May 14, 2018
The British Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is just around the corner. It’s a historic moment, and the buzz around it has even crossed the pond and reached PreserveCast. The excitement has also provided us the perfect reason to talk to a true Baltimore Original, Philip Baty. Philip has spent years curating a private collection of items all related to Baltimore’s own member of the royal family, Wallis Simpson the Duchess of Windsor. We got to Philip just in time as the one-of-a-kind collection is being put to auction in conjunction with the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan. Philip’s passion for the Duchess is also one-of-a-kind on this special Royal Wedding edition of PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] The British Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is just around the corner. It’s a historic moment, and the buzz around it has even crossed the pond and reached PreserveCast. The excitement has also provided us with the perfect reason to talk to a true Baltimore original, Philip Baty. Philip has spent years curating a private collection of items, all related to Baltimore’s own member of the Royal Family, the Duchess of Windsor. We got to Philip just in time, as the one-of-a-kind collection is being put to auction in conjunction with the marriage of Harry and Meghan. Philip’s passion for the Duchess is also one-of-a-kind on this special Royal Wedding edition of PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast!
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. Today, we are joined in studio by Philip Baty. For almost 20 years, Philip has been collecting and curating pieces to create the Adele Corner House Duchess of Windsor Museum. A self-described “defender of the Duchess,” Philip’s private collection consists of more than 700 art pieces, among other items. The collection has been open for tours through Doors Open Baltimore during the last three years, when guests were able to see most of the collection. Philip and his partner do not run the museum professionally, although he has appeared in feature films, TV series, and Duchess documentaries throughout the years. It is so exciting to have you here in-studio with us today to talk about this very unique piece of Baltimore and, really, international history. Thanks for joining today, I should say.
[Philip Baty] Thanks a lot. I’m glad to be here.
[NR] So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? We always like to get to know the people that we interview and how they get either into the line of work that they’re involved in or the type of collecting that they do or the kind of history that inspires them. Where does your love for – it sounds like you have a lot of different loves and a lot of different collections and passions, but with the Duchess, and maybe we can talk about the connection to the Duchess, but where does that love come from?
[PB] The Duchess lived on Biddle Street as a young woman. They only lived in Mount Vernon six different places and I’ve conducted a little guided tour just to show people where she actually did live, when, and why. There was a reason that she was scattered around so many places. But the Biddle Street house is the only house that she and her mother owned for about seven and a half years. Since the house is on Biddle Street… When we bought the house, it was important for us to help raise money for critters, the shelters, the HIV non-profits, and education non-profits. So we opened up the house as banquet space for their silent auctions that had the area for silent auctions and sell all kind of things. But all we had to do was just open the door for someone who… You know, eight people was a squeeze in their condo or apartment, and they could have 100 people for a reception party, whatnot, in the house. It sold every time and raised money for the charities. It was very easy to do.
[NR] Before we get too far, I guess you should give us – it seems like you’d be the person to ask about this – perhaps not everyone’s familiar with who we’re talking about. Can you give us a little history about the Duchess of Windsor? Who was Wallis Simpson? What was her story? And then we can kind of talk about the house and how the collection developed. But who was she? So if you met somebody off the street who had no idea who this person is, who was she, what was her role, and what’s her story?
[PB] She was a socialite from Baltimore. In 1936 King Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth’s uncle, abdicated the throne of England to marry this woman in 1937.
[NR] And she was from Baltimore and he had to abdicate the throne because she was an American?
[PB] No, because she was once-divorced. She would have to go through a second divorce to marry him and the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Parliament and the Prime Minister would not allow him to marry a twice-divorced women since Edward VIII would be head of the Church of England.
[NR] Right, and you can’t have that.
[PB] They wouldn’t allow it.
[NR] So once the Duke and Duchess are married, where do they move to? Do they come back to Baltimore ever? Did they ever come back to the Mt. Vernon area?
[PB] They lived in Biarritz. They lived on the coast of France. Then, of course, they were in the Bahamas. The Duchess hated it because there was no air conditioning. There was no social life whatsoever. If you’re going to get quaffed and pretty to what? People selling fruit at the market? No, she hated it.
