The Prince in New York 1924

Foster Place

July 1924

An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
Part Six
(Part One may be found here.)

The Prince of Wales was coming to the United States. The exciting — and definite — news broke on July 12, 1924, when American polo player Earle W. Hopping arrived on the Berengaria from England with word that the Prince would sail to America on August 26. Preceding the Prince would be eight of his private polo ponies, arriving on July 26, along with the entire string of Great Britain’s sixty mounts.

The excitement on Long Island was mounting as well.

Mr. Hopping, a substitute on the American team in 1921 that brought back the international trophy, had been in England taking notes on the so-called “invaders” style of play while participating in the trail matches closely watched by the Prince. In July of 1924, Mr. Hopping was back on home turf, hoping for a place on the American four, the team looking to defend the international title come September. 

The Prince would be in New York to witness the matches, taking place at Meadow Brook — the oldest polo club in the United States and the setting for the first international polo match the year prior. While the Prince would not participate in the tournament, he would be on hand to participate in the trails. Whether his private ponies would be used by the British team remained unclear. 

It was also unclear whether or not the Prince would stay to witness the Monty Waterbury Cup series. Either way, the British team and all of America seemed ecstatic. 

“The British players were greatly enthused when they learned that the Prince of Wales will make the trip to the United States and witness the matches at Meadow Brook,” Mr. Hopping said upon his arrival. “Naturally, the presence of the Prince will be an incentive for them, in addition to the one of winning the International Challenge Cup.”

And the American polo team was enthusiastic over the chance to drill with the British heir who had, five months earlier, broken his collar bone. R.V. Merrill, it seems, had been too confident with his observations. Accidents happen. 

“His Royal Highness is one of the best men to hounds in England,” Major E.D. Metcalfe, temporary equerry to the Prince of Wales, said one month later. “When you consider that he hunts three times a week and rides as hard as he does, it is surprising he doesn’t have more falls. If he weren’t the Prince of Wales, his falls would not be mentioned as anything extraordinary. I train all the Prince’s horses. If I were to fall twelve times a week, no one would ever give it a thought. But if the Prince is thrown, the news is flashed all over the world. It has been figured out by the press that he has been thrown or fallen about four times a year in the last four years.”

“The Prince of Wales will be accompanied on the man-of-war on which he will make the voyage by his official equerry, Major Metcalf. I do not believe it has been definitely settled just where he will stay while in this country, but the man-of-war which brings him across the ocean probably will be his headquarters. After he leaves here, he will visit his ranch in Canada before returning to England.”

Edward, known as “David” to family members and close friends, had been making international headlines with his good looks, fashionable attire, and charm. His younger brother Albert, known as “Bertie,” had married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon the previous year, and rumors were circulating around the heir-apparent’s marriage plans — or rather the lack thereof, gossip regarding his preference for unavailable women also making discreet headlines in the American newspapers. 

Meanwhile, a business tycoon named Louis F. Swift sailed the Atlantic in June, arriving in South Hampton on the Majestic. And two paths would cross soon. 

August 16, 1924

Polo. An endless string of dinner parties. As Rose said in the movie Titanic, “. . . always the same narrow people, the same mindless chatter.” That was a reality I would recognize in my own life after a few short years of marriage, nodding in silent agreement when watching the film. I often wondered when any member of the smart set, of which I was not a part, had time to work. Part of the job, I supposed, was being “on” no matter how one felt or looked. Being in the spotlight 24/7 was the position, an open checkbook at any charity event a prerequisite for entry.

Hindsight being 20/20, David Windsor struggled with his unprecedented fame, the seeds of his abdication planted long before he relinquished his throne. And such began his second journey to America in the late summer of 1924, when the Jazz Age was at its height, prohibition was in full swing, and flappers danced into the wee hours of the morning after an evening of glitz. Their carefree ways were on full display after the First Word War, as were the sweet, high notes of a clarinet serenading the sunrise. It was the year George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue debuted at Aeolian Hall in New York City, the symphonic scoring not occurring for another two decades. A rhapsody, that year, was in pure form. 

The Prince’s visit to the United States would be carefree as well — a grand tour designed for rest and holiday. “Of simple character,” as Major Oscar Solbert, the Prince’s honorary aide-de-camp — a position designated by Secretary Weeks at the request of President Coolidge — said. And since the visit was in an unofficial capacity — mostly — the Prince would travel under the name of Lord Renfrew, which was a play on Baron of Renfrew, a dignity held by the heir-apparent to the British throne dating back to 1404. Lord Renfrew would hope for anonymity, but that would be futile as The New York Times could not help but share every detail, no matter how banal. 

David Windsor, it had been decided, would stay at the home of James A. Burden, his picturesque estate in Syosset, Long Island, while the Burtons traveled to Europe stag shooting in the Scottish Highlands. They would return at the end of October, appointing Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Winthrop as official hosts during the Prince’s stay.

Besides polo, the Prince hoped to play golf, other sports, and dine — informal lunches and dinners on the itinerary. Off the official itinerary was his passionate affair with Hollywood starlet Pinna Nesbit Cruger who was the wife of a New York millionaire. As the author F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “A damned attractive woman.” Of course, Ms. Cruger wasn’t the only woman David Windsor, a.k.a. Edward, Prince of Wales, a.k.a. Lord Renfrew, had his wandering eye on. His affair with Freda Dudley Ward lasted from 1918 until 1934, when he met still-married Wallis Simpson. 

She was, in 1924, living on a small street called Oakland in an exclusive suburb called Lake Forest, where David Windsor was soon destined to visit.