Greetin’s, Cousin George

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President and Mrs. Roosevelt and assorted notables had gathered in a special waiting room in Washington’s gray and gold Union Station. This marked the first time that the President had greeted a foreign dignitary away from the White House door. Hull observed the proprieties: “Mr. President, I have the honor to present their Britannic Majesties.” Smiling broadly, Roosevelt grasped the King’s hand. “At last I greet you.” The King replied, “It is indeed a pleasure for her Majesty and myself to be here.” Immediately the Marine Corps Band struck up “God Save the King” (which they knew well enough as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”), and followed with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then F.D.R. escorted the King through the guard of honor toward waiting limousines. The King and President got in the first one, F.D.R. almost sitting on his top hat in the back seat. The Queen and Mrs. Roosevelt sat in the second car, and to a twenty-one-gun salute the motorcade began the slow drive to the White House.

Although Roosevelt believed the trip to Washington necessary, George VI, upon arrival, may have entertained second thoughts about its appropriateness. The warmth of the greeting at Union Station was nothing compared to the weather. The temperature soared to ninety-four degrees, and waves of heat rose from the street as the motorcade departed from the station. In their open car at the head of the parade, Roosevelt was almost suffocating in his cutaway, striped pants, and high hat, while the King, wearing the heavy full-dress uniform of an admiral of the fleet, came near to fainting from the heat—according to Grace Tully, he “could not have been more wretched had he been encased in a suit of armor.”

Still, more than 600,000 people jammed Constitution Avenue to catch sight of royalty. They cheered wildly. Police, soldiers, and sailors, stationed every ten feet along the parade route, restrained the surging throng with difficulty. Ten Flying Fortresses and numerous fighter planes roared overhead, but they did not drown out the rumbling tanks and clattering cavalry in the parade, or the noisy crowd that fought for vantage points along its route. It appeared that all Washington had turned out. Although the visit was “unofficial,” work stopped in the capital city. Schools were let out, government employees got the day off, shops closed, and even chain food stores shut down between eleven and one so their employees could ogle.

The procession turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, where people had rented hotel rooms at exorbitant prices to get a clear view of the King and Queen. Guests jammed the windows. Unfortunately, to protect herself against the heat, Queen Elizabeth carried a parasol, mauve lined in green, which frustrated the window-wedgers above. Those on the searing pavement below were hardly better off. Stacked ten deep in places, most of them strained mightily for only a momentary glimpse. Soldiers blocked the view of some, and ubiquitous Secret Service men trotted beside the cars, creating yet another obstruction. The crowd standing near Fourteenth Street and Pennsylvania edged away from the parade route when a light tank began to smoke, then stalled and burst into flames. Cavalrymen maneuvered their horses smugly around their disabled competition. But Americans had come to see royalty and they would not be denied. When Mrs. Roosevelt’s waving blocked the crowd’s view, a voice yelled, “Put your hand down! Let us see the Queen!”

There was little doubt in the crowd’s mind; the Queen had stolen the show. Sitting on a specially constructed spring cushion, Elizabeth bowed continually toward the spectators. She seemed to look each individual in the eye; each bow seemed meant for that person alone. One seasoned diplomat noted that though the King looked “courteous, correct, and well-groomed like his pictures,” he “lacked personality.” The Queen, “verging on plumpness,” highlighted the parade, and the multitude cheered and clapped lustily as she passed.

The motorcade drove into the south entrance of the White House, where, for the first time since the Civil War, soldiers stood guard with rifles and fixed bayonets. Inside the Executive Mansion foreign diplomats had gathered to receive the King and Queen. Because of rules of precedence China’s ambassador stood with Japan’s, and the representative of Franco’s Spain paired off with his counterpart from the Soviet Union. After meeting with the diplomats the royal couple took a quick sightseeing drive around Washington. The tour ended prematurely so that the King and Queen might dress for the capital’s main social event of the year, the garden party at the British Embassy.