Monday, June 22, 2020

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, visits Chicago and Mayor "Long John" Wentworth introduced the Prince in his usual arrogant style.

In 1860, Queen Victoria sent her eighteen-year-old son, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, on a goodwill mission to Canada and the United States.

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
Prince Edward's trip, however, almost did not occur because of the adamant opposition of his mother, Queen Victoria. The idea for a royal trip to North America originated a few years before when a Canadian regiment fought for Britain in the Crimean War (1854-1856). Canadian officials requested of the grateful British government that the queen pay them a visit, but she let it be known in no uncertain terms that she would not undertake the ocean voyage. The Canadians then asked that one of her sons be sent to represent the monarchy. Victoria insisted that they were too young, but vaguely acquiesced to send Edward, the eldest when he reached maturity. The queen might not have fulfilled the promise had not her husband, Prince Albert, and the British Colonial Secretary, Henry Pelham Clinton (the Duke of Newcastle), worn down her resistance by persistently pleading that it would bolster imperial bonds between Britain and her Canadian colonists. Although Canada was bad enough, she was even more repulsed by the suggestion of adding the United States to the itinerary. Prince Albert and the foreign secretary, Lord John Russell, finally convinced her that it would help improve relations between the two countries. The deciding factor in her approval of the North American tour may have been her displeasure with Edward, whom she increasingly considered a ne'er-do-well (lazy and irresponsible). By early 1860, Victoria wanted the boy out of her sight.

Prince Edward was on tour in Canada when Chicago Mayor, "Long John" Wentworth met him in Montreal with an invitation to come to Chicago. The prince liked the idea. He said he would come, but only unofficially, as “Baron Renfrew.” Nobody was fooled by that dodge. When the prince’s train chugged into the city, on September 21, 1860, he was greeted by a crowd of nearly 5,000, many of them wearing special medallions or waving banners. 
Chicago Mayor, "Long John" Wentworth
Prince Edward became the first Royal to visit Chicago. The royal party stayed at the Richmond House at Michigan Boulevard and South Water Street, just west of the Michigan Central Railroad depot.

Rising late the next morning, the prince received formal greetings from Wentworth and a committee of distinguished Chicagoans. Then he was taken on a tour of the city. Though the prince wanted to keep his visit low-key, his itinerary had gotten into the papers, and over 50,000 people lined the streets to watch him pass. That was about half the population of the city.

During his three day stay, the Prince saw one entire house being transported along the street, visited the Chicago Historical Society, and a large theatre-like building called a "Wigwam," — a kind of "political machine" where conventions are held. He saw the Courthouse, the Chicago Historical Society, and all the other points of interest that might have been found in an 1860 guide book. The party made a special detour so that the prince could inspect one of the grain elevators on the outskirts of town. The royal visitor appeared suitably impressed and made appropriate comments.

One evening, Mayor John Wentworth took Prince Edward to one of his favorite saloons. It was crowded as usual, and Wentworth made an announcement: “Boys, this here is the Prince!” he shouted. “Prince, these are the boys!” That is the legend. It may or may not be fact. but it's the kind of thing that Long John would have said. 

There was no formal ball. Chicago society matrons, who had hoped to parade their marriageable daughters before the bachelor prince, were deeply disappointed.

When the stress of the trip caused Prince Edward to suffer from headaches, it was arranged for him to spend a few days hunting at a rural lodge in nearby Dwight, Illinois. After a luncheon on September 24th, the Prince left for the Prairies of Illinois and traveled eighty miles by rail to a country estate in Dwight. Then on to Springfield, Alton, and on to St. Louis, Missouri.

A reporter asked Wentworth how it felt to sit next to a future king. “I didn’t sit next to the prince,” Long John said. “The prince sat next to me.”

The Prince of Wales became King Edward VII of Great Britain in 1901. Long John was dead by then, but he would have taken the news in stride.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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