- Historic Sites
In the delirium of the 1920s, she became, for a little while, the most popular woman in the country
October 1994 | Volume 45, Issue 6
There followed his return call to her at the legation, emptied of its staff and filled with flaming red dahlias for her stay. Talking up Romania’s claims for territorial aggrandizement during the Versailles Treaty negotiations, Marie had offered Coolidge’s predecessor Woodrow Wilson what she termed “a few savoury details” about the Russian neighbors menacing her country. Bolshevik free love constituted the subject she discussed. (“I have never heard a lady talk about such things. I honestly did not know where to look, I was so embarrassed,” recorded Wilson’s physician, Dr. Gary Grayson.) She fired no such heavy guns at Coolidge, but had a surprise for him when he rose after their second four-minute meeting. Above all things, his staff made clear, he did not wish pictures taken. But from behind the drawingroom hangings appeared—photographers. A woman who had declined the marriage offer of her first cousin George V of England and refused to give in to her first cousin Kaiser Wilhelm even when his troops occupied her country’s capital, who had spent the Second Balkan War and the Great War going through tragically primitive hospitals and mud and filth while never wearing surgical gloves as did the doctors and nurses when dealing with wounded soldiers covered with such numbers of typhus-bearing lice as to seem immersed in sand (she would not present rubber to her subjects kissjng her hand, she said)—would such a one be overridden by this “dryest, most unemotional thing ever made,” as she defined Coolidge.
The queen returned to New York and a hotel reception for eight hundred, she in black velvet with silver embroidery and train of peacock blue, with a diadem of diamonds and sapphires over a cap of pearls from which flowed ropes of pearls, some reaching her chin and others hanging to her waist to set off the diamond chain bearing an egg-sized blazing blue-fire sapphire that was one of the largest in the world. There followed a zigzag tour across America and Canada, seven weeks and two days, 8,750 miles in her special train, The Royal Roumanian , reviews of the corps of cadets at West Point and the corps of midshipmen at Annapolis, ten thousand to greet her in Philadelphia, mobs in Baltimore, YMCAs, steel mills at Gary, the Daily News Fresh Air Sanitarium For Babies in Chicago, visits to Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield and Lincoln’s house, detectives, ladies in waiting, maids, delivery boys, photographers, reporters, hairdressers, stewards, cooks, and servants swirling about. “Often have I been obliged,” her column reported, “to put a screen before my bath, so as to be able to continue talking to people during my ablutions.”
In Denver thirteen thousand offered greetings as the governor announced the naming of a mountain for her and a boy in the street brayed, “Hey, Queen! Where’s the king?” (He was back in Romania, reported to be deathly sick from either cancer or the fear that Crown Prince Carol was preparing a coup d’état.) North Dakota Sioux Indians danced about her, and Chief Red Tomahawk gave her a feathered headdress and proclaimed her his sister. In Washington State she spoke at an odd castlelike concrete building one hundred miles from any city, constructed for and dedicated to her by an admirer as a monument to beauty and art and peace. Horse shows and balls and luncheons and chambers of commerce and libraries and museums and schools—six million people saw her, the papers estimated.
It all read strangely in Europe. King Ferdinand sent word that he wished her home. On her last night in New York she spoke on the radio. “I did not come on business. I did not come for the sake of politics. I came for nothing but just to make friends with you.
“Goodbye, America, dear, beautiful America.”
She went away bearing a lawnmower and an ice-making machine back to her semi-barbaric, semi-Eastern, exotic homeland on the road between Berlin and Constantinople. She promised to return. But soon the Depression came and no one in America remained the slightest bit interested in Romania or any Romanian. Twelve years after her visit she was dead.