One of the great moments in New York City history took place the month Theodore Roosevelt turned two. In October 1860 the Prince of Wales made his visit to New York. Theodore’s great uncle, Judge James I. Roosevelt was one of the arrangers of the event. Peter Cooper was another organizer. John Jacob Astor was the committee chairman. The prince stayed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. This grand hotel had been completed just a year earlier on 23rd Street three blocks from the Roosevelt birthplace.
The prince was all of eighteen and his North American visit was as a kind of diplomatic coming out party. The heir apparent visited Canada in addition to the many American cities on his schedule. It all became complicated quickly when the simple dinner the New York organizers had planned proved unsatisfactory. Instead there would have to be a full gala ball. Improvising quickly the organizing committee threw something together in time for the function, which was held at the Academy of Music on October 12.
That was not all. The entire city—or most of it—turned out to see the prince during his stay. Many New Yorkers marched in his honor at a parade. Not everyone came. Colonel Michael Corcoran, commander of the predominantly Irish 69th New York State Militia, refused to march his men in honor of the British monarch. Corcoran was court-martialed but the American Civil War began before his trial took place and the charges were dropped.
Theodore Roosevelt may have only been two years old during the Prince of Wales's visit but the two men eventually came to know each other. In fact, they became national leaders the same year. The Prince of Wales became King Edward VII in January 1901 after the death of his mother Queen Victoria. Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States that September after the assassination of President McKinley. In 1910 President William Taft asked Colonel Roosevelt to represent the United States at Edward's funeral. Roosevelt had a good chuckle at the protocol and pretension of the European monarchs who turned out en masse for the king’s funeral pageant.
(images: The sumptuous Fifth Avenue Hotel was where the Prince of Wales stayed during his visit to New York City. This circa 1860 photograph seems to have been taken during the winter time, as the trees in the adjacent Madison Square Park are bare. The toddler Theodore Roosevelt was born and lived around the corner on East 20th Street. In later years Roosevelt would know the hotel well; for decades it was the unofficial New York City headquarters of the Republican Party. Harpers Weekly captured the drama of the grand ball organized in part by James I. Roosevelt in its 20 October edition.)
Hotel photograph courtesy Digital NYPL and gala ball image from the Library of Congress
Last updated: February 26, 2015