Harding’s band takes top prize

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.




In June, 1887, Findlay held a three-day celebration to signalize the discovery of natural gas in the local community and the resultant boom that quadrupled the city’s population almost overnight.

One of the features of the celebration was a parade in which musical organizations from other Ohio towns were invited to participate and compete for awards. One of the bands which marched and vied for honors was from Marion, Ohio, and its manager was Warren G. Harding, then a young man who had just bought the Star, an evening newspaper in Marion. The same young man was later to become president of the United States of America. But when he brought his band to Findlay, thoughts of such high honor were undoubtedly far from his mind.

The Harding-managed band won first prize in its class. This has always been one of the significant stories of the big Findlay jubilee and attained especial noteworthiness when the manager went to the White House.

Now a new (1969) book on Harding’s life has just come out and for the first time the full story of the band’s visit to Findlay and its recognition is told, probably for the first time in such detail. The volume is entitled “The Shadow of Blooming Grove,” the name referring to the Ohio area in which the future president was born. The author is Francis Russell, of Cape Cod, Mass., writer of a number of books.

“When Harding learned that a state band tournament was to be held in Findlay, some 50 miles away in Hancock County,” writes author Russell, “he sent in an entry fee for the Marion band, undaunted by the precondition that all entrants must be uniformed. While the People’s Band, as the Marion organization was known, flourished, it had not reached the uniform stage yet.

“By persuading a local merchant to endorse his note young Harding borrowed enough money to buy the necessary uniforms, optimistically hoping to pay back the sum out of the tournament prize money. The uniforms — blue trousers with stripes down the legs, braided coats and caps — were on display in the merchant’s window before the band strutted off to Findlay.

“Thirty bands entered the tournament, ten of them in the class with Marion’s band. Each band in the competition played an overture and a march. Harding, who ordinarily played the first B-cornetist, was substituting for the Helicon bass, a huge horn that encircled his head like a life preserver as he played the notes of ‘Doc Munger’s Quickstep.’

“‘We blew our heads off,’ he recalled later, ‘but there were so many bands from big cities that for the first time I felt discouraged and thought we had failed.’

“So disheartened were the Marion bandsmen that by the time the prizes were given out they had all left except for Harding, the bass drum and the clarinet.

“To Harding’s relieved surprise, the judges announced that the People’s Band from Marion had won first prize in its class, amounting to $150 — more than enough money to pay for the uniforms.

“When Manager Harding and his bandsmen arrived back home in Marion, most of the town was waiting to welcome them. Years afterwards, he recalled the noisy triumph of that reception as ‘his great day of glory.'”

The Russell volume, published by McGraw Hill, contains nearly 700 pages, and is one of several works on Harding’s ;life that have appeared since his death in the early 1920s in San Francisco, while on a trip to Alaska.

In talks with Findlay folk in later years, Harding liked to recall his 1887 visit to Findlay. He remembered the occasion well and always maintained a friendly interest in the local community through his political years that were ahead. He became a state senator and lieutenant-governor, United States senator and then president.


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