Queen Marie in America - 1926
Queen Marie (1875-1938) of Romania was most remarkable. She was hailed for her intellect, artistic talent, diplomatic skills, and a heritage born out of a rarefied world of European royalty as grand-daughter of England's Queen Victoria and first cousin of Tsar Nicholas of Russia. Over two short decades, she experienced the demise and birth of two historic eras. One was the fraying and dismantling of the world's great Nineteenth Century empires: Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman. The other was the coming of-age of modern European democratic nation-states—and not the least Greater Romania. She was diplomatically and artistically brilliant. She befriended and persuaded the world's leading most powerful men at the post WW-I Versailles Peace Treaty negotiations in her role as Queen. And all the while she could embrace leading artistic figures in the experimental world of Art Nouveau. She was a very modern woman and a very public 'star.'
In 1926, it was announced that the Queen, at age 51, would visit the United Stated and Canada, ostensibly at the invitation of Mr. Sam Hill, a West Coast millionaire who had met the Queen in Paris during the post WW-I peace negotiations. Not without controversy, he offered to sponsor her trip and assist in inaugurating a large and very eccentric mansion [nowadays the Queen Marie Museum], constructed on a desert-like bluff high above the Columbia River in Washington State.
Her interest in the United States was first born out of an unusual friendship with Loïe Fuller, a famed American-born modern dancer/artist who met her in 1902 at the National Theatre in Bucharest. Loïe enjoyed widespread popularity in Europe and then the United States while at the same becoming close to France's best-known artists including Rodin, and some of the most politically powerful and wealthiest Europeans and Americans. It was Fuller who triggered the idea of a special visit to the United States in thanks of aid given to Romania in World War I—including many Ford ambulances.
The trip was in fact two stories. One, captured in her diaries, was a personal adventure for the Queen, her son Prince Nicholas, her daughter Princess Ileana and a coterie of friends. The other is of a nation she witnessed, economically vibrant, diverse. A new and powerful ‘America’ was coming to maturity across an enormous varied and dramatic physical landscape from Atlantic to Pacific.
For Romania in 1926, rich in potential from its abundant oil resources, salt, wheat, agriculture, there was a sense of opportunity. This the Queen wanted to bring to the attention of American businessmen and opinion leaders. What became a massive tightly scheduled trip was planned to bring her into contact with some of the richest and most influential men and women of the times both in the United States and Canada. These people would welcome her while providing generous support to fund an extremely costly cross-continental fifteen car-long luxury train trip as well as hospitality and lavish receptions at numerous stops. She met oil workers, Indian chiefs, shepherds, socialites, Romanian immigrants, corporate moguls, and politicians. One million eventually saw her in person in huge halls and railroad station-stops, others heard her on the radio, and yet more read about her in leading newspapers competing for headlines. The public was smitten with Queen Marie, who became a ‘Lady Diana’ of her time.
She was visiting at a moment of optimism in the new post-War world. The League of Nations had been established in 1920 deriving hope from its great-powers peace-making aspirations. For the smaller 'new nations' of Europe, born out of the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, came hope in fulfilling democratic ideals. Of this, Queen Marie was keenly aware of as she knew and had engaged with all the major world leaders who had crafted the post-War world.
During her 10,000 mile Atlantic to Pacific—and back—railroad travel, Queen Marie earned the adulation of Americans romantically enthralled by a real world ‘Queen,’ ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’ whom they could touch, see first hand, or talk to. One newspaper puzzled over this popularity: “The Queen of Rumania, interesting lady worthy of hospitality, is here, and on the front page. This widow of a President [Wilson] of the United States comes on the same boat, and she is not on the front page… This is an 18-carat democracy, but we are still a little more interested in queens than in ordinary people” ("Washington Multitudes Storm Marie in Ovation," San Francisco Examiner, October 19, 1926).
Guest contributor: DAN DIMANCESCU
NOTE: The full story is told in Queen Marie in America: My Glorious Adventure by Dan Dimancescu, BtF Press, 2019.