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100 Years Ago, President Played Golf and Fished in Florida in an Attempt to Rebound from Influenza

One hundred years ago this month, President Harding and his wife, Florence, were in Florida as the president slowly regained his strength from a nasty bout of the flu in January.

The flu was perhaps a bit worse than the public knew, and Harding was slow to recover. That illness also possibly caused some damage to his heart since his symptoms of occasional chest pains and shortness of breath seemed to have started around this time. The symptoms would worsen by summer.

A March trip to Florida was rather routine for the Hardings, dating back to the early days of their marriage in the 1890s. Getting a dose of sunshine and enjoying warmer temperatures was viewed as a bonus for both Hardings in 1923. Florence was in the midst of a lengthy recovery from a near-deadly recurrence of her chronic kidney disease
which sidelined her from September to December 1922.

The Hardings and their entourage journeyed by boat mainly through the shallow canal that had been dredged from Jacksonville to Miami. The Hardings and a few close friends traveled on a houseboat, the Pioneer, which was owned by Harding’s good friend, Ed McLean, publisher and owner of the Washington Post. Other friends traveled along on their own yachts.

The Hardings stayed at hotels along the way, such as the new Flamingo Hotel in Miami. Miami at the time was a small town, with hotels and golf courses starting to pop up. Harding played at the Miami Beach Golf Course with McLean, Bureau of the Budget Director Charles Dawes and Shipping Board Chairman A.D. Lasker. Lasker, by the way, largely was responsible for the publicity campaign for Harding’s 1920 presidential campaign.

A group of the men went to Cocolobo Cay Club on Adams Key to fish.In fact, four Presidents (Harding, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon) vacationed there.

President Harding (third from left, secondo row) is joined by fellow fishermen at the Cocolobo Cay Club on Adams Key, Florida. Among the group are George Christian Jr., Harding’s private secretary (second from right, front row); former Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall (fourth from right, second row); former Sen. Joseph Freling-huysen (middle, second row); and Harvey Firestone (second from left, second row). Library of Congress photo.