Louisville and the "Old Kentucky Home"
ONE OF THE FIRST questions to be decided was whether the Queen should accept any invitations that day in Louisville. Preparations had been made there, of course, everything was ready, and the hours were creeping up. It was decided that nothing so close at hand could be conveniently disarranged, and at eleven, an unavoidable hour late, we were greeted at the station by the official committee headed by Congressman Ben Johnson, who seemed so genuinely glad to see us, even though their elaborately arranged program suffered curtailment to some extent.
The Queen asked at once to use the radio, that great communicator, and spoke into its deceptive silence a few words of farewell and thanks to the American people for all the honors she had received.
After a visit to City Hall where Mayor Will received the Queen, it was decided to set out at once for the most individual feature of Louisville's entertainment, a visit to the Old Kentucky Home at Bardstown. I was delighted that Her Majesty was to have one glimpse at least of the Old South that she had to miss as a whole; and for myself, I set out with more anticipation than I had felt elsewhere, because the stories of it heard in childhood had set up a longing in my heart to see it for myself. The ride was long and bracing to our nerves, frayed by indecisions, and the swift stiff breeze gave us a fresher outlook. I had been held at the railway station telegraphing and telephoning to break engagements here and there, and took a later car out, arriving just as the royal party were entering the stately beauty of an old mansion famed in song and story as the purest Southern type. Here was the thing dreamed of made manifest. I paused outside to drink in alone the classic fan-lighted entrance, the ineffable calm that prevails where a habitation is linked so harmoniously with the earth. Only then, seeing it in perfection, did I realize how seldom this is so, how often a house is an excrescence, an impediment to the flowing lines of its natural setting.
There must be a strain of Southern blood in me to make me so in love with the South. I love the character of the people, their delicious lazy ways that somehow manage to crowd in all the truly worth while things of life, their philosophic way of looking at things, their love of home and family, the sacrifices they make for sentiment and romance. There is something that warms my heart when I meet a Southerner, a certain charm of old-time elegance, a sense of chivalry about them that has al ways held me. I saw in the Old Kentucky Home the heart of all the dignity and grace of the life in the South before the War, the paternal atmosphere, protecting and almost caressing in its character, of the vast plantations, each owned by one man, comprising in its parts a complete world, self-sufficient and self-sustaining. The radical Northerner may say that all this is sentimentality, that back of their life was slavery and subjection, but I have never found the Negro so happy when removed from that paternal care. Naturally every human being must have a chance to develop himself, and unhappiness may do it for the Negro. But there is little choice for them between the body slavery of old days and the slavery of industrialism which has enmeshed those so unfitted to grapple with it, who think nothing of to-morrow and ask only a little happiness of to-day. What has been since those old days has been necessary to the progress of the world, nevertheless, the love of old customs lingers in my heart and it warms at the sight of such a place as we were now entering. Inside, too, no anachronism marred the picture. The architecture, simple, serene and classic, laid a great high hall through the center flanked by perfectly balancing chambers, high ceiled and airy, on either side. The furnishings with their airs of quaint elegance and refinement expressed the characters of the original owners and builders, and retold the memories the old house held of the long-departed tragedies and comedies of family life, overlapping one upon the other, generation after generation. The bedrooms above had the spare charm of that older formal order of living, high four-posters with steps to mount them, horse-hair furniture, old crocheted bedspreads, daguerreotypes, all the more exquisite embellishments of a formal generation testified to their broad and generous, yet controlled, scale of living, without stint, yet without ostentation. Even the lack of plumbing and heating systems, remembering the same in English baronial halls, might be called an added aristocratic feature.
