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Harding Memorial Service


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Impressive Harding Memorial Service in Grand Central Terminal

Reprinted from the "New York Central Lines Magazine," Volume IV, Number 6, September, 1923, p. 46.

The nation-wide observance of President Coolidge's proclamation calling on the nation to observe Friday, August 10, (1923) as a memorial day for the late President Harding, on which date the body of the 29th President of the United States was laid to rest in the cemetery at Marion, Ohio, was appropriately participated in by the New York Central Lines.

In compliance with the general order issued to New York Central executives by President A. H. Smith, on Friday, August 10, all work, except that absolutely necessary to required train operations, was suspended during the day. Motive power and car shops were closed, freight houses were shut down, and yard and terminal operations were reduced to a skeleton service, which covered only a fractional of normal operations. Suburban service, out of an into New York City, was scaled down to that customarily observed on a holiday schedule. Similar reductions in train service were carried out at other points where possible.

In Grand Central Terminal impressive services were held at the hour the late President's body was committed to the receiving tomb at Marion, following brief family services. Apprised by advanced newspaper announcements that such services would be held, more than 5,000 persons assembled during the late afternoon in the spacious Concourse.

At 3.50 P. M., Eastern Standard Time, an old bell, which formerly hung in front of the original Grand Central Station in East Forty-second Street, and was used to announce the departure of trains and notable events of the day between 1861 and 1871, which had been hung on the east gallery of the Concourse, was tolled at half-minute intervals, up to 3.59 P. M., by James Williams, chief of the Terminal "red caps," and who was chosen for this solemn duty because during the lifetime of the late President he had carried his luggage and tended to his wants when a passenger on the New York Central Lines.

Throng Bows in Prayer

The assemblage of people who had gathered in the Concourse, with bowed and uncovered heads, remained silent during the nine minutes in which the deep-toned bell tolled off its sorrow message, symbolic of the tribute being paid to Warren G. Harding at the same hour in far-away Marion.

From 3.59 to 4.00 P. M. the great mass of people facing the east gallery bowed in one minute prayer and the silence was intense. At the stroke of four, the heart-moving bugle strains of "taps" was sounded from the west balcony by Sergeant George Swarhout of the 107th Infantry, U. S. A. Hardly had the sounds of the soldier's "good night," suitable both to life and death died out within the four walls of the Concourse, when through the closed doors on the Vanderbilt Avenue side came the sweet strains of the call again, sounding like an echo, as Sergeant Swarhout repeated "taps."

The services closed with the singing of the dead President's two favorite hymns, "Lead, Kindly Light," and "Nearer, My God, to Thee," and "America," by the New York Central Choral Society, represented by 200 voices, under the directorship of Professor J. Macombie Murray. The choristers were massed in the east gallery under the bell, and the volume of music incident to the rendering of the three numbers filled the vast auditorium with sweet and inspiring refrains.

The exercises in the Grand Central Terminal were arranged by Miles Bronson, Superintendent of the Electric Division, and directed by him in person on that memorable afternoon.


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