Written by: David J. Cope, Fair Historian
A commemorative 6 X 9 inch piece of the actual carpet manufactured by Alexander Smith of Yonkers, NY on which the King and Queen of Great Britain walked on at their historic New York City Reception, June 10th, 1939. The label on the reverse side indicates: Buckingham Royal Red Color No. B 951. Sent in by Dave M., Plainview, NY.
A ROYAL INVITATION TO THE UNITED STATES:
Canada's Governor General, Lord Tweedsmuir (better known as John Buchan, the author of The Thirty – nine Steps) and Canada's Prime Minister William Mackenzie King conjured the notion of a Canadian royal tour emphasizing the importance of the 1931 Statute of Westminster recognizing Canada as a self – governing dominion with Britain's king as their uniquely Canadian monarch. On August 18, 1938 at the dedication of the International Bridge at the Thousand Islands, Mackenzie King informed his friend FDR that, indeed, the king and queen would be visiting the dominion in the coming year.
Roosevelt immediately seized the opportunity and dispatched a brief note to Joseph Kennedy, United States' ambassador to Great Britain: "Dear Joe … enclosed is a strictly personal letter to the King. Will you be good enough to see that it is delivered to him in person?" FDR's friendly letter suggested the royal couple include a visit to the United States in their Canadian plans to enhance Anglo – American relations. He also suggested a layover at Hyde Park as a respite from the proposed grueling schedule of Canadian touring.
The king delayed a response as the letter arrived during the Czechoslovakian crisis. Finally on November 8 amidst the pageantry of the state opening of Parliament, the King announced his happiness in accepting Roosevelt's invitation and warmly welcomed this practical expression of good feeling between the two countries.
A ROYAL INVITATION TO THE "WORLD OF TOMORROW":
In his initial letters to King George VI and Queen, FDR suggested a stopover in New York City before traveling to Hyde Park. However, a visit to The Big Apple in 1939 necessitated a trip to its world's fair in Flushing Meadows. Initially Buckingham Palace decried the exposition as rather vulgarized by over – advisement, the fair's symbols, the Trylon and Persiphere, seemingly appeared in every advertisement and souvenir shop in the United States. But the fair's self – proclaimed "World of Tomorrow" proved irresistible, even to the staid British, who constructed one of the largest pavilions in the international zone, although British ambassador Sir Ronald Lindsey opposed any member of the royal family's participation in the pavilion's dedication as politically inadvisable.
The day following the King's announcement in London, Grover Whalen issued an invitation that the fair would be signally honored by a visit from the young couple. Whalen promptly reported an unofficial assurance the invitation would receive sympathetic consideration. Within two weeks, Eleanor Roosevelt hinted that George and Elizabeth would indeed include the fair in their itinerary and Ambassador Lindsey confirmed such in late February.
However, the world's fair visit still faced a few hurdles. Jonathan Grimshaw, a London Times reporter, speculated that the spring's European crisis made the venture only a 50 – 50 proposition. John Moore, a member of the New York State Labor Relations Board labeled the visit merely a publicity stunt for the fair. And, while the Palace still feared a visit to the exposition might change the complexion of the royal tour from an official to a commercial venture, the city's former garbage dump in Queens became the ultimate destination for the royal couple, like thousands of other foreign visitors that year.
SMOOTHING OUT THE BUMPS:
The schedule for the royal visit seemingly changed daily. Allowed only a few hours timeframe on June 10, Whalen and his staff constantly reworked their plans for the King and Queen, desperately attempting to accommodate numerous requests for a royal stopover. On May 30, the fair's administration issued the following schedule: a 12:40 arrival, official welcome at Perylon Hall, dinner at the Federal Building, brief visits to the Commonwealth exhibits concluding at the British Pavilion, and leaving the fairgrounds at 3:40.
Detailed preparations continued unabated. In late April, Chief Constable Albert Canning, of Scotland Yard, toured the route the King and Queen would follow within the fairgrounds as a safety precaution. The day before the official visit, United States Navy Captain Leary and United States Army Lt. Col. Parker investigated the positioning of all salute guns. And accompanied by Grover Whalen, followed the same route, often examining on hands and knees the road's paving. Whalen commented building the World of Tomorrow was not half the job of smoothing the bumps for the King and Queen.
At the British Pavilion from 11:00 pm Friday, June 9 to 8:00 am the following morning workmen prepped for George and Elizabeth's visit. Employees used sixty special 48" brooms, eighteen floor waxing machines, fifty vacuum cleaners, six dozen mops, 142 gallons of liquid soap, forty pounds of steel wool and four barrels of green soap powder.
Between the Lagoon of Nations and the Court of Peace, fair officials placed two gigantic portraits of the King and Queen. Each picture measured twelve feet by eighteen feet, mounted in elaborate twenty feet by thirty feet gilt frames, placed on five foot high pedestals. The portrait of the King stood on the right and the Queen to the left when viewed from the Federal Building. Eastman Kodak originated the photo – mural process used to enlarge the originals four hundred times. Walter Dorwin Teague designed the display.
On the big day, every thirty minutes, secret service men searched every telephone booth on the grounds to guard against possible bomb plots.
DOWN THE RED CARPET
Following a two day stay over in Washington, D.C., George and Elizabeth boarded their royal train, traveling to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. After only seven hours sleep aboard their special railcar, George and Elizabeth prepared for a most grueling day. The young couple boarded the American Destroyer USS Washington and sailed across the harbor to the Battery. Prior to their arrival, as employees of the Department of Docks unrolled a red velvet carpet, a gray alley cat with a bug in its mouth pounced onto the royal runner. Onlookers regaled at the feline's tomfoolery - yawning, stretching, and simply enjoying the feel of plush on its young fur - until Department of Sanitation street cleaners chased the inquisitive tabby away. The royal party eventually strolled onto the Battery's crimson carpet and New York City's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and New York Governor Herbert Lehman greeted them.