But after the war, of course, they went back to France and they rented a chateau in [a town] west of Paris. They went to Baltimore several times. One crowd was estimated at 200,000 people to welcome them. They traveled to the United States quite a bit. They always stayed in New York, stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, the 28th floor. The suite was always reserved for them. Some people think they’re high maintenance. The Duke hated flying so they took the train to Mar-a-Lago, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s mansion, which is now, well, we won’t talk about what it is now… But they took the train. It took four freight cars for the luggage plus an entourage to pick up the dog poo and mop up the dog pee from the five pugs that they constantly carried with them.
[NR] So she was a pug lover?
[PB] Oh yeah, they loved the dogs. They always had at least five dogs.
[NR] So you buy the house what year?
[PB] We moved in twenty-one years ago.
[NR] Okay, and when you got there, there was no Duchess collection there, was there?
[PB] There was nothing.
[NR] Did you have to do a lot of the work to the house itself? Maybe describe the house. What’s the house like?
[PB] Yes, the house is a second empire house. It has arched windows of stained glass, demi-lune staircase. It’s very, very architecturally interesting inside. It was built in 1885.
[NR] And when you took it over, what kind of shape was it in?
[PB] It was a mess. It had been a foreclosure for almost three years and nobody would touch it. Nobody would buy it because it needed work everywhere. It needed plenty of work, electrical, plumbing, roof. It was just a disaster. Well, it didn’t scare me. I’ve done other houses before.
[NR] So you pick up the house. You start doing this work. It becomes, as you’ve said before, a place for non-profits that matter to you to be able to raise money and you’ve hosted events there and things like that. But what was the inspiration for doing this museum to the Duchess and how did the collecting start?
[PB] Well, anybody can just open up a house with an art collection and antiques. Granted it’s interesting. But this was an effort to make the house more interesting, enhance the house, give it a real destination because she lived on the street.
[NR] So what was the first piece? What kind of pieces make up the collection? What do you have that’s connected to the Duchess herself?
[PB] The collection consists of tons of ephemera, French magazines, tabloids of the time. They make her out like she’s some film star. Other magazines… they were photographed incessantly. There are just plenty of newspaper clippings. There are scrapbooks of this paper clippings, replica jewelry, exact replicas of what the Duchess owned and other coronation souvenirs, tidbits. Just all kinds of different things. The collection is more than 200 pieces.
[NR] So what kind of – I mean, obviously, you have different people through the house at different times. What kind of response do you get? Do you get a lot of people from Great Britain who want to see this? Is it sort of an international attraction to this story?
[PB] We have had plenty of people from overseas, all over the nation. People really enjoy it. The collection is to actually emphasize the Duke and Duchess’ impact on the fashion industry. They were absolute fashion icons. I think that if Princess Diana had lived longer, she may have surpassed the Duchess as the fashion icon of the twentieth century.
[NR] But you think the Duchess truly was the fashion icon of the –
[PB] Certainly, it is said that her personal jewelry rivaled what Queen Elizabeth personally owned.
[NR] And you ever had any members of the Simpson family come through?
[PB] The Warfield family.
[NR] The Warfields have come through?
[PB] Yes, in fact, we opened in May exactly thirteen years ago; and Edwin Warfield and his family came to the reception. I discussed it with him that we would be holding a Duchess of Windsor birthday party every June and it would be a benefit for the shelters for the critters, and he immediately gave his blessing.
[NR] Any relations to the family back since?
[NR] Yeah, and I guess they love what it’s become and the story that it tells?
[PB] They love it. They’re thrilled that someone is preserving the memory of the Duchess in Baltimore.
[NR] Right. Well, why don’t we take a quick break right here? We’ve talked a little bit about sort of the history of this place and how you came to be the caretaker and curator of this site. And maybe we can kind of branch out beyond just the Duchess and talk about why you think British Royalty have come to fascinate the American consciousness in the way that they have particularly as of late and we will do that right here on PreserveCast.
[Stephen Israel] Wallis Windsor, the Duchess, is one of the most fascinating figures in Maryland and British history in the twentieth century. All this talk about the Duchess and I couldn’t help thinking about other famous folks from Britain around this time. And of course, the name Churchill comes to mind. But why stop there? If I can bring it back to Maryland, the Churchill Theatre in rural Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, is the site of some fantastic preservation work. And is soon going to be recognized at this year’s Best of Maryland Preservation Awards.
