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Warren Harding
by Al Stewart
Al Stewart celebrates his 74th birthday these days and as I’ve always been a passing fan I thought I would pay tribute to his enduring contribution to music. Quite a lot of his songs down through the years are constructed around historical figures and events. I chose this more obscure song about Warren Harding as I reckoned it was apt at this particular time.
But I have another reason for posting this particular song and lyrics. Some of you will know I’m up to my tonsils researching the backstory of a great granduncle who was one half of a celebrated detective duo Roche & Bourke who served in the CPD in the Capone Era during Prohibition. They were a pair of teetotaling IRISH detectives who became Dry Crusaders and fought their peers, the police hierarchy, the judiciary, City Hall and the mob. The accounts of their escapades were related to me some years ago on a trip to Chicago by a cousin, son of Tommy Roche. Initially I was overwhelmed by the amount of fantastic tales and then I started to doubt that some of the story’s might be over exaggerated. At this stage I’ve spent nineteen years researching and trawling through newspaper accounts to try and verify some facts and unearthed a wealth of other stories and though some incidents were never exposed to the scrutiny of the news hounds of the day, I have been able to fact check quite a lot of the what was related to me by my cousin who didn’t learn of the escapades until their father’s wake when he died in 1954. The story of Roche & Bourke is quite fantastic and needs to be told in order for people to understand what really went on behind the scenes in those heady days of the ‘Roaring 20’s’.
One of the most outrageous escapades has never till now been divulged publicly, so here’s the heard it here first on G.J.B....later to be published in a book I propose to release titled...’Pledge To Prohibition’, to coincide with the upcoming centenary.
The story as told to me goes like this...
Detectives Roche & Bourke had invested quite a lot of days staking out a high rise building on Lake Shore Drive. They had Al Capone in their sights and they were working on confidential information that he and his associates had an entire floor in the high rise where they had ‘entertainment suites’ for guests of the mob, as well as a casino come speakeasy for themselves and their entourage and friends. On the run up to the weekend Roche & Burke started to note the comings and goings of what they termed as clean cut, besuited college students types entering the building under observation. They were noted on the Friday evening driving big flash cars to and from the building, each car held a driver and passenger. Roche & Burke reckoned they were from out of town and elected to lift a pair of the ‘college students’ on the following morning by nabbing them in the car park.

Concealing themselves in an unmarked wagon, Roche & Bourke pounced on the first duo that presented themselves first thing Saturday morning and bundled them into the back of their wagon. A fierce scuffle ensued, both Tommy and his partner were acomplished boxing sparring partners and before they knew what was happening the students were ‘black & blue’, disarmed and being handcuffed when a ‘shield’ fell from a jacket and clattered across the floor of the wagon. The badge was a secret service FBI badge!
The local Detective Sergeants were dumbfounded, but their out of town colleagues were even more ‘lost for words‘ so much so that when asked for an explanation as to why they had ‘fouled up’ a long drawn out steak-out and account for their presence, they refused to talk or cooperate in any way.

With that they were rapidly and unceremoniously incarcerated in the cell of a distant Station house, and left to languish there nursing their bruised heads and sore egoes, while Tommy Roche roused the off-duty local FBI Commander on a telephone hotline to his house. The Commander who was a fellow expatriate of Tommy and Pat Bourke was shocked to learn of the appearance of ‘out of town’ FBI junior colleagues on a mission without his prior notification and so he appreciated the fact that he had to get ahead of the situation ASAP, knowing the reputation of Roche & Bourke who were rightly bulling to get to the bottom of what was going on.
The Commander hot footed to the station and went straight to the holding cell area and read the riot act demanding explanations. His subordinates were petrified and fearful to divulge their business, but when threatened by their superior to let loose Roche & Bourke for round two in order to soften them up, they wisely opted to confidentially brief the local superior colleague, who was gobsmacked to hear that they were part of President Warren J Harding’s personal protection detail who was in town on a ‘dirty weekend’.

While he was being briefed in the cell area, Roche & Bourke were in the kitchen drawing to the same conclusion, being streetwise cops who knew a thing or two about a thing or two and how things worked.

President Warren J Harding had a well known reputation for the ‘ladies’, but he was also fond of his liquor and gambling. Was it possible that the dully elected President of the United States of America had put himself in a compromising position by availing of the ‘hospitality of one Alphonse Gabriel ‘Scarface’ Capone?

The penny had dropped with Roche & Bourke before the local FBI Commander had a chance to work out a cover story plausible enough to hoodwink the local detective duo and as they were all friends and colleagues to a degree, both Roche & Bourke appreciated that they too needed friends and particularly influential associates who could be vital beholding ace cards that could be called upon at a future date when they got themselves into another sticky situation, perhaps one where they might find themselves being threatened with dismissal from the force for the umpteenth time. They knew that they would have to allow the local FBI Commander and colleague space and time to save face, but first they conspired to have some fun with him and when the Commander eventually confronted them with a ‘cock & bull’ explanation, that called his bluff and outlined their theory that they had concluded that Harding was in cahoots with Capone and that they were in the process of organizing a search warrant with a view to arrest Harding and all occupants that may be found in Capones den of iniquity!
The FBI Commander nearly had a stroke and was beside himself with trepidation knowing that if he couldn’t resolve this catastrophe all their careers would be done for. After they had sufficiently playing out their ruse, toying along with the nerves of their weary colleague, Roche & Bourke for once uncharacteristically backed down and though ordinarily their moral character and authority would have spurred them not to compromise, they knew that the ramifications for all concerned including themselves and their family’s and the country, would be plunged into a constitutional crisis and scandal of shocking proportions best not exposed.
But boy did they make use of that ace card throughout the remainder of their Dry Crusade years that they waged war on the mob in the Prohibition Era.
Of course such story’s are not possible to verify from any public record and the CPD records were all destroyed in the 1960’s,aa but I have an FBI FOI request winging its way via the net with a request to view their files on Roche & Burke in the pipe line...wish me luck! Harding was a sad case...

I'm leaving my home in Europe behind
Heading out for a new state of mind
New York town is calling to me
Dollar an hour from the company
Warren Gameliel Harding
Alone in the White House, watching the sun
Come up on the morning of 1921
I just want someone to talk to
To talk to
To talk to
I've got no shoes upon my feet
I've been all day with nothing to eat
It sure gets hard down here in the street
But I know where I'm going to be
Warren Gameliel Harding
Playing cards in a smoke-filled room
Winning and losing, filling the time
I just want someone to talk to
To talk to
To talk to
Don't go down to the docks tonight
The cops are nosing around for the site
We moved the booze just before daylight
They won't find it now, it'll be alright
Warren Gameliel Harding
In Alaska running out of days
Leaving the ladies, God moves in strange ways
I just want someone to talk to
To talk to
To talk to
Don't leave me here on such a lonely day
Don't leave me here on such a lonely day

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Alistair Ian Stewart
Warren Harding lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group
Posted: 6th September 2019
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