A RUMANIAN QUEEN IN THE  WEST
by Henry L. Clay
Frontier Times, April-May 1968


Left to right: Samuel Hill, Queen Marie, Prince Nicholas, Princess Ileana, and Mayor George Baker of Portland.


FAMOUS rides have their place in history and song—Paul Revere, General Sheridan, Tam O'Shanter et al, were heroes of such rides—and to that illustrious group should be added Queen Marie of Rumania, who forty years ago came to America and made a sensational train ride across the continent. Why she came—why she took the long train trip—why it was sensational—how it turned out—well, that is what this story is about.

Queen Marie was born in England in 1875. She was the daughter of the Duke of Edinburgh, (a son of Queen Victoria), and his wife the Grand Duchess Marie, daughter of Czar Alexander II of Russia. Marie married King Ferdinand of Rumania, and thus became Queen. They had six children—three sons and three daughters. Two of her daughters became reigning queens.

Queen Marie was good looking, had a delightful personality and a good speaking voice. She had written several magazine articles and had several published books. She also had written scenarios—none of which had been produced. She had served as an Army nurse in World War I.

When Queen Marie first announced her intention of making a trip to America, she stated that her general purpose was a sort of educational good will tour; but that her specific purpose was to dedicate a museum at Maryhill, Washington—away across the continent. The governing body of Rumania was reluctant to sanction the trip because of the expense, but later these objections were withdrawn. So she sailed from Cherbourg on October 12, 1926, on the Leviathan, accompanied by her son, Nicholas, and her daughter, Ileana; her special aide, Major Stanley Washburn; her close friend, Loie Fuller, the ballet dancer; six personal attendants; several European dignitaries; about one hundred pieces of baggage—and her dog.

When she arrived in New York she was greeted by a large and imposing reception committee headed by Grover Whalen. While she had not received a formal invitation from our Government, the State Department took official notice and provided the usual twenty-one gun salute. She disembarked October 18.

For publicity, the timing was perfect. Front page news was scarce, and the Queen's visit was "manna from heaven" for the newspapers, and a field day for the reporters—who played up the trip in great style.

Queen Marie had contracted with the North American Newspaper Alliance to write a series of articles ranging from "Why I Came to America" to "My Impressions of America." About six of such articles were published; and as they ran 2,000 words each, one suspects she must have had a ghost writer—and there was one such in her party.

In her syndicated articles she gave a variety of reasons why she came to America—which might have been condensed into a desire to see the country first-hand, and find out how its people lived. She wanted to see almost every object of interest—Pikes Peak, the Everglades, farmers, Indians, washing machines and rodeos; and wanted to ride a horse. She spoke of steel mills, skyscrapers, big trees and tombs of famous men. Particularly she wanted to see American kitchens, and find out if the occupants were as good looking as they appeared to be in linoleum advertisements—and she was to dedicate a museum.

At the dedication, when clearly she was tired and possibly a bit petulant, she said that she came to dedicate the museum because Sam Hill had wanted her to do so—and that she would give no other explanation. That seemed enough.

However, the reasons advanced by some who clearly were not in sympathy with the Queen's visit, were not so altruistic. One newspaper was of the opinion that the real purpose of the trip was to find a rich American husband for Ileana—and went so far as to suggest several eligibles. One Labor group declared that the real purpose of the visit was to get United States financial aid by the transfer to us of certain South Russian oil fields which Rumania had tied up—thus blocking British control. The New York World said that Rumania would soon put out a large bond issue to be offered in this country—notwithstanding the fact that Rumania had defaulted its English and French loans. A member of the Minneapolis City Council said that the Queen was nothing but an international gold digger, bumming her way across the country, hoping to get a loan which would enable her to continue her aristocratic tyrannical reign. Other papers branded the Queen's trip as a gigantic publicity stunt suggested by her friend, Loie Fuller, with the hope of selling the Queen's movies to Hollywood, and ran the headline: "Is Sam Hill Press Agent For Movies?"

Another paper had an editorial stating: "The brutal truth is that the United States recently turned down a Rumanian touch, and the Queen wanted to see if anything could be done about it—and thus raise the mortgage on her throne. Somehow it would have been a little more clubby if the Queen had not said so much about wanting to study 'American happiness.'" There was more in a similar vein, and the papers clearly regarded the proposed museum dedication as a subterfuge.



The museum at Maryhill, high above the Columbia River.

Queen Marie of Rumania made a sensational trip across the United States to dedicate an unfinished museum.


Samuel Hill, who planned the Queen's trip.


