Thursday, October 29, 2009

Belgian sovereigns lay wreath at Mt. Vernon

October 29, 1919

King Albert and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians paid homage today at the tomb of America's first president, George Washington, reports the the New York Times
At "peaceful Mount Vernon, overlooking the placid Potomac," King Albert placed a wreath at the Washington's sarcophagus. The event was done without "pomp or ceremonial, but the simple ceremony was none the less deeply impressive."
The Royal party, which also included the couple's eldest son, Crown Prince Leopold, arrived by the Presidential yacht, Mayflower, with Vice President Marshall and members of the Cabinet and their wives.
At Washington's tomb, King Albert lifted the "huge wreath of red and white chrysanthemums," before bowing at the entrance of the tomb. The king stepped inside and placed the flowers against the granite slab. Again, "he bowed, this time more deeply, and stepped backward from the portal. Queen Elisabeth and Crown Prince Leopold "then made obeisance before the sarcophagus," but no Americans went inside the tomb.
In an address at Mount Vernon, the king said: "My visit to America would have been incomplete had I had not come to pay homage to the noble memory of the first President of the United States.
"In this house, where George Washington lived and died, my thoughts turn with emotion to that heroic epoch when your ancestors chose him for their chief and to the long line of illustrious statesmen who for more than a century have followed him.
"In all history there are few examples of political institutions which have so well stood the test of time as the Government of the United States.
The struggling young Republic of George Washington has become one of the great powers of the world, and yet it has retained its most striking characteristic in this happy mixture and simplicity and dignity which gives so much charm to your hospitality and at the same time awakens in the stranger so great a respect for your flag."
Their Majesties were also given a tour of the mansion. Albert "stood on the wide veranda looking over the broad expanse of the Potomac." Queen Elisabeth was "entranced with the beauty of the vista and returned to the veranda again and again."
The King and Queen were the guests tonight at a dinner hosted by Secretary and Mrs. Lansing. The Belgians "wore court dress." and the "military members of the party were resplendent with medals and decorations."
Samuel Gompers, who is the president of the American Federation of Labor, called on the King and spent forty-five minutes with him. Gompers said after he left the meeting: "He's a real man, even if he is a King. I neither bow down nor look down. A man is a man. I found King Albert very interesting and I was glad to renew the acquaintance which began at La Panne. We talked upon many subjects, and I found him well informed. The labor situation and the unrest of the workers naturally was mentioned and I think I was able to give the King some information he did not have, but, of course, I am not at liberty to give his views upon any of the topics we touched upon."
Queen Elisabeth and Mrs. Wilson went driving this afternoon. The drive "was a feature not included in the regular program," and was arranged to allow the Queen to see the capital "without having to face constantly the eyes of thousands who line the route announced in the published program."
Before going for their ride, the First Lady and the Queen visited the headquarters of the American Red Cross. Tomorrow the King "and the men of his party" will motor to Annapolis to visit the Naval Academy. Queen Elisabeth will travel to Baltimore to tour the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Red Cross Hospital for the Blind.

[Note about Mount Vernon: the view from the veranda that Albert and Elisabeth saw in 1919 is largely the same view as today. After Washington's death in 1799, the house passed to his relatives, who did not have the means to maintain the estate and property. In 1858, Ann Pamela Cunningham formed the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which raised the funds to by the property and house. The Association took ownership a year later. The Association also bought the land across the Potomac in Maryland, so visitors can see largely the same view that Washington saw when he resided at Mount Vernon. Today, the estate and house is open every day of the year, including Christmas. The house is still owned and run by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. ]

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