Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Spotlight on Our Collections: King George V's Baseball

Did you know that President Wilson was a huge baseball fan?  So much so that he named a room in his S Street house “The Dugout?”

The room was originally John Randolph Bolling’s office, Wilson’s secretary and Edith Wilson’s brother.  On the mantle in this ground-level study sits what seems to be just an old baseball in a glass case.  Looking closer, you can see that there is a signature.  Not only is that someone important, but it is someone completely unexpected.

Let’s go back to the summer of 1918.  Members in the US Army and Navy stationed in London at the time decided to play a benefit baseball game against each other in front of 40,000 spectators.  King George V was scheduled not only to be the guest of honor at this exhibition game, but also to throw out the first pitch.  The King was reportedly eager to learn the correct way to throw a baseball (as opposed to the throwing motion in cricket).  Here is an article from Jamaica’s Gleaner newspaper written about a week before the game:

On July 4, 1918, the day of the game, spectators and other notable figures (such as Queen Mary and Winston Churchill) arrived with great anticipation for the game.  When it came time to throw out the first pitch, the King realized the netting that was erected to protect fans from foul balls was in the way, so he just handed the ball to an umpire.  After the Navy’s win of 2-1, the King signed one of the game balls which he then sent to Wilson.  He signed it, “George R.I.”  “R.I.” stands for “Rex Imperator,” which is Latin for “King Emperor.”  Wilson put the baseball in a glass case and kept it as a beloved memento for the rest of his life.

            At the base of the ball are three plaques which read:

1)       “Baseball signed by His Majesty King George V”

2)       “In the presence of, His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen, Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, H.R.H. Princess Mary, H.R.H. Prince Albert, H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught”

3)      “For Presentation to the President of the United States by the London Baseball Association”

Not only is it neat to have such an old baseball in the house, but it’s probably the only baseball a Royal has ever signed!

Woodrow Wilson (L) and King George V (R)

Here’s a video of King George V’s arrival (along with other dignitaries), and excerpts from the baseball game.

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