National Press Club

NPC in History: The Origin of Princess Alice

May 28, 2019 | By Gilbert Klein | Gilbert.Klein@me.com

Princess Alice is lifted by W.H. Atkins (left) and Carl Butman in the parade of National Press Club members from the old Club quarters at 15th and G St. to the new National Press Building on Dec. 29, 1927.

Princess Alice is lifted by W.H. Atkins (left) and Carl Butman in the parade of National Press Club members from the old Club quarters at 15th and G St. to the new National Press Building on Dec. 29, 1927.

Outside the president’s office is perhaps the most unusual part of the National Press Club’s décor – a seven-foot-tall figure apparently made out of pieces of black spruce and vaguely in the form of a woman.

How it got here is a story of intrigue, some of the details, probably cloudy to begin with, lost in time.

The story begins in July 1923, as President Warren G. Harding, scandals beginning to close in on his administration, decided to make a goodwill trip across the country ending with the first presidential visit to Alaska.

The press corps accompanying him included Stephen Early of the Associated Press (who later served as Franklin Roosevelt’s press secretary), George Holmes of the International News Service, Bob Barry of the Philadelphia Ledger, Bob Norton of the Boston Post and Carter Field of the Boston Herald.

The trip had taken them to Fairbanks. And the reporters, their day’s work done, sought a place of refreshment. They spotted this strange figure outside such an establishment. A 1936 Club yearbook says it was “Soapy Smith’s (or was it Dan Callahan’s?)” But it usually is considered to have been outside of the Miner’s Home Saloon.

“It was 2 a.m., yet the daylight extended far into the northern night,” the account said. “But it was summer, near the Arctic Circle, and the romantic NPCers seized the chance to rescue the lanky lady in distress. Literally grabbing “Alice” by her (ahem) limbs, these Eastern Lochinvars escorted her back to the transport Henderson. On this she sailed to Seattle, while her rescuers removed sundry splinters from their persons.”

(For those not familiar with Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Lochinvar was a gallant knight who spirited his true love away from her groom at a feast just before her wedding).

Now the story gets really strange. On the way back to Washington, after stopping first in Seattle, President Harding suffered a heart attack and died in San Francisco on Aug. 2.

What happened to Alice?

One story says she was put on a ship and transported through the Panama Canal, making her way to Washington. Another says she was surreptitiously slipped onto the funeral train that brought Harding’s body back to Washington, passing at least 9 million mourners on the way.

Alice appeared at the Club’s quarters, which then were atop the Albee/Riggs building at 15th and G streets NW. She was dubbed Princess Alice after Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the rambunctious daughter of Theodore Roosevelt and equally rambunctious wife of Nicholas Longworth, the speaker of the House, for whom the Longworth building is named. Longworth loved to play cards with the boys at the Club, and Alice yanked him out of there. Alice Longworth, the grande dame of Washington society for decades, had a pillow on her couch embroidered with “If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.”

Princess Alice was such an integral part of the Club that when the time came in December 1927 to move to the new clubhouse atop the National Press Building, Princess Alice was hoisted by Club members and paraded two blocks through the streets of Washington and up the elevator to her new abode.

This is another in a series provided by Club historian Gil Klein. Dig down anywhere in the Club’s 111-year history, and you will find some kind of significant event in the history of the world, the nation, Washington, society, journalism and the Club itself. Many of these events were caught in illustrations that tell the stories.