Posts Tagged ‘Prince of Wales Fifth Avenue Hotel’

The visiting British royal who dazzled 19th century New York City

September 12, 2022

During Queen Elizabeth II’s astounding 70-year reign over the United Kingdom, she made official visits to New York City only three times: a day-long trip involving a ticker-tape parade in 1957, a longer stay for the Bicentennial in 1976, and then a five-hour drop-in to the United Nations and Ground Zero in 2010, per a New York Times article published last week.

Excited New Yorkers waiting for the Prince’s procession to make it Broadway

Elizabeth’s visits to Gotham were certainly eventful. But they were nothing like the sojourn to New York City made by one member of the British royal family in 1860. On the cusp of the election of President Lincoln and the start of the Civil War, this 19-year-old prince was welcomed to Manhattan with a spectacular procession up Broadway, escorted to leading Manhattan landmarks, and feted at a ball so raucous, the floor of the venue actually broke.

The royal was the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, the first son of Queen Victoria and the future King of England (above, in the 1860s). His trip across the Atlantic in the summer of 1860 was at first to be limited to Canada. “Queen Victoria’s original intention was to dispatch her son simply to visit England’s western possessions in Canada and inaugurate the opening of the Victoria Bridge in Montreal,” states an article by Claire A. Faulkner on Whitehousehistory.org.

But President Buchanan then invited the Prince to Washington, and other American cities were added to his itinerary, such as Richmond, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.

The Prince’s journey abroad wasn’t unlike the dispatches young royals take today. “As a young man…the Prince of Wales could have been likened to most other teenagers—independent, rebellious, and strong willed,” wrote Faulkner. “It was hoped that the trip to North America would mark the beginning of his formal indoctrination into the responsibilities and duties of a member of the British royal family.”

In Canada and then America, “Bertie” was treated with respect, if not celebrity. But few cities rolled out the red carpet like New York—the nation’s undisputed capital of commerce and culture, with eager daily newspapers ginning up excitement. “The most splendid and glamorous of the American events in his honor, however, took place in New York, where the crowds were also the most admiring and enthusiastic,” wrote Faulkner.

The Prince of Wales and his entourage, photographed by Mathew Brady

After the Prince landed at the Battery with his entourage on October 11, fresh from Philadelphia, he entered his carriage and became the center of a grand procession going up Broadway. An estimated 200,000 New Yorkers lined the thoroughfare to watch the slow procession, which didn’t make it past City Hall and to Canal Street until sundown, according to a New York Times piece published the next day.

Bands played “God Save the Queen” and other British songs; Mayor Fernando Wood accompanied the Prince, who “raised his hat and rose repeatedly in acknowledgement of this warm reception,” observed the Times. American and British flags were on display all along the route.

The procession continued past Grace Church, Union Square, and then to the new luxurious Fifth Avenue Hotel, where the Prince would be staying—with an army of policemen stationed in and outside the hotel for security. Of course, not everyone was thrilled by the royal visit, particularly the city’s Irish residents. People of Irish descent amounted to about a quarter of the total population and viewed the government the Prince represented as the oppressor of their home country, stated Ian Walter Radforth in his book, Royal Spectacle.

Fifth Avenue Hotel, 23rd Street in 1860

The Prince had a jam-packed schedule for the next few days, breathlessly covered by the press. He and his entourage toured noteworthy landmarks like New York University, the Astor Library, and Cooper Union; he visited Central Park and planted an English oak. On the last day of his visit, thousands of firemen from Manhattan and Brooklyn marched past the Fifth Avenue Hotel in a magnificent torch-lit parade, stated House Divided, from Dickinson College

Perhaps the pinnacle of the Prince’s trip was the ball held in his honor. What was originally supposed to be a simple dinner quickly evolved into a breathtaking event at the Academy of Music on 14th Street. Four hundred elite New Yorkers paid $100 each to host and attend the ball; up to 2,000 guests showed.

Guests dressed in “black coats, shimmering silks, and elegant velvets” began arriving around 7:30 p.m., but the Prince and his entourage, plus members of city government like Mayor Wood, didn’t arrive until after 10, according to a Leslie‘s Weekly article in 1901. Distinguished invitees included Hamilton Fish and George Templeton Strong, the lawyer and diarist who characteristically poked fun at the whole spectacle, according to Radforth.

The rush of excitement and thunderous applause broke the floor. “A few people fell through, but no one was seriously injured,” stated the Leslie’s article. The Prince was ushered into the supper room—under the command of the chefs and managers from Delmonico’s—for his own safety. Newspapers gleefully published all the details the next morning: the beautiful flowers, the Union Jack flags, and the ladies the Prince danced with.

Admit one to the Prince’s Ball

On Monday, October 14, the Prince bid farewell to New York City, heading up to West Point before a visit to Albany and then Boston, and then the trip back home across the Atlantic. Newspaper writers expounded on the royal visit; Bertie resumed life in England and took the throne upon the death of his mother in 1901.

What did the Prince of Wales think of his trip to New York? I haven’t found anything relaying his thoughts. But based on the recollections in newspapers and other first-hand accounts, a starry-eyed Gotham pulled out all the stops to impress this future king.

[First, second, and third images: LOC; fourth image: Getty Museum; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: LOC; seventh image: MCNY, X2014.12.158]