Rolling the Ivories

Foster Place

October 13, 1924

An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place. Find the first excerpt here.

No windy or royal city tour — a whirlwind visit winding up within eighteen hours — would be complete without a visit to the Field Museum. A natural history treasure, and currently home to Sue and a replica of Maximo, the newly remodeled building reopened to the public in 1923, the year before David Windsor visited Chicago. Inside the neoclassical-inspired structure, the Prince of Wales was pushed through a traffic jam of men, women, and children — an overly-eager mob. One can only imagine the suffocation the heir to the British throne must have felt that October afternoon.

David Windsor was rescued from the fray and whisked to the private office of Stanley Field, who had attended the luncheon for the Prince at The University of Chicago only the hour before. There, the Prince sent for a delegation of war veterans. The American volunteers — serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces — stood in admiration of the presumed future king. Wales shook the hand of the men, personally thanking each veteran who served in the Great War on behalf of the British Empire. 

To be a fly on the wall or to read the private diaries of those in attendance after lunch would be rewarding for the curious author otherwise known as me. We will have to imagine David Windsor’s inflection and personality when it was time to leave for the next stop on the itinerary.

Tea. No proper Englishman would not break for the formal tradition. And serving the royal so graciously was The Chicago Club on East Van Buren. To be a fly on the wall in this revered institution for the elite would have been marvelous, indeed. As Stanley Field once said, “Everything to be done in Chicago was discussed by that group, and then word was passed out.” 

A reception at The American Legion, by that autumn dedicated to establishing Americanism, followed. Understanding Wales’ love affair with America, its jazz, and its women. the reception, on a deeper level, would have been fitting. And in 1924, the American Legion, after exhaustive lobbying, won additional benefits for World War I veterans.

Formalities complete, His Royal Highness slipped back into the characteristics hindsight affords. He stopped off at the brand new Racquet Club for a game of American squash, a dip in the tanks, and a rubdown. At 5:30 that afternoon, David Windsor’s next visit was to his friend, Wolcott Blair, at The Drake Hotel. 

The two men, dressed in their finest, headed to Saddle and Cycle Club for a dinner hosted by Wolcott’s cousin, Mrs. Howard (Lucy) Linn on her cousin’s behalf. The Prince had requested that the dinner be “not too large.” He also reiterated his preference for “youth and informality to the pomp and dignity of the social rulers who have held the reins these last 20 or 30 years.” The age limit, it was suggested, was 30 years. And 50 women attended the exclusive event, including Mrs. Leander McCormick, Princess Cantacuzène, Mrs. Lester Armour, Mrs. William Mitchell, and Mrs. William McCormick Blair. 

They dined, rolled dice, and laughed. And then, it was back to The Drake Hotel for a formal dance. 

At midnight the Prince climbed aboard his special train at Michigan Central Station. Not to be outdone by Louis F. Swift, Edward, Prince of Wales, would be the guest of Henry Ford the following day.

A half-hour after midnight, eight black cars departed Chicago for Detroit. 


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