And not to be outdone by her husband and son, lovely Queen Elisabeth worked at the front as a nurse.
After a futile effort to negotiate peace among the combatants, it was KA who commanded the forces of Belgium, France and England on the final offensive in 1918 that liberated a very damaged Belgium.
The bravery of this amazing royal family resulted in it being recognized not only in Belgium, but all of Europe and across the Atlantic in America, as outstanding heroes.
But KA's work did not end with the war. Much needed to be done to rebuild the infrastructure and economy of Belgium. KA had ascended the throne in 1909. Even prior to the war, and before becoming king, KA had a keen sensitivity for the working class people of Belgium. He was concerned about their work and living conditions; about their education and ability to participate in the government.
He also took a serious interest in the welfare of its people and preservation of natural resources of Belgian Congo, visiting there to see conditions himself. In 1925 KA established the first national park in Africa, Verunga National Park.
As reigning monarch of Belgium, KA attended the Paris Peace Conference in April, 1919, where other world leaders, including U.S. Pres. Woodrow Wilson, embraced him as a hero. Representing tiny Belgium, KA nevertheless held his own negotiating with other European rulers, eventually arriving at an agreement, the Paris Accord.
It was probably during these meetings that Pres. Wilson invited KA to visit the U.S. The idea meshed with one of KA's goals for his country, "To restore and expand the Belgian economy using cash reparations from Germany." The New York Times, on Sept. 17, 1919, reported that KA's decision to come to the U.S. was to fulfill his dream of the U.S. endowing Belgium with a mercantile navy in keeping with the extraordinary
development of Belgium's commerce, industry and mineral wealth. It was probably towards that dream that KA was scheduled to address the US Congress early in October, 1919, but which date was changed to Oct. 28 because Pres. Wilson had suffered a stroke in September from which the hope had been that he would recover enough to meet personally with KA if the date were made a little later. (I could not determine whether that meeting occurred. Wilson's wife, Edith, was keeping the Pres. out of sight as she went about the country's business behind closed doors.)
Daniel Larkin, in his biography of JDL, says that KA's purpose of coming to the U.S. was to study American business and manufacturing methods since he was eager to expedite the recovery of his little country from the ravages of war. (pp. 181-2) But the
U.S. Dept. of State, Office of Historian, which keeps a record of heads of state visits, shows an itinerary only from Oct. 2 - 31, with stops in NYC, Boston, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles and the visit to Congress on Oct. 28. How KA came to choose Buffalo and the two businesses, Pierce Arrow Co., and LSC as good places to visit, I guess we will never know. I suspect that Niagara Falls was big on his list, which then made Buffalo a convenient stop. The logical next step would be to ask someone like the mayor, who was then George Buck, for suggestions of manufacturing companies to visit.
At any rate, we do know that KA, QE and CPL arrived on a steamer in NYC on Sept. 23, 1919, where they were greeted with parades and ecstatic crowds. The Metropolitan Opera prepared a special program for the royal family. However, the one place KA insisted on visiting was in Oyster Bay, Long Island. It was very important to him to visit the grave of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt (TR), who had died on Jan. 6, 1919.
Why? Though I find no specific comment about a prior meeting between these two heads of state in my readings, TR's book, "African Game Trails," published by him in 1910, recounts the year long wild life hunt "to collect birds, mammals, reptiles and plants, but especially specimens of big game, for the National Museum in Washington." He notes at p. 138 that he had been "allowed to hunt in the Lado (in Belgian Congo) owing to the consideration courtesy of the Belgium government, for which I was sincerely gratified." This trip had begun on March 13, 1909 as his last administration as President ended.
Doris Kearns Goodwin mentions in her book, "The Bully Pulpit, TR, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism," (2013), that on the conclusion of the safari, TR immediately journeyed to Europe for a six week tour to visit the "reigning European monarchs" in the 10 countries including Belgium, in whose African territories
he had hunted. It is highly likely that a special bond had developed between these two leaders during the encounter between TR and KA that likely did occur at that time.
Before I get to the Buffalo part of this article, I have to tell a little more about this extraordinary royal family since it reveals so much about their qualities that remind me of JDL and his wife, Frances ("Frank").
As I mentioned earlier, KA, even as a youth, was studious, serious and very concerned about the conditions (living and work environment) of Belgians as well as in Congo. He saw technology as a medium for improving the condition of his people.
He approached marriage with similar sensitivity about the kind of person who would be his queen. He met his wife-to-be at a funeral. Though she was a Bavarian duchess who was, in fact, very beautiful, she was no cold, porcelain decoration whose only purpose was to adorn KA's arm. They married on Oct. 2, 1900 and a review of their love letters during their courtship included in a memoir of her parents by their daughter, Marie-Jose', provide proof that they were and remained deeply in love with each other, respected each other and shared each other's interest in human progress. They were very committed to each other, to their family and to their country. Marie-Jose' discusses their lifestyle as being kind of a 'cultural salon.' Friends included scientists, artists, musicians, mathematicians and philosophers.
Considering their placing their lives at risk during the war, their exemplary family affection, their commitment to improving the lives of their countrymen and their cultured lifestyle, it is no wonder that this family was so beloved in Belgium, and, indeed in all of Europe.
So it seems inevitable that they should find their way to JDL's door.
After taking some refreshment, the cars scurried off to take the royal family to see the Pierce Arrow Company. One can assume that KA and CPL really enjoyed that visit. But the schedule was already running quite late, so they departed for LSC. They had been scheduled to arrive at LSC at 4:00 and it was now almost 5:00. Fear was mounting that the visit would be cancelled. The crowd of thousands along Seneca Street was becoming very anxious. In contrast to the crowd, which included many LSC employees, according to Daniel Larkin, JDL stood alone on the front steps of Frank Lloyd Wright designed Larkin Administration Building, (LAB) dramatized by his dress - formal black clothes and black top hat which contrasted with his white hair and beard. Soon another sharp contrast would be evident as JDL, about 5 feet tall, appeared next
to KA's six foot six frame.
