Hello! Every seven days, for the rest of the year, This Week in Portland History is bringing to light a person or event from the city’s past.
This week’s story is a week early. It actually happened 157 years ago next week, on Oct. 20, 1860. But I’ll tell it to you now, since I have something else planned for next Monday.
In the spring of 1860, Queen Victoria’s son, Albert — who was not in a can, wise guy — was only a kid. Known as the prince of Wales, he was 18. They say he liked cigars, booze and the ladies, but probably not in that order. His mother, the queen, was not happy with him.
About that time, Canada started agitating for a royal visit. Victoria was not about to get on a ship and cross the Atlantic herself. So, she decided to get the boy out of her sight and quiet the Canadians down in one deft move.
She sent the prince on a diplomatic tour of Canada — and threw in the United States for good measure. The American press and public went gaga for him. Newspapers printed special editions when he visited their towns. Throngs of gawkers trailed his every move. Some things never change.
His diplomatic work was not taxing. It consisted mostly of drinking, smoking, dancing with ladies, and waving from trains and carriages. After touring Canada, he swung through Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Washington, Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
In Beantown, on Oct. 20, he boarded a train for Portland. The railroad had a special, three-car train for him. They draped the interior of his car with expensive silks and a squishy velvet sofa. It had a large platform on the back where he could stand and wave at people.
The prince arrived here at about 1 p.m. He toured the city in an open carriage, waving to the throngs. Tens of thousands streamed into the city, hoping to get a look at him. Albert posed for some pictures with the mayor, as well, then headed for the waterfront.
His royal fleet had sailed into the harbor on Oct. 16. It was an auspicious date. On that day, exactly 85 years earlier, another British ship sailed into Portland Harbor. That was the Canceaux. Its captain, Henry Mowatt, leveled the town with his cannons on the eve of the American Revolution.
But, I guess, nobody was thinking of that episode that day.
Shortly before 4 p.m., the prince said goodbye to North America. Standing on the dock, at the end of India Street, he waggled his hand once more at the massive horde of well-wishers. Just then, an enthusiastic young woman launched a large bouquet of flowers at his face. It was a direct hit but the only casualty was his magnificent top hat. It tumbled into the wet waves of Portland Harbor, below the dock.
History does not record what was said after that or if he was miffed. He merely boarded his barge, went out to his fleet, went home and eventually became king. He probably continued to smoke, drink and chase ladies. One thing is for sure: he never came back.
Some might think that was an embarrassing way for Portland to see him off. I don’t think so. After what the Canceaux did, I think he had it coming.
Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches and historical tidbits are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.