Westleigh,  History

Westleigh: Part XIV

The Prince and President Coolidge

August 29, 1924

Radio was new. The wireless was exciting. The New York station WJZ sent out an official announcement stating that an airplane would fly from Mitchel Field and out to sea when the RMS Berengaria arrived in port that late August afternoon.

“Through use of the recently perfected system of transmission we will broadcast the aviator’s words of greeting so that not only the Prince on board but the entire radio audience will hear them.”

The ship was besieged by hundreds of journalists and photographers cramming onto the vessel in their suits and straw hats. One by one, they circled, waiting to climb the ship’s ladder made for one crew member, hoping to get an interview, a candid shot, or the scoop. To be shot at by a cameraman in such a fashion was, as Prince Edward later wrote, “an assassination” — a phenomenon he was unaccustomed to experiencing. The onslaught of publicity that afternoon was an appetizer. 

Filmed crossing a plank, the Prince and Lady Mountbatten, who sported a gorgeous white coat and matching hat, were expected to disembark. Instead, the Prince, his cousins, and equerries boarded the Black Watch yacht, thirty odd pieces of the Prince’s luggage — old and new — in tow. They were on their way to Glen Cove for dinner and a rest before the Prince departed for Washington, D.C. the following morning with; Oliver Sawyer of the State Department at Washington; Sir Walter Peacock, Inspector Burt of Scotland Yard, London, and Maj. Oscar Solbert of the United States Army, sent by President Coolidge to act as special aide-de-camp to his royal highness.

David Windsor would travel by special train in an official capacity to pay his respects to President Coolidge and his wife, Grace. The family, still in mourning, would greet the British heir and host a quiet state luncheon with John Coolidge, their surviving son. The previous month, Calvin Coolidge, Jr. had developed a blister on his toe following an afternoon of rugged tennis with his brother. A blister on his toe led to infection. The robust young man spiked a fever and was rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center with a severe case of blood poisoning. Days later, the handsome young man, 16 years old, was dead. 

When the Prince returned to Long Island, the onslaught of publicity continued. Throngs of reporters and people from all walks of life swarmed Broadway in lower Manhattan to witness the Prince. Every day, every movement of the Prince watching the polo matches at Meadow Brook was captured in black and white moving pictures and stills. 

There were lunches, dinners, fox hunts, and dances. Besides polo, the Prince’s days were filled with golf, swimming, and, how shall we say, other sport. A good sport, the Prince drank from the cup when America beat the British to win the tournament. Toward the end of his stay on Long Island, reporters caught up with the Prince, vacationing at the Burden estate. He, Captain Trotter, and Captain Lascelles met the journalists outside. 

“You’ve trailed me for nearly a month,” the Prince said. “Here’s where I get back at you fellows.”

As Tommy Lascelles later said, “The newspapers gave exaggerated publicity . . . his amusements, expensive tastes, uselessness.”  

The month-long frenzy, though, had come to an end. Due in Calgary on September 19, 1924, the Prince bid farewell to state troopers at 10 p.m., heading for his private ranch. There, plans would change. 


An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
For new releases, subscribe to my mailing list.