Much of what we know of the visit is thanks to an article that was written by an LSC employee, E.R. Hodges and published in the Larkin employee's newsletter of Nov. 1, 1919, "Ourselves."
"Sharp, however, at 5:00 word reached JDL that delay or no delay, the King and Queen both wanted to see and would come to the Larkin Factories...Exactly at 5:31 over the hill swung the lone figure of a police officer on a motorcycle. He swept down to the Larkin plant at top speed and almost before he came to a stop at the main entrance, the vanguard of the King's party came into view over the crest of the hill.
Hodges describes KA as he stepped out of his car and walked over to the car carrying his beloved wife to assist her exit from the vehicle. "He towered above the swarm of attaches like a rock above a restless sea. Six foot six, he stood and every inch a king." Then Hodges describes the Queen: "Small, dainty and with an absolutely charming manner, she appealed to the crowd instantly with her wondrously expressive smile. The King awed the crowd; the Queen won it." He also described CPL: "The Prince (now aged 18, by the way), dressed as a private... was a well-set-up youth, tall and straight and good looking, evidently a worthy son of a worthy sire."
JDL conducted the tour, first into the LAB's main court. In what must have been a well-rehearsed welcome, the employees on every floor rose and remained standing silent. Then at a signal, everyone in the four floors of balconies came to the ledge and, looking down at the royal party, gave the 'Chautauqua salute' which KA promptly returned. Then suddenly, on signal, all workers returned to their desks as the entourage proceeded to inspect the building. (Since I had no idea what the Chautauqua salute was, I consulted my expert-in-residence at Chautauqua, Artist Rita Auerbach, who explained that it has been a long tradition at Chautauqua, at very special occasions, to perform this salute in silence by simply raising a handkerchief in the air and waving it. Query whether anyone had alerted KA since he so readily responded in kind.).
As they toured the LAB, the royal family was very surprised and delighted by the view down into the light court from the fifth floor "Inspiration Point." The awed exclamations of the guests were readily heard by employees throughout the tour.
Next the visitors proceeded to Building J in the main factory where they ascended to the 7th floor to the food department where they viewed the methods and machinery used in the making of macaroni, noodles and spaghetti. KA and QE were quite surprised that LSC was an acknowledged expert in the manufacture of a product they had exclusively identified only with Italy.
The Royals were very amazed by the cutting machine that made the hole in macaroni (I don't know about you, the reader, but I had never even wondered how this was done!!) They had lots of questions but finally had to be led away by the security people so they could see other things.
They were fascinated by the spice box filling machine that filled 15,000 packages a day. Exclaiming repeatedly, "how very extraordinaire," they closely inspected the machine with its glueing and folding fingers and other packaging maneuvers.
Because of time constraints and the pressure of the secret service men, the tour had to be cut to just a few essentials. But, Hodges notes, that the Secret Service guys, too, were forced to constrain themselves. "The King was there to see, and we were there to see that the King saw, and he did."
So down they all went to the fifth floor fabric cutting department. There they witnessed electric saws cutting from 300 to 600 thicknesses of cloth at one time on 100 foot tables. The royal family was amazed when informed that with all tables running at full capacity, there was approximately 70 miles of cloth stretched for cutting at one time.
The sewing room impressed the guests very much. Observing 200 machines in operation at one time in a large, spacious, clean room supplied abundantly with fresh air and light and comfort was in sharp contrast to the sweat shop methods that were used in Europe.
The last stop to be squeezed in despite the frustration of the Secret Service men were the stamping, packaging and wrapping of Sweet Home Soap. The entourage was astonished by the ability of the machine to stamp 200 bars of soap per minute and wrap 120 per minute.
A small group of nicely dressed women stood near the car that would transport the Queen. As QE approached, one of the ladies stepped forward and spoke quickly and quietly in Bavarian to the Queen. QE immediately turned "with a look of surprise and pleasure. She...took the woman's two hands in hers and spoke rapidly and earnestly to her in the same tongue."' QE then handed her a white carnation from her bouquet and, as the car sped off, they continued to look and wave at each other till they could no longer see each other. Who was she? A Bavarian immigrant who then lived in Buffalo but had been in attendance at KA's and QE's wedding and who had known well QE's father.
Hodges concludes, "The sight, however, that will live long in the memory of all who saw it, was the farewell between KA, ....the King of Belgium, and JDL, founder and head of the great Larkin organization. The towering figure of the King was bending low over the venerable head of our beloved President. Earnestly, they shook hands and somehow one felt a sudden tightening of the throat at the sincerity of that parting. Here stood two men, one a Prince of State and the other, a Prince of Industry, meeting on a common ground and for the moment, glimpsing each other's problems and sensing each other's destiny and here they were stopping long enough in their great work to wish each other God speed on the journey. It was easily the most impressive and inspiring sight of the day."
In justifying his passionate description of the visit, Hodges adds,: "This modest and unselfish pair, the King and Queen of Belgium, have something of the ancient grace that now and then comforts the heart of a hopeful and often disappointed world and pierces with a golden doubt the dark shadows of the cynic's confidence in the complete depravity of the human race."
A few days later, Mayor Buck sent JDL a note:
"To me, the approach of the party to your great office building
was one of the most dramatic incidents of the whole trip around
impressive monument to your industry and business ability. You
have done much to build up Buffalo and yesterday you helped
again to lend distinction to the city in the impression you left
upon the minds of our guests."
As I said at the outset, this is a story of a really good man having affinity with another good man.