The Queen of Romania

Issue #4, March 14, 1925 opened with “The Talk of the Town,” the lead item noting that  New York was “agog about the possible visit of Queen Marie of Rumania,” and that the queen was supposedly offered a contract by a newspaper to write her impressions of the United States.

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The New Yorker, Issue #4, (cover by Rea Irvin) March 14, 1925 / Queen Marie of Romania (left, New Yorker Digital Archive; right, Wikipedia)

Born into the British royal family, Queen Marie was titled Princess Marie of Edinburgh at birth. After refusing a proposal from her cousin, the future King George V, she was chosen as the future wife of Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania, the heir apparent of King Carol I, in 1892 (she was the last Queen consort of Romania, and her trip to the U.S. would prove to be the last months of her reign).

An account in the Frontier Times in 1968 describes the visit this way:

When Queen Marie first announced her intention of making a trip to America, she stated that her general purpose was a sort of educational good will tour; but that her specific purpose was to dedicate a museum at Maryhill, Washington…She sailed from Cherbourg (France) on October 12, 1926, on the Leviathan, accompanied by her son, Nicholas, and her daughter, Ileana; her special aide, Major Stanley Washburn; her close friend, Loie Fuller, the ballet dancer; six personal attendants; several European dignitaries; about one hundred pieces of baggage—and her dog.

For publicity, the timing was perfect. Front page news was scarce, and the Queen’s visit was “manna from heaven” for the newspapers, and a field day for the reporters—who played up the trip in great style.

Queen Marie had contracted with the North American Newspaper Alliance to write a series of articles ranging from “Why I Came to America” to “My Impressions of America.” About six of such articles were published; and as they ran 2,000 words each, one suspects she must have had a ghost writer—and there was one such in her party.

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FIT FOR A QUEEN…Perhaps the Queen of Romania saw this 1924 advertisement for Armstrong linoleum. (Antique Home Style)

In her syndicated articles she gave a variety of reasons why she came to America—which might have been condensed into a desire to see the country first-hand, and find out how its people lived. She wanted to see almost every object of interest—Pikes Peak, the Everglades, farmers, Indians, washing machines and rodeos; and wanted to ride a horse. She spoke of steel mills, skyscrapers, big trees and tombs of famous men. Particularly she wanted to see American kitchens, and find out if the occupants were as good looking as they appeared to be in linoleum advertisements…

However, the reasons advanced by some who clearly were not in sympathy with the Queen’s visit, were not so altruistic. One newspaper was of the opinion that the real purpose of the trip was to find a rich American husband for Ileana…

“The Talk of the Town” also featured a brief item on “vaudeville headliner” Harry Houdini and his “denunciations of Marjorie.”

This is in reference to a rivalry between a Bostonian, Mina Crandon (known as “Margery the Medium”) and magician Harry Houdini, who called himself “the scourge of spirit mediums.”

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Harry Houdini and Mina (Margery) Crandon (left image, PBS; right, FORTEAN PICTURE LIBRARY)

The 1920’s marked the height of America’s obsession with the paranormal—the “spirit world”–and Margery was a rock star among the many competing spiritualists of the day. The most famous of her followers was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Doyle was so convinced of her powers that he recommended her to the editors of Scientific American. The magazine was offering a $2,500 prize to the first medium who could verifiably demonstrate (to an investigative committee) a “visual psychic manifestation.”

When the committee reported it found no trickery in Margery’s methods, the outraged Houdini cancelled his upcoming shows and headed to Boston with the aim of personally debunking the medium at a seance.

In an article by Robert Love posted on Mental Floss, he relates what happened next when Houdini arrived at her Lime Street apartment:

Margery greeted the panel and took her seat within a three-sided Chinese screen, the lights dimmed. Soon enough, an eerie whistling filled the room. On cue, the spirit of Walter (Margery’s dead brother) whispered his arrival, even touching Houdini on the inside of his right leg. After a break, he ordered an electric bell enclosed in a wooden box brought to Houdini’s feet. Then Walter levitated a megaphone and boomed: “Have Houdini tell me where to throw it.”

“Toward me,” Houdini said, and the megaphone flew through the air and crashed in front of him. That was just the beginning. Throughout the evening, Walter produced a sequence of metaphysical spectacles, ringing the bell box on command and tipping over the wooden screen.

Houdini had done his homework. He knew that Dr. Le Roi Crandon, Margery’s husband, always sat on her right. (A Harvard-educated surgeon, Crandon was her greatest promoter, often showing visitors nude photographs of his wife in séance delicté). Houdini also guessed correctly that he would be seated at her left in the circle, with hands joined, feet and legs touching. In preparation for the evening, Houdini wore a tight bandage under his right knee all day; it was so painful it made his skin tender to even the slightest touch. The heightened sensitivity paid off. He could feel Margery twist and flex in the dark as she moved her left ankle slightly to get to the bell box under the table. Later, he felt her shift again to tip the Chinese screen with her foot. The flying megaphone stumped Houdini for a few hours, but he eventually figured out that Margery had placed it on her head, dunce-cap-style, with a momentarily free hand. She then jerked her head in his direction to send it crashing to the floor.

“I’ve got her,” he said when the evening was over. “All fraud. Every bit of it. One more sitting and I will be ready to expose everything.”

A second séance at a Boston hotel featured a levitating table. Houdini reached out in the dark and found Margery’s head lifting the table from beneath. He again felt her legs move as she reached to ring the bell box. “The slickest ruse I ever detected,” Houdini said later, in something close to admiration.

Read Love’s full account here.

Other celebrities of the time are found in the issue’s pages. The section “In Our Midst” tells of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda visiting Rome, and that the author was nearly finished with a novel called “The Great Braxton” (which would actually be titled “The Great Gatsby”). Another item noted that Eugene O’Neill was vacationing in Bermuda.

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Zelda, Scottie and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Rome, 1925 (London Times)

The “Profile” featured boxer Jack Dempsey, and “Books” announced the publication of A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.

The “Hourglass” mentions the antics of Gutzon Borglum, who had been sculpting a tribute to the Confederacy on Georgia’s Stone Mountain.

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This is as far as Borglum got when he began feuding with his backers and abandoned the Stone Mountain project. It wasn’t completed until 1972. (Detail from postcard image depicting the monument in progress)

The “antics,” specifically, concerned Borglum’s famed temper and his penchant for smashing completed sculptures in fits of rage. He would later go on to sculpt the monument at Mt. Rushmore.

Then there’s an article by “The Professor” on the Ziegfeld Follies that features this illustration:

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The author concludes, “I forget whether it was a good show or not, but as a barometer of New York, it can’t be excelled.”

The “Motion Pictures” section featured a brief mention of “Mr. Hay’s” moral crusade against plays and movies. Hays would later lend his name to the The Production Code of 1930, known to most as the “Hays Code.”

Finally, if you really want to get a sense of how times have changed, check out the issue’s back page ad, and the suggested look for a “University man:”

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Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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