THE PROPOSED trip across the continent was to be somewhat roundabout, touching much of the northern United States and prominent cities in Canada. Someone who had influence with the railroads had sold the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. on the advertising value of sponsoring the Queen's transportation; and the B&O obligingly provided a free train of ten cars (promptly dubbed the "Royal Rumanian") with the necessary motive power and train crews over its own lines. The train was to run over several different railroads, each of which was expected to furnish free motive power—which they did—with the exception of Southern Pacific and Santa Fe, who wanted pay; so the Queen's train did not go to California.

As a condition to furnishing the train, the B&O specified that a member of its legal staff, (Honorary) Colonel John H. Carroll, was to accompany the Queen as official host, and have charge of the itinerary and generally "boss" the trip. At that time Carroll was seventy-three years old—and seemingly a bit finicky. This arrangement did not suit the Queen's party, nor Sam Hill, who had planned the trip and who had expected to go along and run things. It was his show.

As one critical newspaper said: "For some mysterious reason, details of the Queen's visit seem to have been left to Sam Hill. How did he get in, anyway? How did he horn in on her trip? Why should she go to his curio museum at Maryhill?"

I knew Sam Hill quite well; and although he was twenty-three years my senior, he seemed to like me. I had, and still have, a high regard for him. No disrespect is intended in referring to him as "Sam." That was a sort of colloquial name. He had great presence and dignity. Physically, he was a large man, about six feet, weighing 200 pounds. He was always well groomed, and was a fine figure in formal attire—but on the street he liked to wear a slouch hat. While he was somewhat austere, he could unbend—and frequently did.

His several biographers agree that he was born in North Carolina in 1857, and that his father was a well-to-do physician, of such strong Union principles that at the beginning of the Civil War he moved to Minneapolis, where he died when Sam was about ten years old. Presumably Sam worked at odd jobs, and saved his money—and later took a law degree at Harvard. At some point he came to the favorable notice of James J. ("Jim") Hill, the railroad magnate, who was no relation but may have contributed to Sam's education. Later he gave Sam a job; and in 1888, Sam married Jim's daughter.

Sam had a lot of money, and there was some speculation as to where he got it—but no one was able to trace it back to Jim. Sam was a good businessman and engaged in numerous enterprises which paid off. Some biographers say that before his marriage he had gone to Europe and had taken some courses at the University of Munich where he became acquainted with a student who later became King Albert of Belgium. While there is some uncertainty about Munich, he did know King Albert.


IN 1907, the James J. Hill interests built a railroad from Spokane to Portland, which in part ran at a water grade along the north bank of the Columbia River; and Sam was in on that. He was much impressed with the marvelous scenic views of the Columbia to be had from the high barren plateau above the river, and bought one such tract of about 7,000 acres and arranged for a railroad station below, which he named "Maryhill" after his daughter. His friend, King Albert, had planned to visit America and in 1914 Sam started to build a French chateau on the tract in which to entertain him. But World War I blocked the trip, so work was stopped and the unfinished building was boarded up. For twelve years it principally was a roosting place for swallows.

In 1916, Russia was at war, and depended largely upon the Trans-Siberian railroad for supplies. Something was not exactly right, and the Russian Government asked the American Railroad Association to send over an expert to advise what might be done. Sam was selected and went over. In Russia he met Queen Marie of Rumania, who was there visiting her mother's people.

Sam was considered eccentric, but his idiosyncrasies actually were entertaining and delighted his friends. When he built his mansion in Seattle he installed a residence elevator—almost an unheard of thing in those days—and it was accepted as definite proof that Sam was queer. He did have a lively imagination and enjoyed it. As one instance, he told me that when he was a young man in Germany, he somehow offended the Crown Prince, who later became William II and who tried to have Sam killed; so during World War I he constantly was on the alert for assassins. Some of his recitals were so interesting and extraordinary that I would sometimes wonder if he was "twigging" us. He may have been.

On one of his trips to England, he visited Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and was so impressed that he called in local photographers and masons and had accurate pictures and measurements taken, which he sent to Maryhill and had full sized replicas made of concrete and erected there as a memorial for World War I casualties. He planned, built and paid for the Peace Portal (or Arch) at Blaine, Washington, on the Canadian border—and brought over General Joffre to dedicate it. He would bring over delegations of Japanese businessmen on trade missions—and he paid the bills.

He was almost a fanatic on the subject of good roads. He founded the Washington State Good Roads Association and was the first president. He would gather up groups of transportation enthusiasts and take them en masse to Good Roads meetings and conventions. He spent much time and money advocating the Alaska Highway. He went all over the State of Washington trying to sell the idea of a north to south central highway, arguing that some time we would be unexpectedly attacked by Japan, and might need such a road. The Good Roads people wanted to run him for the United States Senate but he refused. He believed that as Senator his name would be forgotten, but as a good roads builder, posterity might remember him.


