Tuesday, January 11, 2011
God Serve the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II's first state visit to the United States took place in October, 1957. After a few days in Canada, she and Prince Philip met with President Eisenhower in Washington, D.C., watched a football game in Maryland (with a brief detour to a grocery store), and then wrapped up their trip in New York City, where the royal couple stayed for a mere fifteen hours: "A teaser" remarked the Queen. (Indeed!)
The dinner given to the Queen and Prince on their final night took place -- as lunch also did -- at the Waldorf-Astoria. The menus from both meals are included in the Library's holdings. The dinner menu is especially intriguing, but not because the food offerings are unusual ("American simplicity" is what the New York Times called it), but because of the memo found inside.
Type-written on thin white paper and folded in half, General Instructions for Waiters (below) provides a rare glimpse from the other side of the swinging door. And while the instructions don't reveal anything juicy or even anything terribly interesting (politeness and courtesy are emphasized, cigarettes will be at the tables, candles stay on all night), finding a menu from a worker's point-of-view is unusual, especially for such a high-profile dinner. I also like to imagine how these instructions came to the Library. Did a waiter keep a menu as a souvenir, tucking the memo inside? Who thought to preserve such an ephemeral document? Whoever it was, I'm glad he/she did; these are the very types of items libraries treasure, as they offer evidence of an event largely, if not completely, undocumented elsewhere. These instructions provide us with more of a complete story of the event -- not just that the Queen ate green turtle soup, but that it was a served in plates with fines herbes -- and it reminds us of those who shuttle in and out of the dining room all night, carrying filet of beef Perigourdine, savarin au rhum, and butter -- but only on request, of course.