Moving Images: The Royal Visit, British Embassy and Lindsay-Era Washington

The visit of the King and Queen to the nation’s capital in early June of 1939 was all about images, pageantry and symbolism. The first two videos here demonstrate the careful choreography of the event while offering rare, surviving and openly available views to the British Embassy gardens at the time. The other two films capture something of the still-small city of Washington in the 1930s, including horseback riding near the Lincoln Memorial and a plane landing at Hoover Airfield (where the Pentagon now spreads) and perhaps convey why the Royal couple caused so much excitement during the trip.

“The Visit of King George and Queen Elizabeth to Canada and the United States, 1939.” Posted by the Parkwood Estate National Historic Site (Oshawa, Ontario). A Castle Film (9:50 minutes, narrated) of the entire packed six-week trip, from the Buckingham Palace departure to Hyde Park, New York. The King and Queen’s arrival by train in Washington is shown from the six-minute mark. There are shots of the Royal couple being led through the lines of guests at the “typical English garden party” by the Lindsays. Also captured are the calls to the Capitol Building, Mount Vernon, Arlington Cemetery (“let us have peace”), and the World’s Fair in New York.

A film from the FDR Presidential Library, “VISIT OF THEIR MAJESTIES, June 1939.” This video offers a good view of the Embassy gardens before the garden party (but not during, as implied); both roses and irises are in bloom. The Royal motorcades through the streets of Washington and on to Mount Vernon are fun, while the wreath-laying ceremony at George Washington’s tomb rather long. There is no sound.

“DAWN STRIKES THE CAPITOL DOME:  an Impressionistic Study of Washington the City Superb.”  A 1936 film by the Federal Work Projects Agency (posted by the United States National Archives). The British Embassy appears in a few glimpses at minute 6:52. A remarkable portrait in vivid images of one day in the life of the Depression-era capital.

“LADY BIRD JOHNSON HOME MOVIE” of Washington, D.C. in Spring and Fall 1940, with her unmistakable Texas twang in narration added later by the Presidential Library. This is Number One in a series that Lady Bird made herself with a camera that was a gift from her husband Lyndon, newly elected to Congress. The British Embassy again appears only briefly but, thanks to Lady Bird’s deep interest in all things horticultural, a portrayal of the area that Lady Lindsay would have been very familiar with and loved.

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