SAM had an elaborate mansion in Seattle, and had abandoned the idea of entertaining royalty at Maryhill but wanted to find some use for his unfinished chateau there. Just how he came up with the idea of using it as a museum is beyond my comprehension—but he did, and with characteristic vigor set about to find some important personage to dedicate it with eclat, and embellish the occasion with the proper prestige and glamour. He set off to Europe to look around a bit. He encountered Queen Marie, whom he knew. They had a mutual friend in Mrs. Adolph B. Spreckels, of San Francisco, to whom Queen Marie had confided that she would like to visit America. Thus there was a community of ideas, and the Queen consented to come across and dedicate Sam's museum.

We may assume that Sam did not tell her about the empty, unfinished building. No doubt he agreed to finance the trip. He had a way of doing such things.

Loie Fuller was an American dancer, born in 1862. After a mediocre start with Wild West and Medicine Shows, she perfected a serpentine dance, using silk streamers and colored lights—which immediately caught on with the public, and she became famous. She built up an elaborate ballet which was well received in Europe; and she had her own theatre at the Paris Exposition of 1900. She became a close friend of Queen Marie, and accompanied Queen Marie on her American tour. Loie Fuller had positive ideas as to the Queen's entertainment—which didn't add to the harmony of the trip. At that time Loie Fuller was sixty- four years old. She died in 1928.

Adolph B. Spreckels (then deceased) had been a close friend of Sam Hill. No doubt Mrs. Spreckles had something to do with the arrangement between Sam and Queen Marie regarding the American trip and the museum dedication. Sam had planned that she should meet Queen Marie in New York, and accompany her party and act as hostess at the formal dinner Sam was to give in Seattle. Mrs. Spreckels soon found herself an unwitting member of one of two discordant groups—so left the party at Portland and went home to San Francisco. However, she didn't forget Sam and his museum—and many interesting curios and art objects therein are loans from her own collection.


AFTER a brief visit to Washington, D. C., presumably to pay her respects to President Coolidge, Queen Marie started her western trip. So far as she personally was concerned, the trip west was a success. She was not disturbed by rumors of ulterior motives or by caustic comments of disappointed prestige seekers who had failed to get on reception committees. While she was obliged to take some notice of the dissension in her party, she remained charming and radiant. She tried to see and do everything she had wanted. She chatted with cattlemen, farmers and their wives, and her train made stops long enough for her to see a rodeo and to be "adopted" as a member of the Sioux Indian tribe. She had a keen sense of humor, and was much amused by the rumor that her honor guard of Seattle policemen had been ordered to wear spats.

Naturally she had many offers of gifts, and opportunities of paid endorsements, but she refused them all. She never lost her composure, notwithstanding the discord among members of her party.

It was unfortunate that the western trip was disturbed by internal disagreements with which Queen Marie had nothing to do, and which disrupted the harmony of what was intended to be a gesture of international courtesy made possible by Sam Hill. He planned the expedition and expected to have considerable to say—but he was completely thwarted by Carroll, whom the B&O had placed in charge of the train, and who refused to yield any portion of his importance.

The trouble began in New York, right at the start. To honor the occasion, a Maryhill Museum Committee had been formed (possibly selected by Sam) and had sent its Chairman, Mr. Frederick Moore, to New York to formally escort the Queen to Maryhill—but Carroll would not permit him to ride on the royal train, so he went home. The Rumanian Consulate had worked hard on the New York entertainment program—which Loie Fuller tried to change—so the Rumanian Charge d'Affaires left in a huff. Sam Hill did not accompany the party when it left New York, and withdrew, possibly to plan his future strategy.

En route, there was discord whenever anyone interfered with Carroll's plans. It developed that the Rumanian Consul General at Chicago had been selected by the Rumanian Legation to have charge of entertainment there and beyond, and he joined the party—but didn't last long. He went back to Chicago, got in touch with the Washington Legation and was instructed to wire the mayors of cities along the route that Rumania recognized Sam Hill as being in complete charge of the trip, and that all arrangements should be made with him. Thus Sam's strategy was working—but Carroll was going strong. At Great Falls, Montana, an elaborate parade had been planned—but Carroll changed things so much that Mayor Mitchell became disgusted and denounced Carroll—and openly declared for Sam!

At Spokane the party was joined by Sam Hill, Mrs. Spreckles and Loie Fuller. Sam assumed command and tension continued to mount.


