Charmed, we are sure ...

Way Back When

June 03, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

In early June 1939, not only were the King and Queen of England introduced to the culinary delight of a good American hot dog, they also, if only for a few minutes, were exposed to old-fashioned Baltimore hospitality.

More than 500 soldiers, state and city police stood guard at bridges and railroad crossings as a royal train of 12 cars bearing King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and pulled by two powerful Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 steam engines, slowly steamed down the Northern Central Railroad from York, Pa., to Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station on June 8, 1939.

There the steam engines would be swapped for a heavy GG-1 electric locomotive for the final leg of the trip into Washington's Union Station and reception by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.

Enormous crowds stood trackside hoping for a glimpse of the royal couple -- the first king and queen of England to visit Maryland -- riding in the blue and silver rear observation car with the royal insignia, "G.R.VI," in gold lettering under the center window.

"One Cockeysville man reported he was certain no cow in that part of the county had been milked that morning because he had seen every dairy farmer and dairy man standing on the station platform," reported The Sun.

Because the six-minute engine change did not constitute an official visit by the royals to Baltimore, Mayor Howard W. Jackson huffily declared that he would not go to the station and greet them.

However, Emma D. Price, a free-lance writer and local correspondent for Women's Wear Daily who lived in Ten Hills, decided to be her own Baltimore welcoming committee of one.

"Why not let me present the Queen with some roses from you and your wife?" asked Price of the mayor.

"He wanted to know my reason; I told him that it was nothing political, only a friendly gesture from the city. He agreed that it was a good idea, and promised to buy the roses if I got permission to present them," wrote Price years later in The Sunday Sun Magazine.

Price's husband, W. Mitchell Price, president of Price Construction Co., was skeptical. He bet his wife $1,000 that she wouldn't get a chance to speak to the queen.

Price was denied any official pass or credentials by the State Department but did get some help from Pennsylvania Railroad officials. They had wired her request ahead to York, Pa., but no answer had come.

Dressed in a new $5 blue chiffon dress purchased especially for the occasion, Price went to Penn Station.

There Price, carrying the bouquet of roses, was escorted downstairs to the train shed by a porter. Ironically, the porter had served dinners years earlier to Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Baltimorean who married the king's brother, the recently abdicated Edward VIII, the duke of Windsor.

As the train stopped, a Pennsy official greeted Price with the news that King George and Queen Elizabeth had agreed to meet her.

A group of 20, including the presidents of the Pennsy, New York, New Haven & Hartford, New York Central and the Delaware & Hudson railroads, dressed in silk toppers, wing collars and morning suits, several policemen, reporters and Pennsy railroaders, waited for the royals to leave their car.

The first man off the train, followed by the royal couple, was Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State, who introduced Price to the Queen. She was dressed in periwinkle blue with three strings of pearls and a straw hat. King George, in a crisp naval uniform, gently touched his white cap in a quick salute to the small crowd.

Price, arms loaded with flowers, made a curtsy and said, "I am honored, Your Majesty," to each of them.

"May I present these Baltimore roses, Your Majesty, as an informal welcome from Mayor Jackson and his wife."

"They tell me Baltimore is a very attractive city," the Queen said.

"Yes, Your Majesty. It is a city of homes, where people love their families and children. To own one's home and enjoy living is characteristic of Baltimore," said Price.

After some small talk about a relative of Price's in London, she said her farewell and made a final curtsy.

"Baltimore is grateful for your informal visit, your Majesty, and we wish you to know that we all love you very much."

After shaking Price's hand, the King touched the Queen's arm and said it was time to go and stepped back onto the train.

An early edition of The Evening Sun included the entire text of the conversation including Price's Page 1 quote: " `Yes, this is the birthplace of' (Continued on Page 3, Column 5) ..."

Because the memory of Edward's abdication was fresh in the minds of Baltimoreans, newspapers were practically shredded in an attempt by anxious readers to get to the remainder of the quote.

It read: " `the American hybrid tea rose.' "

Price later moved to Easton in 1942 where she died in 1980. King George died in 1952 and was succeeded by his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

The queen who visited Baltimore in 1939 is today's Queen Mother Elizabeth, nearing her 100th birthday this August.

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