|QUEEN MARIE AND HER 1926 VISIT TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST|
Tom Edwards, Professor Emeritus, Whitman College
Maryhill Magic – A Newsletter for Members and Friends, Winter 2008
Queen Marie and Her 1926 Visit to the Pacific Northwest
Recently, at a special event at the Multnomah Hotel, Embassy Suites Portland, Tom Edwards, retired board member and history professor emeritus at Whitman College, presented a program about Queen Marie and her visit to the Pacific Northwest in 1926. These remarks are well worth sharing with all of you.
When asked to be a Maryhill trustee, I accepted for I knew the value of an institution serving remote children. Growing up in Taft, Oregon I received intellectual encouragement from Earl Nelson, owner of the Nelscott Book shop. Maryhill serves children scattered in eastern Washington and Oregon who also need intellectual stimulation. As a board member, I advocated programs bringing country children to Maryhill’s rich cultural resources.
In November 1926 children also from this same region were transported to Maryhill, not to explore a museum’s resources, but to see Queen Marie. They and the others in the crowd of 2,000 knew something of her tour and her host, Sam Hill. He was born two years before Oregon became a state, reared in Minneapolis, graduated from Harvard Law School, and married a daughter of James Hill of the Great Northern Railway. As an executive of this company he became a Seattleite, but his wife Mary lacked enthusiasm for the city and separation strained their marriage.
An advocate of good roads, Hill dreamed of a Columbia River highway that was realized at a 1916 dedication. Ten years later Queen Marie dedicated his Maryhill Museum of Fine Arts. Located at a remote, beautiful site on the north bank of the Columbia, the museum opened after Hill’s death in 1931.
Between these well-publicized dedications on either side of the Cascades, pacifist Hill built two monuments to peace. In 1921 he completed construction of the International Peace Arch and Stonehenge, a memorial to men of Klickitat County who died in the First World War. Hill’s scenic road, peace arch, museum, and Stonehenge are currently regional landmarks.
Most Oregonians today know little of then-famous Queen Marie who dedicated his museum and who dined and rested in this historic hotel.
I am not among the royalty-starved Americans, but the Queen’s career is impressive. Born in 1875, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she grew up in Windsor Castle and the Winter Palace in Russia. At the age of 18 her mother arranged her marriage to Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, who became a dull and listless husband. The princess spent time with motherhood, writing, painting, music, and lovers. Marie fully adapted to a new and much different culture, including the Romanian Orthodox Church. Romanians proclaimed the beautiful and vivacious princess, appreciating her public and personal life. They knew about her loveless marriage gossiped about her lovers and those of the monarch. A scholar explained, “Even the Romanian Orthodox Church took a relaxed view of adultery. It allowed up to three divorces per individual on the grounds of mutual consent alone.” (Margaret Macmillan, Paris 1919, p. 130).
Queen Marie became deeply involved in the First World War. Romania was neutral until 1916; the Queen favored joining the war against the Central Powers, hoping to regain land in a treaty. The war soon proved disastrous; Germany crushed Romanian armies, occupied territory, including Bucharest, and the royalty fled. An estimated 300,000 of Romania’s six million population died from disease or starvation. The percentage of population deaths was worse than that of England or France.
The Queen worked to get an American loan, aided numerous hospitalized wounded soldiers, calling herself “an encourager.” Suffering from the occupiers’ exploitation of its food and oil, Romania signed a German peace treaty in May 1918 but again declared war on Germany on Nov. 10, a day before the armistice.
Called by a Romanian diplomat to help the country regain territory at the Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, Marie met with the victors, impressing them with her beauty, frank language, and persuasive skills. She knew that if the Romanian cause for regaining territory failed, her disillusioned and suffering subjects might overthrow the monarchy. President Woodrow Wilson disliked her discussion about sex and love. The Queen showed him a picture of a daughter and said she, who was dark, unlike her other children, was her love child.
The political Queen and supporters boasted that her intervention at the Peace Conference was a major reason why the peace treaty awarded her country considerable land.
Many Oregonians had at least a sketchy knowledge of her career and her 1926 trip across the United States, starting with a ticker tape parade in NYC and a White House visit with President Calvin Coolidge. The Oregonian praised Queen Marie for being charming, cultured, and artistic. She had “a record of good works, a woman, who were she not of royal family would stand out nevertheless as one of the world’s great women.” (Portland Oregonian November 2, 1926). The writer hailed her “as the most powerful Queen in Europe, whose brain controls the Balkans.” (Portland Oregonian November 4, 1926) On November 3, 1926 the Royal Rumanian, [sic] steamed into the Maryhill station.
At Sam Hill’s rustic, lamp-lit Meadow Lark Inn, where, a reporter wrote, “a small group who stand at the uppermost rung of Portland’s social ladder” had stayed overnight playing bridge and coping with old wood stoves. (Portland Oregonian, November 3, 1926).
At the unfinished museum, Sam Hill, his friends, and others heard her speak from a balcony of what she would call “a house built in the wilderness.” The Queen explained why she visited the building, paying tribute to her host. “There is much more than concrete in this structure. There is a dream built into this place—a dream for today and especially for tomorrow. There are great dreamers and there are great workers in the world. When a dreamer is also a worker, he is working for today and for tomorrow as well. For he is building for those who come after us.” (Linda Brady Tesner, Maryhill Museum of Art, p. 40.) She presented valuable gifts for the unfinished museum prompting later donations by her close friends.
