The Jazz Age Prince in 1924

Photo: 1962

October 13, 1924

The entresol was an anchor — my connection to the Jazz Age Prince. How many times had I stood in a doorway and stared at a fountain, left dry until the Italianate wing of Foster Place was at last refurbished? A silence so deafening. The echoes of a gramophone were displaced by a ghostly nocturne, unsung on a grand piano positioned in what was now the living room. No one played the instrument — or any instrument, for that matter — but me: a story for another day.

Decades before, the Jazz Age Prince had left Lake Forest behind him after a one-hour tour. The better part of his visit was spent in Chicago, the latter part of his day in the company of the young, the carefree, the dynamic, and, in one case, the careless. 

One year after a royal visit, on April 26, 1925, David Windsor’s friend, Wolcott Blair, was arrested. Heading south on Dearborn Street in Chicago, Mr. Blair sped ahead of another car, impatience causing his high-powered automobile to crash into one steel post that anchored the Dearborn Street bridge. His jaw was broken, and a was windshield shattered. His companion, Miss Geraldine Markham, 23, was thrown through the windshield. 

His face cut open by broken glass, this son of a “wealthy capitalist” was booked at the Chicago Avenue Police station and charged with reckless driving. His companion, a member of the “Stepping Stone” company, was, The New York Times reported, perhaps fatally injured, her skull fractured. 

A passing motorist drove her to Iroquois Hospital. What always seems to be the case, Mr. Wolcott Blair’s injuries were treated after he was released from custody. 

Those were the echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald as though The Great Gatsby was recreated. Those were the edges of ballroom-sized Oriental carpets, frayed at the edges but solid with tradition versus, as it was coined, the new, the carefree, and the careless. 

David Windsor, a future king, pulled into Detroit at 1 o’clock on the afternoon of October 14, 1924. By 4 o’clock, he would tour the Highland Park plant of the Ford Motor Company. The Prince, the guest of Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, would drive a specialized automobile if “The Prince of Wales Special” could be built in time while the heir to the British throne watched and waited.

Until then, the assembly line record was eleven minutes and forty seconds. The workmen assigned to build the car, replete with enameling polish and nickel-plated parts, hoped for a record of eight minutes. Henry Ford spent $50,000 expanding the plant and widening the aisle for a royal visit.  When the car rolled off the assembly line, the Prince, Henry and Edsel Ford, drove the machine around the yards. From there, the men traveled to the Lincoln Motor Car Company as well as the River Rouge Plant. 

The midwest tour concluded with a reception at the Detroit Club. At 8 o’clock that evening, dinner was served at the home of Edsel Ford, including a 10 o’clock dance before leaving again for Toronto. 

It was there that the Prince fell from his horse once again while on a fox hunt after a five-foot jump. Thrown over the horse’s shoulders, the Prince landed heavily after the first kill, brushed himself off, mounted again, and killed a second animal. 

He was the picture of health when arriving in Ottawa and the West Hills four days later. The following day, would be spent with the Montreal Hunt, where he was expected to remain for several more days. 

Bound for home on October 25, 1924, he boarded the SS Olympic, departing New York City at 1 o’clock in the morning. The official press statement read: 

“The Prince has enjoyed his stay and looks forward to returning soon.” 

On board, the Prince and his party would sail across the Atlantic in the luxury of C Deck, suites 51, 53, 55, 57, and 59. Fashioned in dark walnut and gold, the Prince entered to find a parting gift — ivory dice — from Mrs. Howard (Lucy) Linn with whom he would remain lifelong friends. On ship stationery, he thanked her for “the lovely bones. I feel that they are going to bring me luck.” 

The Jazz Age Prince Returns

A quiet and secluded journey in luxury back across the Atlantic, the “Jazz Age Prince” arrived in Southhampton, the SS Olympic, signaled to by the RMS Mauretania. Posing for photographs, pipe in hand, the Jazz Age Prince said, “I’ve had one of the most wonderful times of my life. I have had a wonderful holiday, but I am, of course, glad to get home. It is always interesting and pleasant to travel and there is a great deal to be learned on he other side of the Atlantic, where once again, I have been shown the greatest possible kindness and hospitality.”

On the first of November and back in London, the Prince met his father’s cold reception. “If this vulgarity,” the King said, “represents the American attitude toward people in your position, what purpose would be served exposing yourself to this kind of treatment?”

The King’s observation, though seemingly harsh, was not wrong. A book containing 61,120 newspaper clippings, weighing 325 pounds, comprised every article written about the Prince during his Long Island stay was given to the Prince. Compiled by twenty-two people over the course of fourteen days, the Hemstreet Press Clipping Bureau stated that “no President in office has ever received so much publicity in such a short time.”

The company sold in 1929 to Estelle L. Boyd and sold again in 1960, the brittle literary reviews featuring Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald were left to mold, with five million clippings stored in shoe and candy boxes. 

Ah, those careless and short-sighted ways. Boxes forgotten on shelves, in attics, and a crown thrown away. Or, as some suggest, taken. I will leave the ultimate conclusion for my forthcoming book. 

Prince of Wales Telegram: University of Chicago Archives

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University of Chicago. Office of the President. Harper, Judson and Burton Administrations. Records, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library