SAM HILL'S Maryhill chateau is near Goldendale, Washington, the county seat of Klickitat County. Among his friends there was Mayor Brooks, who acted for him when necessary. Sam apparently had conceived the idea of a museum some time before and had some things stored in a local warehouse—but no one had taken him serfously. In October, when Mayor Brooks received a New York wire from Sam telling him that Queen Marie would dedicate the museum on November 3, and instructing him to get the place ready, he was a bit flustered!

The news naturally caused considerable excitement in Goldendale—and some amusement. Construction of the building had been started about twelve years before but work had been stopped and the unfinished building was boarded up and had gradually deteriorated. I had seen it a short time before the dedication and it was a picture of dilapidation. There were holes in the concrete walls; many doors and widows were not in place; and the spring which supplied water was overgrown with weeds and partly filled with debris. That was the place Mayor Brooks was to "get ready"!

He did what he could. He put a crew to work cleaning up, and repairing doors and casements. He went to Portland and obtained a large supply of bunting showing the Rumanian colors—which he draped around. But actually, the place was bare and unfinished, with a desolate appearance.

I had been in the Maryhill station area a number of times. The railroad was down along the river, much below the museum building. There was a small, primitive ferry which ran back and forth across the river. The Washington shore was merely sand and boulders covered with sagebrush, inhabited by lizards (with an occasional rattlesnake).

The Queen's train arrived at the Maryhill siding about 7:30 a.m. on November 3—a frosty morning. Reporters were on hand, looking for something to write about, and they clearly regarded the whole proceeding as something of a joke.

An attendant appeared, walking the dog. According to the reporters Sam was next, and greeted them with great solemnity and a little speech. He said Maryhill had been selected because it was a meeting place of fertile land, rain and sunshine, and that he had determined these desirable characteristics scientifically and the spot would some day be the center of the world's population! Upon noticing the frosty railroad ties, he then delivered an impromptu lecture on moisture. Well, that is what the reporters wrote! They also said that about this time, Queen Marie disembarked—gave one look around—and started to climb back on board.

Eventually the party got up to the museum building, and the Queen was escorted inside. According to Mr. Brooks, she gulped a couple of times—but she was game. She made a somewhat emotional speech in which she extolled both Loie Fuller and Sam. Then she presented certain gifts she had brought, and the party went on its way to Portland.

Sam had invited a number of local dignitaries to attend the dedication, among whom was the Governor of Oregon, and had planned that after the ceremony the entire party would travel to Portland by automobile, and that the Governor should ride in the Queen's car. But Carroll, backed up by Major Washburn, found a way to prevent that. Sam was so angered that he openly censored both of them, with the result that Washburn told the Queen that Sam must go, or else he and Carroll would quit.

At Portand the party was entertained at a horse show—but when Sam entered the Royal Box, Carroll and Washburn moved out. Thus there was open hostility until the party left for Seattle.

There, Sam put on his select dinner for the Queen. The party then went to Blaine, on the Canadian border, where Sam had erected his Peace Arch (which didn't seem to be working, as there was almost open war).

Sam drove the Queen back to Seattle over Chuckanut Drive, and the Royal train was waiting to leave for the East. Queen Marie had requested Loie Fuller to invite Sam to go along, but Carroll would have none of it, saying that the Queen's tributes had "gone to his (Sam's) head," and intimating that he was a trouble maker and unmanageable, and would not be allowed on board.

To keep the peace, the Queen persuaded Sam not to go, and the party left without him. The Queen's group was openly divided between the belligerents. Loie Fuller and her newspaper friend, May Birkhead, started east with the party, but they were friendly to Sam, and Carroll got rid of them at Denver. Sam was persistent and wired the Queen that he would join the party at Chicago, but Carroll was defiant and again announced that if Sam showed up he would not be permitted on board.

Apparently Sam solved the problem by not showing up, and the long and bitter dispute was over. Sam had lost. His expected "Grand Tour" had been one of contention and discord. The much advertised trip had come to a rather inglorious end.


SAM went ahead with his museum building, and arranged for exhibits. He formed a non-profit organization to run it and provided an endowment. Unfortunately, he died in 1931, before the museum was completed. It was formally opened to the public in 1940, and since then more than a million people have visited it—and it is well worth the trip.

It houses a remarkable collection, and can be reached by hard-surfaced roads—but it is miles from the nearest town. One who didn't know the story would wonder why such an interesting display is so remotely located.

And Queen Marie? She cut short her journey and went home to her ailing husband, who died in 1927. Following his death, she withdrew from public life and devoted much of her time to writing. She died in 1938.

Sam Hill sleeps in a concrete crypt overlooking the scenic Columbia and the museum. Those of us who knew him hope that the present and future generations will learn of his good works and that his name will come to mean something more than a synonym for flamboyancy and lack of purpose.


Maryhill Museum of Art