Many on the Maryhill grounds or reading newspaper accounts still wondered why the Queen, accompanied with a prince and princess, would visit Hill’s unfinished museum, one that critics called “Hill’s Folly.” Their first meeting is obscure, but a firm friendship developed through their joint Red Cross work in the post-war years. Infatuated with Marie, Sam shared her interest in music, art, and international peace. As a pacifist he championed peace; as a participant in war she agreed.
After the Maryhill ceremonies, she traveled by rail to Celilo where celebrants transferred to 30 Lincoln automobiles. Portland’s mayor and other dignitaries welcomed Marie to Oregon. The royal family praised the scenic highway and received warm welcomes during short celebrations at The Dalles and Hood River. In each town excited children strained to see a queen. Embarrassment swept through a crowd when a man shouted “Hello Marie.” At Crown Point the owner of the chalet presented the Queen with a three layer cake. Marie introduced leading members of the tour to the baker, telling her that it was “The best cake I ever ate.” (Portland News, November 5, 1926).
The caravan entered Portland at 82nd and Sandy, making an unscheduled visit of the Shriner’s Hospital where her concern about crippled children won favorable comment. The long car caravan crossed the new Burnside Bridge and proceeded along streets where cheering crowds—some honoring her in Sunday clothes—sought a glimpse of the distinguished visitor. Romanian flags with vertical stripes of blue, yellow, and red, flew from many buildings. The police department was out in full force.
Hill was a close friend of Eric Hauser, Sr. owner of the Multnomah Hotel. They planned for the royal visit. Determined to honor the royal party, Hauser made impressive preparations, including the painting of 30 rooms, installing new furniture in the Queen’s room, erecting a commode shaped like a throne, placing roses in rooms and a red carpet at the door. In the hotel lobby a large crowd applauded the Queen as she waved from the mezzanine balcony. Hauser wanted to host a large formal dinner, but tour managers declined, explaining she needed a rest after a 125-mile automobile ride and before 9:30 p.m. start of the horse show. At the dinner Hauser stated, “We are honored to welcome you to Portland, the City of Roses—famous throughout the world for its natural beauties and scenic wonders, and for its national patriotic response to every emergency affecting the progress of humanity.” The Queen and her party attended the horse show, where a royal box was under a silk canopy. A huge crowd packed the building and cheered the honored guest. At the performance’s end, the royal party drove to Union Station—on this ride the Oregon governor got to ride with the Queen—and embarked for Seattle with a stop at a large Longview mill.
Biographers state that Hill suffered two rebuffs on a day he long anticipated. The Queen’s managers denied him and the Oregon governor from entering her automobile. There had been earlier trouble on the train between Hill and Major Stanley Washburn, a Queen’s aide appointed by the State Department. A reporter later stated that he shouted about Washburn, “I’m a wild man. I will tear him to pieces. I’ll crush him,” (Portland News, November 5, 1926). At the horse show Hill again argued with Washburn. The Portland News, under the byline “Fuss Over Royalty Deserves Ridicule,” stated that Hill “threatened to slap” him over the automobile incident.
His threat was, the writer judged, “typically Hillian as it was vulgar.” (Portland News, November 6, 1926).
According to a speculator a second rebuff was worse than his treatment by the Queen’s aides. Hill, the writer believed, spoke to the queen of his dream that she would embrace his world, publicly acknowledge their friendship, and give him some indication that she cared more than casually for him. Alas, she gently explained to him that she could not give up her duty to her husband her people.... Crushed and hurt, Sam never recovered from his unrequited love.” (Cait Curtin, The Grand Lady of Fourth Avenue, n.p.)
There were numerous reactions to the Queen’s visit to Oregon. Travelers on the train compared the Portland celebration with that at the one held a day earlier in Spokane. Here Nez Perce Indians met the royalty, the Davenport Hotel placed the Queen and children on a platform so for thirty minutes citizens could walk by, the Queen spoke on the radio, and said a few words from a balcony to an election crowd and then watched election returns.
Hill’s dreams of good roads, peace structures, and a regional museum became realities. But his dreams of a close relationship with Queen Marie and of international peace failed. Hill survived a personal frustration, and he died before his dream of peace evaporated in the Second World War.
Not every Portlander, of course, celebrated the Queen’s visit. A newspaper admitted she was “the most talked-of royal personage in modern history;” complained that the Queen sought publicity and profits and was “not half so queenly as any one of a dozen women of our acquaintance.” (Portland News, November 4 and 6, 1926). It asserted that the trip was “ill advised” because it cheapened the queen and made the region “appear ridiculous.” (Portland News, Nov. 6, 1926).
But for thousands of Portlanders it was a red-letter day when the Queen came to the Multnomah. Citizens remembered it from wherever they perched on the Portland Oregonian’s social ladder. The Multnomah still awaits a chance to host another Queen, no matter how long she stays.
Postscript: In one of those happy coincidences, Tom just learned from his sister that their mother, Marie Cheska Edwards was named after the famous queen.