In the dining-room below, where the royal party were the guests of the Reception Committee including Governor Wm. J. Fields, presiding as host, at the bare polished mahogany table, the Queen sat enchanted with this vision of the Old South which she had always loved, all about her the silver urns of elegant design and the quaint porcelain recalling the past glories of the dwelling. There was a certain sweetness about it all that thrilled us by its individuality in more modern life, and the simple but excellent meal completed the pleasure of the hour. These same hot breads, fried chicken, flaky cakes, had once been the pride and pleasure of the Southern housewife who knew, at the same time, how to play the role of great lady also. My admiration for the Southern gentleman was accentuated that day by meeting a most charming specimen who was head of the committee that purchased the place for the State and whose perfect taste had kept all intact. I concluded that if he was an example of the male population of Louisville they must all be cultured and delightful. He gave me the history of the house, the story of the family who had lived in it for generations. He said it was here our beloved old poem was written—"The Old Kentucky Home"—on the very walnut desk in the hall where the Queen was asked to sign her name in the guest-book. A beautiful copy of the original was presented to her there. She must have been cheered by the sweetness of the occasion and the surroundings in spite of her upset plans and her worries, for I saw on her face the same intense interest she showed in the Far West among the Indian ceremonies, as though she was again seeing something of the heart of the real America—an entirely different phase of life from the hurried commercial atmosphere of some of the other parts of our country. What an infinite variety makes up the many-sided character of our dear United States! The people here took the greatest delight in her charm, and the picture she made in a gown of black velvet with soft lace ruffles falling over her bosom was so much in keeping with these old-fashioned surroundings.
All the servants at the lunch were punctilious old-fashioned darkies stepping about on tiptoe serving the dishes—no want too small for them to catch sight of—in spotless white gloves. While we ate, a quintet of Negroes sang the old plantation airs and the spirituals one hears so much talk of lately, in their rich melodious voices. With a simple trick of inflection and a minor chord they could move us almost to tears. It was an unforgettable moment and I was loath to leave it; but that same irrevocable schedule told us we were due in Hodgenville an hour later, and we were warned that the road was long.
From Hodgenville we drove two miles to a certain valley, and there beside a brooklet came to an ancient log cabin enshrined in a marble house—a windowless cabin without a floor, like the mangers of Roumania.
The Queen would not have missed a trip to the shrine here, the birthplace of her hero as well as ours, Abraham Lincoln. We found a log cabin so small as to seem impossible to have housed the family we know about. Here the great man in his youth dreamed out his early dreams, added to his character the force and persistence of his maturity, conspired, in spite of the obstacles of poverty and hunger, that nothing should thwart his purpose and ambition. The old cabin has been enclosed for preservation within a larger building by the Historical Society of Kentucky, so that every child may see what obstacles great men surmount, and every man may know how far he has fallen short of what has been given him.
From the cabin of Lincoln the Queen returned to the glitter of Louisville where the socially elect of the Blue Grass had prepared a gorgeous ball for her with royal trimmings. En route we stopped at a cathedral, supposed to contain some wonderful old masters, which was constructed by Louis Philippe.
The spirit of Hodgenville, which is about seventy miles from Louisville, is a million miles removed from such splendor as Louisville that night prepared to honor the Queen.
Upon my arrival in Louisville I found that my poor husband had been transfixed to the telephone all day. After a visit with some dear Southern friends in Louisville who filled my arms with roses, I proceeded at once to the hotel where I thought to find the rest of the party. A huge crowd had as usual collected outside the doors, and as I emerged from the automobile with my bouquet of roses under my arm, shouts of "The Queen! The Queen!" greeted my astounded ears. As I came up just at the moment the Queen was expected, the hungry crowd seized upon me. I finally got inside where the manager, after going to a great deal of trouble to prepare a suite for the Queen, was none too glad to see me in her stead. I was the only one to enjoy the luxury of the suite, and I felt for once what it is to be a queen—with some of the necessary inconveniences thrown in, such as incessant inquiries as to what would happen next. As soon as it was known that a member of the party was in the hotel, the telephone rang without interruption. Within the space of half an hour Detroit, Cincinnati, Richmond and Washington called me up. "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." I say, let me be a private citizen again!
