On the edge of Richland County, coming in from western Ohio, there is a small ripple of hills in the landscape where the flat terrain of the great plains makes its first tentative rise above the horizon, and the land begins its slow ascent in small rolling hills.
It will be hundreds of miles yet before those hills become mountains of the Allegheny, but every vertical must begin its rise from the horizontal somewhere, and for the Richland soil of America that first lookout view was at the tiny crossroads village of Corsica.
The hills around Corsica weren’t steep enough to keep farmers from plowing, but they were tall enough to give a view out over the vast expanse of ripened fields that autumn.
From the top of the Harding’s hill was a heartening panoramic scene of harvesting: of the fullness of time; of rewards gathered, and bringing in the sheaves.
It was up there high above the mundane world with a view to the heavens where the faithful gathered in November of 1874 to await the great cosmic harvesting of souls.
Today this hill is no longer in Richland County. The re-apportionment of Ohio’s county lines took this particular landscape into the jurisdiction of Morrow County, only a few hundred yards off the Richland line.
And the tiny settlement is no longer known as Corsica. It became known on the maps and in the history books by a new name as well—today it is called Blooming Grove.
The little community never had more than about two dozen homes gathered around its crossroads, yet it is noted in thousands of footnotes throughout the last century in books of American history.
The Book of Time
This article addresses an episode in Blooming Grove that was actually a later chapter in a story that had begun 30 years before. At that earlier time—in 1844—a certain sect of Christian believers, in Richland County and across the United States, had staked their lives and futures on a single, specific day of the year when they expected the earth to end, and their eternal reward to begin.
That particular day in history, October 22, 1844, was known at the time and ever since as “The Great Disappointment.”
The expectations of these disappointed believers derived from the Biblical calculations of a man from New York whose name was Miller, and consequently, those who donned ascension robes to watch for the skies to open in 1844 were known as ‘Millerites.’
When the rapture failed to materialize in 1844 most of the Millerites went back to being Baptists or Lutherans or Mormons, and they quietly resumed their earthly existence without much further reference to their untimely belief in the end of time.
There were those of the Millerites however, who believed that, even though the end was miscalculated in 1844, the concept of ‘end times’ was sound. These devotees retained their anticipation of the more or less immanent advent of Kingdom Come, and continued in their Adventist understandings by establishing new institutions of worship in the 1860s based on their beliefs.
These were called Adventist churches. There was one established in Blooming Grove.
The Loom of events
The Adventist element of this story is the first thread of this tale, and it will be woven together into a fabric of history by crossing with another significant thread.
The second thread is Warren G. Harding, the 27th President of the United States.
He was born in Blooming Grove in 1865, and his mother belonged to the Adventist Church.
Perspective on Harding
It has been common in the last several generations of American studies to generally dismiss President Harding as a lightweight of national consequence, by attributing to him the failings of his colleagues within his administration who fell beneath the dignity and integrity we expect from the highest levels of government.
No doubt he had checkered friends.
But Warren Harding accomplished some great things as President, and his life itself stands as a rather amazing accomplishment—especially when you consider that he started out in a little place like Blooming Grove.
He was planted, right from the start, with country values, and the story of his rise to eminence is an unfailing record of courtesy, thoughtfulness, and kindness that he developed growing up in the country.
The terrific strength of character that propelled him to greatness was wholly based in his unflagging, enthusiastic encouragement for all his fellows, his neighbors, his community and, ultimately, his country.
He wanted to see everyone do well, and he demonstrated that in every way possible.
That is why he became President, because he embodied what is best in us all—the encouragement of one another.
Some day when the filters of society are replaced: when the judgmental aspects of history are realigned so as not to focus on his corrupt associates, but admit instead the superior values of humanity that he embodied; Harding will be recognized for the great soul of kindness and compassion he brought to the office of President.
Little Warren Harding was only 9 years old in 1874. They called him Winnie, because one of his many middle names was Winfield.
It was his grandfather who founded Blooming Grove, and others of the Harding clan farmed the lands around the little crossroads hamlet.
It was the Hardings who donated land for the graveyard. It is on a pretty hill that rises above the upper Mohican watershed and there is a wonderful view from there off across the surrounding countryside.
In those 19th century decades when there were few trees obscuring the scenery, the vista was almost epic.
That was important in 1874 because suddenly, after 30 years of biding their time, the old Millerites had settled on a new date for the end of the world. Everyone embracing the new advent of the next world needed a high place in the landscape from which to watch for the Lord’s return.
The event was scheduled for sunset on November 20.
By 1874 the Hardings no longer lived in Blooming Grove—they had moved shortly before, down the road to Caledonia, some 18 miles away. Warren’s mother wanted to be with her friends during the apocalypse however, so she traveled back to the Harding family lands to take advantage of the higher ground there.
Mrs. Harding had Warren and his little brothers and sisters all attired in white flowing robes that were sewn from her bed sheets. They all stood together on the hill at the Blooming Grove cemetery as the sun moved toward the horizon.
I suppose it is not necessary to note that the sky did not open and the world did not end at sunset on November 20, 1874. The crisis was not without its impact however, and tragic consequences.
There was a woman among the Blooming Grove assembly who was so ready to leave the earthly plane, and then so overwhelmed by the massively conflicting collision of her disappointed hopes and beliefs, that she hung herself in the cowshed that night. The Mansfield Herald reported that Mrs. Gotlieb Schultz succumbed to ‘religious hysteria.’
Throughout Harding’s life he never made any sort of public comment in reference to his experience of the End of the World in Blooming Grove.
Warren Harding died unexpectedly in 1923. He had hoped to retire to Ohio after his stint in the White House and, to that end, one of the last transactions of his private life—only three months before he moved on to the next world—was to purchase the farm in Blooming Grove where he had been born.
He spoke of building a rustic summer retreat there, not far from the hill where he had once stood awaiting the fiery chariots.
Some time when you’re passing between Lexington and Galion and you see the little sign that says you’re going through Blooming Grove, take a minute and pull around to the first drive north of town and find the little graveyard where all the Hardings are buried.
If you stand on that hill and look out over the lovely fields you’ll have a unique opportunity for revelation.
When you’re gazing at the timeless, slow makings of agriculture, imagine for a moment standing on the porch of the White House: at the urgent intersection of the whole civilized world.
And see if the leap from here to there isn’t something of a miracle.