Westleigh,  History

Westleigh: Part XV

The Prince of Wales Arrives in New York

August 29, 1924

Two days prior to the ship’s arrival, wireless operators on board the RMS Berengaria were busy with invitations sent to the Prince from almost every theater in New York, including The Circus in Luna Park and The Frazee, where Sweeney Todd was playing. 

The Prince refused every invitation. 

Hours before the ship’s arrival, the planned radio address, advertised for months, failed even though Lieutenant Connell had circled the plane back to Mitchell Field five times to fix the problem. At 4:15 pm, a printed statement was issued.

“We regret exceedingly that as a result of generator trouble we were forced to disappoint the large radio audience listening in this afternoon for an aerial report of the arrival of His Royal Highness, Prince of Wales. As we have repeatedly stated, airplane broadcasting is still in an experimental stage, but we believed that with the indulgence of the public, we will be alt to lessen the chance for failure in the future. Frequent tests prior to today’s were most successful and we had every reason to expect a successful test today.”

The Radio Corporation of America sent out a text of the message, delivered by Governor Smith to His Royal Highness, Prince of Wales 8/19/1924, Steamship Berengaria.

“I have the honor to express the greetings and extend a warm friendly welcome on behalf of the people of the State of New York on the occasion of the arrival of Your Royal Highness in our harbor. This greeting is sent you through the courtesy of the United States Army Air Service, one of whose airplanes is currently over your vessel.”

— Alfred E. Smith, Governor of the State of New York

Still, scores of rowboats, yachts, and sailboats circled the harbor. Ten thousand people gathered, the eager espying a twenty-mile trail of smoke from the ship’s three funnels while the Prince of Wales stood on the Captain’s Bridge, thanking everyone and distributing gifts. 

Journalists swarmed a nervous heir.

“I have written this,” David Windsor managed, handing over a typed statement. “It’s all that I have to say.”

“Some of my American friends very kindly gave me the opportunity of breaking my holiday trip to my Canadian ranch by a short stay in Long Island, so that I may see the International polo match. There is no need for me to state how glad I was to accept their hospitable offer. It will give me the chance, as a holiday maker, both to renew some of my delightful recollections of American, which I got on my official visit in 1919, and to witness what I believe will be the finest exhibition of a great game which the world can produce today.

“Whichever side wins, I am quite certain we shall have some splendid polo, and from what I saw of the Olympic contests between international associations.

I am looking forward to my brief stay on Long Island more than I can say and know my American hosts are going to give me a real entertainment, splendid in every sense of the world. I only wish it were possible for me to stay longer.”

Still, he was hounded with questions regarding rumors of his recent engagement.

“No, I am not engaged.”

More questions were shouted.

“I am most happy to be back in America. I like your country very much. The fact that I have come here for a holiday is about the best that I can say. I wish you would make it easy as possible for me and let me alone.”

But the journalists were relentless. “Will you marry an American girl?”

“That question can’t be answered. That’s a secret.”

“Are you studying poker?”

“Cut that out.” The Prince smoothed his regimental tie and coat lapel. 

At last, he disembarked, crossing a platform with Lady Mountbatten. The Prince, his cousins, and his equerries boarded four boats, including The Black Yacht, which would transfer the Prince to a small launch by 5 o’clock and then onto the private float of H. R. Pratt at Glen Cove. Finally, by automobile to the James R. Burden estate at Syosset. 

The journalists cornered the only American to dance with the Prince as he crossed an ocean, Miss Cahill of St. Louis, who had met General Trotter first.  

“A few minutes later came the surprise of my life. General Trotter came over to my table and asked permission to present the Prince of Wales. ‘Of course,’ I said. ‘I would be charmed to dance with the Prince.’ And after I danced once around the ballroom, I realized that my words wore no empty form of speech. He really is Prince Charming and as for dancing, he is absolutely perfect with a wonderful sense of rhythm. 

“After we finished the dance, a Fox Trot, His Royal Highness asked to to sit at his table. And the I received a call-down. He said I mustn’t call him His Royal Highness nor even sir. So what was I to do? I just smiled. 

“At the table were, of course, the Prince, General Trotter and Colonel Scott-Duff. So you see, I was the only lady among three perfectly charming English officers. We all had what the Prince called “lemon squash,” or lemonade, and the Prince danced with me again. By this time, the end of the dancing had arrived, so the Prince wished me a good night and then left with the other gentlemen.”

Meanwhile, the Long Island coast was lined with even more people who were unsure of where the Prince would land. There were more motorboats, more rafts, more sailboats, and more shifts. As papers reported: “from bay to cove to inlet.”

En route to the Burden Estate, he was chased by cars filled with men in bathing suits. And tractors. And expensive imports. 

All were unwelcome. 

“I said all I could say when I talked to newspaper men on the ship,” the Prince insisted. 

State troopers charged with protecting him from photographers and swarms of people were unable to keep photographers from breaking the lines.

“Never mind.” The Prince at last threw up his hands. “Let them come.”

Inside, he had tea, toast, and marmalade then freshened up before dinner with; J. Butler Wright, Third Assistant Secretary of State; Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Winthrop; Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Burden; Roger Winthrop; Colonel J. B. Charlton; Maj. Metcalfe; and Maj. Oscar N. Solbert; aide-de-camp appointed by President Coolidge.

A small party, consisting of J. Butler Wright, Maj. Solbert, and Colonel C.E.C.G. Charlton, Military Attaché, were to depart Syosset for Washington, D.C. at 6:30 the following morning on a special train comprised of three cars. There was a smoker and diner, a sleeper called “The Haynseville,” and “Business Car No. 90,” which belonged to the Samuel Rea, President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. 

Unwilling to disrupt the Prince so early, it was decided that the small party would board the special train at 11 pm and head out on time, stopping in Manhattan and West Philadelphia for the Prince to tour the stations. White House cars would meet the Prince at Union Station, a subdued escort unlike the Prince’s first visit on November 11, 1919. The only official stop would last three hours. 

As I write this blog, it remains unclear when, exactly, David Windsor met Louis Swift on board the RMS Berengaria. The newspaper men reporting from the vessel were fixated on the Prince, particularly his wardrobe, along with members of New York society the heir to the British throne mingled with. John Jacob Astor, age 13, took a photograph.

The list of those disembarking was reported by The New York Times was extensive, but the president of America’s largest meatpacking company was never mentioned. 

The personal invitation, sent from Louis Swift to the British heir, would arrive the following month.

An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Foster Place.
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