35,000 Boy Scouts and aspiring young Elks members mustered the patience to wait several hours in Woodland Park to hear the commander in chief address them on his one-day stopover in Seattle on July 27, 1923. Warren G. Harding gamely lead the boys in the Pledge of Allegiance, even though he had consulted briefly with a doctor beforehand about a pain in his abdomen.
He and his wife Florence rolled slowly through Seattle that day in a cream-colored convertible, the presidential seal represented in flowers on its hood. Harding gave a speech about Alaska, then departed by train for California. Six days later, he was dead, those two speeches in Seattle now known to history as his final public remarks.
Somehow our relationship with Warren G. Harding got even weirder from there.
A movement to rename Olive Way for the ill-fated president didn’t take, despite the thoroughfare being part of Harding’s motorcade route. However a local Elks chapter did commission a memorial to Harding, an art deco bandstand sculpted with a bas-relief of the president administering the Boy Scout oath to a group of uniformed youth. Sculptor Alice Robertson Carr worked mostly in concrete, but rendered two life-size scouts in bronze.
Of course, Harding’s reputation declined over the years, thanks to corruption revelations like the Teapot Dome scandal and some, uh, sexual antics. By 1976, The Seattle Daily Times referred to the structure as “the tacky Warren Harding memorial.” The most ignominious moment of all came a few years later; according to HistoryLink, the Woodland Park Zoo received approval to demolish the memorial, using the concrete as landscape filler for the new African Savanna exhibit.
Harding’s likeness now lies somewhere beneath the zebra and giraffe habitats, but two elements of that original memorial were saved. Today, Carr’s life-size bronze statues of Boy Scouts still stand at attention, just a little farther apart. One resides at the scouts’ Camp Parsons, near Olympic National Park, the other on Rainier Avenue South, at the Boy Scouts of America’s regional headquarters.