On November 2, 1926, Queen Marie of Romania and her 85-person entourage arrive in Spokane aboard a luxury train, the Royal Roumanian. Queen Marie is in the United States at the request of businessman Samuel Hill, who has invited her to dedicate his partially completed Maryhill Museum in Goldendale. Spokane is Queen Marie’s first stop in the state of Washington.
A Diplomat and a Great Beauty
Queen Marie of Romania, granddaughter of both Queen Victoria of England and Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and wife of King Ferdinand of Romania, was an extraordinarily popular figure during the 1920s. Her humanitarian and diplomatic efforts for her country during World War I and subsequently during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference won her worldwide acclaim and affection. During the war, Queen Marie had formed a close friendship with American modern dancer Loie Fuller, and at the Paris Peace Conference with Fuller’s friend Sam Hill, the renowned proponent of good roads. Highly glamorous and considered to be one of Europe’s greatest beauties, Queen Marie attracted throngs of reporters and her 1926 visit to the United States received copious press coverage.
Queen Marie, her son Prince Nicolas, and her daughter Princess Ileana arrived in New York on October 18, 1926, aboard the steamer Leviathan. They then began an extended train journey, first to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Calvin Coolidge and then across the country. The party stopped at most major cities and many small towns along their route. Huge crowds met and feted them wherever they went. Queen Marie was highly conscious of many Americans’ desire to see for the first time a Real Queen. She dressed in Paris couture fashions or in full Romanian costume (long silk embroidered robes, a head covering, and a heavily embroidered cape), and in glamorous fur coats, fabulous jewels and diamond tiaras, and did her best to give the American public the experience she sensed they wanted.
North Dakota: Farms and Indian Nations
The day before the royal party reached Spokane they stopped in small towns across North Dakota. Queen Marie met with farm families and was presented with gifts such as a plow, a harvesting machine, and a sewing machine. “Queen Knows Her Onions, Say Farmer’s Wives,” read a headline in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on November 2, 1926.
In Mandan, North Dakota, the Queen was initiated into the Sioux tribe by Sioux Chief Red Tomahawk (famous for being the man who killed Chief Sitting Bull). The Chief presented Queen Marie with his own feathered headdress, a high honor possibly without precedent for a woman. The Queen was then carried on a buffalo robe and her finger was pricked so that her blood could be mingled with that of the Chief. She presented the tribe with a Romanian robe and Princess Ileana presented a Romanian bracelet.
That evening in Medora, North Dakota, the royal party attended a rodeo held in their honor. Queen Marie, Prince Nicolas, and Princess Ileana watched the spectacle from horseback. The rodeo was an enormous treat for Queen Marie, a lifelong fan of American cowboy and Indian culture as interpreted by early Hollywood films and the novels of Western writer Zane Grey, with whom she corresponded. Her childhood hero had been Buffalo Bill Cody.
Her Highness Arrives in Spokane
Honored to welcome Queen Marie, Spokane residents planned every detail of her several hours in the city. The Spokesman-Review noted, “Following three weeks of preparation for the visit and reception ... a dozen committee chairmen yesterday announced every detail completed to make the visit of the Roumanian queen successful and impressive” (“Queen Will Find Spokane Friendly,” November 2, 1926).
The Royal Roumanian pulled into Spokane at 7:30 p.m. on Northern Pacific rails. The Spokesman-Review estimated the crowd at 40,000 to 50,000. Queen Marie noted in her diary:
“Spokane gave us a colossal reception. The whole troops had been turned out, mounted police and a band. The streets were decorated like in England with flags on string slung right across. The mayor, officials and a committee of ladies received us with the utmost amiability and enthusiasm. We were taken to a large hall in the principal hotel [the Hotel Davenport] where all the people were permitted to march through to have a look at us who sat at the farther end of the hall on a heightened platform. Between us and the public which kept moving past, coming in at one door and out at another, was a troop of magnificent Red Indians, brought together by Mr. Hill, who danced weird dances ... they were beautifully dressed in buckskin leather embroidered with beads and their feather head-dresses were superb ... they brought us gifts and took Ileana and Nicky up into their tribe giving Nicky the name of White Whirlwind and Ileana the name of Red Bird” (America Seen By A Queen, p. 93).
The Indian dancers were from the Nez Perce and Coeur d’ Alene tribes.
The Spokesman-Review gave Queen Marie a high grade for queenliness: “The queen wore everything a queen should wear -- pearls, ropes of them, diamonds and ermine. Her blond hair is bobbed, but it was confined in a Juliette cap that framed her face tightly and accentuated the beauty of her heavy-browed deep blue eyes. Caps from now on will be the rage” (“Marie Lives Up to Queenly Title,” The Spokesman-Review, November 3, 1926).
Spokane’s society women also received the Spokesman-Review’s nod of approval, with two full columns of the newspaper devoted to descriptions of each woman’s clothing the morning after Queen Marie’s visit. The royal flowers, too, won praise: “... the elaborate bouquet of orchids and yellow Claudius Pernet roses presented to Queen Marie for the people of Spokane ... was one of the most beautiful ever assembled by a Spokane florist” (“Spokane’s Gift To Queen,” November 3, 1926).
The White Lion: Sam Hill
Sam Hill joined the royal party in Spokane. In her diary Queen Marie called Hill “the White Lion ... a quaint old fellow with an over-big head and a tower of white hair ... he always says strange rather unexpected things and is always ceremoniously intense staring at one from very close with his piercing blue eyes. Just a little uncanny perhaps because he is just a little queer and his ways are unfathomable. He certainly is uncommon and somebody, but difficult to understand” (America Seen By A Queen p. 94). Queen Marie’s American hostess, Constance Lily Morris, elaborated, in her memoir of the journey, “There he stood, a perfect giant of a man, with his shaggy white head and his ruddy kindly face ... he stopped spellbound at the foot of the flight of steps leading to the throne and gazed at the Queen. Then he threw himself down on one knee and kissed her hand ... here was Don Quixote at the feet of Dulcinea” (On Tour With Queen Marie, p. 123).
After the reception, Queen Marie was escorted upstairs to the Hotel Davenport’s Marie Antoinette Room to address western listeners on Spokane radio station KHQ. The Queen’s remarks were broadcast simultaneously by station KFOA in Seattle and by KGW in Portland, Oregon.
Queen Marie’s visit to Spokane coincided with Election Day. Spokane officials asked Queen Marie if she would report election results from the balcony of The Spokesman-Review building to the crowds gathered below. Queen Marie noted in her diary, “ ‘It would be so splendidly sensational’ said the mayor to me in perfect good faith. I however gently declined giving Spokane that thrill!” (America Seen By A Queen, p. 94).
In Spokane, Queen Marie tasted her first Washington apples, and noted in her diary, “This is a wonderful apple country” (America Seen By A Queen, p. 95).