All would not believe it. Richmond was the most persistent, with a drawling, pleading Southern accent over the telephone beseeching me to tell them that it was all a mistake, that the Queen would surely not disappoint them, not Richmond! That evening at the railway station where Mr. Morris had established his headquarters, and was phoning to three different places at once, a great burly fellow burst in, draped himself over the desk and said, "Say, give me the dope!" My husband reprimanded him so sharply for his rudeness that I had to pull him aside and beg him not to antagonize a reporter. Mr. Morris's voice grew smoother and when he had a few moments he tried to tell the man most convincingly of the King's illness, that all engagements had to be canceled, and that there was simply no alternative. I could see by the cold fishy eye that his hearer was not impressed, and no sooner had I gone to see some friends than I was called to the telephone and the same drawling voice was in my ear. Was there ever more persistence displayed than among this particular genus of reporter, even here in the South where I thought courtesy predominated?
There was painful doubt about the Queen coming to the ball that night in Louisville, but at length it was formally announced that she would appear at 9:30. Accompanied by the ball committee and her ladies, she appeared in black velvet with few ornaments, a coat of ermine hanging from her shoulders. Under the circumstances the ball was not as gay as it might have been, although the irrepressible youth of Kentucky did its best to pierce the gloom, and the buffet, tastefully arranged in an adjoining room, helped to relieve the depression. The Queen left early but the Prince stayed on, surrounded by a gay group of young people. My husband and I were requested to stay with him. He is to continue the tour alone to placate the just wrath of some of the towns which will miss the Queen.
Friday, November 19.
This is our last day on the train. All the excitement is over, and now comes the reaction. Every limb aches and I feel I have added twenty-five years to my physiognomy. I dare not face a mirror. I refrain from making any personal remarks about the rest of the company! I feel as if I could sleep standing up. We shall have nice comfortable beds to rest in when we get home, fortunately, but shall we be able to sleep when we get there, is what is worrying me. In Chicago, although I was completely exhausted, I could hardly sleep, and when we got on the train again we tumbled into our brass beds and thanked goodness we were back again. That's habit for you!
Upon our arrival in Jersey City, the terminal of the B. & O., we are to be whisked off in automobiles to the Mitchell home in Tuxedo. The Queen had expressed a desire to be in a private home in the country instead of having the publicity of a hotel, and Mr. Charles E. Mitchell, the President of the National City Bank of New York, immediately acquiesced in Mr. Morris's suggestion to have the Queen stop at his place. He and Mrs. Mitchell had kindly invited us to accompany her. We are laboring under the delusion that we shall have a quiet week-end there. I hope it is true. All morning the Queen was busy with interviews on the train, signing photographs to be sent to her different hosts along the way. The whole train was a perfect bee hive, but the Queen was busiest of all. With her usual thoughtfulness she remembered every one in some way, with either a gift or a picture. The Negro porter came into our car near to bursting with pride over a pair of gold cuff-links with his monogram. I was very proud, myself, over a little gold match box that came to me.
All were invited to dine in the large dining-car that evening, and all met there, including the Queen, promptly at 8 P.M. This was the Colonel's final attempt to impress with the magnificence of this great effort of the railways, and he told us this was the finest dining-car in the world and was called the "Martha Washington." He was glad that all were safe and happy, and drank toasts to the King and Queen and to the President of the United States. He said that we had arrived safe and sound after a travel of 8,750 miles, the longest journey of any train with fifteen cars attached. My aching bones confirmed the distance. Before we broke up the Queen asked to be taken to the kitchens where I am sure she made the cook happy with a gift. With a general vote of thanks for the care we had had, the party broke up.
Saturday, November 20.
Our day began early, this our last day on the train. At 7 A.M. we descended so that the Queen could motor through the Civil War section of the Shenandoah Valley. Our first stop was at the Washington Hotel, where the Queen, in spite of the snow storm, mounted the steps and spoke to the crowds. It was 9:30 when we reached Harpers Ferry where John Brown, famous in song and story, captured the arsenal which played so important a part in the War of Secession. After that the time was spent on the train getting ready for our final departure from it that afternoon.