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The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country

The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country - Laton McCartney

In an era that has featured a crack-smoking mayor, a Senator cruising for sex in an airport bathroom, and congressmen attempting to hide their infidelities behind ridiculous aliases and/or claims of "hiking the Appalachian Trail," it's hard to imagine that one could be shocked by the sheer hubris underlying a political scandal from nearly a century ago. And yet, here I stand, jaw still slightly agape, after finishing Laton McCartney's account of The Teapot Dome Scandal

 

Elements of the story are all too familiar for a modern day reader. Big oil men in the White House, "no bid contracts," a presidential candidate who stumbles over his words (in Harding's case, often mixing up Nebraska and Alaska), and opponents questioning the genealogy of the big man in the White House. 

 

There are far too many pieces for me to recount them all. As McCartney points out, it's a bit like following a round of three card monte. However, the bit with which McCartney opens has many of the pieces that make the entire story so sinfully fun to follow: greed, philandering, betrayal, blackmail, murder and a trial that would have Court TV's ratings through the roof. 

 

Big oilman, Jake Hamon (pronounced like the Purim villain), had a good thing going. Having ditched the wife and kids, he was traveling around the country bribing politicians, gambling, and prospecting for contracts with his mistress/business partner Clara. To make checking into hotels and such easier, Jake had his nephew marry and ditch Clara so they'd have the same last name. 

 

Jake Hamon and Clara Hamon

 

 

Jake paid off a political boss to get Harding into the White House with the agreement that Harding would make Jake Secretary of the Interior, and, thus, put him in charge of a pretty piece of Naval Reserve oil property in Wyoming known as Teapot Dome. Lucky for Jake, Harding was part of the Ohio Gang, which was basically an entourage of gamblers and crooks, so Jake pretty much felt right at home. 

 

Warren Harding and the Duchess

 

 

Fast-forward to Harding's being elected and getting ready to make good on his deal. The bump in the road was Harding's wife, AKA "the Duchess" (above), who must have been in a bad mood because she wouldn't even let poor Warren visit his mistress (Nan Britton) and love child (below) on their way to D.C.

 

Nan Britton With Daughter

 

Even though she really should have been used to this kind of behavior as Warren was apt to "chase anything in a skirt," the Duchess was cousins(?) with Jake Hamon's actual wife and insisted that if Jake were to come to D.C., he'd have to bring her along rather than Clara (I know, it seems outrageous to me too).  

 

Off in some hotel with Clara, Jake decides to suck it up (money's more important than broads, obviously) and tells Clara that they'll have to part ways. Whether palimony was a term in use back then is anyone's guess, but I guess he tried to be a good guy about it and offer her a few bucks for her travel back to nowhere. 

 

Clara seemed to be taking it well when Jake walked in on her "packing." But, failing to realize the double entendre, Jake wasn't aware that little ol' Clara Hamon had gone out and purchased a 25-caliber Colt that afternoon, until, that is, she shot him. 

 

Clara Hamon Newspaper Coverage

 

The story gets ever more complicated from there with plenty of new, equally corrupt characters stepping in, and I'll leave you with a couple of paper clippings to give you a taste. However, I highly recommend you read (or listen, as I did) to the story yourself. It's equal parts appalling, humorous and ridiculous and chock full of "convenient bullets in the head." And, well, at the very least, I take some solace in the thought that it's not just something in the water these days that has made our political news cycle so crazy.  

 

Hamon Funds Won Harding Newspaper