The vernacular Art Deco architecture of the Churchill Theatre is a rare sight; and the care that the local theater company who call it home show for the building may be even rarer. The Churchill Theatre has been providing a home for the performing arts in the town of Churchill since 1929. The theater hosted live performances and town meetings until being converted into a movie theater in 1935. And later, a 1944 fire gave the owners an opportunity to update the appearance of the building, giving the theater its current vernacular Art Deco appearance. When the movie theater closed in the early 1980s, a group of concerned citizens stepped in to save the building and turned into a community theater, which it remains to this day.
In more recent years, the stucco exterior, which dates back to the 1944 fire, began to crack presenting a threat to the underlying materials and also to the interior of the building if water begins to penetrate the stucco. Preservation Maryland received a grant application from the theater and made an award of $10,000 in April 2017 to make much-needed stucco repairs. Much of the work was completed by Zierfuss Painting and Restoration. Getting the exterior secured is an important first step for the organization as they continue to plan for the preservation of this community institution. I don’t want to get you too “stuck-o” on this topic, but you can congratulate the theater at the Best of Maryland Preservation Awards event this Thursday, May 17th, 2018 at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House in Baltimore City. Celebrate with us, and explore the Flag House with people that love Maryland and historic buildings as much as you do. Anyway, I should let you get back to Philip and Nick on PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding, you’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined in studio today by Philip Baty who has been collecting and curating pieces at the Adele Corner House, where he oversees the Duchess of Windsor Museum. He’s a defender of the Duchess, and we’ve been talking about all things historic preservation with respect to this house, how he took it over, how he’s used this house to help issues and causes that are of concern to him, and how he has continued to tell the story of Baltimore’s Duchess. In your bio, you talk about being the self-described defender of the Duchess. What does that mean?
[PB] It means that so many people want to call her a gold digger or a floozy. Those rumors and stories came from the archbishop of Canterbury and probably some members of the Royal Family just to discredit her so that Edward VIII would not marry her. But if you realize the essence of Wallace, she was Old South propriety. Very Victorian. In a nutshell, you live your life so that people say something nice about you. She was very charming. She was a very nice person. Ask some of the authors like Anne Sebba or Hugo Vickers. They will tell you that every town in England should have a monument to Wallis Warfield-Windsor because he would have made a terrible king [laughter]. He was arrogant. He was uninformed. If you’ve seen him in interviews, you’d realize he didn’t know what he was talking about half the time.
[NR] And an interesting relationship with the Nazis, as well, right?
[PB] You know, people see the photo of the Duke and Duchess with Hitler. They don’t take in consideration the timeline. That’s very important. Edward VIII had relatives in Germany.
[PB] The Kaiser Wilhem was Queen Victoria’s oldest grandchild. They only went there because he had no job, his brother is king, George VI would not give him a job. And he went to see a housing project. But if you look at the timeline – 1937 – there wasn’t any aggression for two more years. There was nothing. And it was so hushed in Germany about the persecution of the Jews from 1934 onward.
[PB] There wasn’t such thing as the death camps until 1941. The Final Solution, what they called. Yeah, I’m a defender of her because so many people think the worst of her. And just to set the story straight, if you’re calling her Wallis Simpson, I hope you’re referring to her when she was married to Ernest Simpson. Because she was the Duchess of Windsor for more than 49 years. So it’s inappropriate to call her a Simpson by a formerly-married name. It’s just insulting. No woman wants to be called by a former married name. It’s just rude!
[NR] And so you always refer to her as –
[PB] The Duchess of Windsor.
[NR] The Duchess of Windsor.
[PB] That’s how she died.
[NR] And how is she remembered overseas? I mean, how do people of England, Great Britain remember her? Do you think that she remains discredited because of that story that you talked about there?
[PB] It’s possible. You know, she was accused of dating some used car salesman and being a gold digger. Every woman wanted to marry well at that time. If you didn’t marry well and you were of society, well, what are you going to do? Become the charwoman? Nobody wants to marry badly. Women were expected to marry well. And you want to call that gold digging? I don’t think so. But some of these publications now… You know, you can’t libel the dead [laughter]. If there’s a book out that claims that prostitute was sent to the suite of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when they were in Los Angeles. If you knew anything about her, she was more concerned about her hair, her makeup, her clothes, her jewelry, her shoes, and the appearance of the Duke of Windsor as a former king to the world. You know, you just don’t do that. They were in the public eye so much. But people want to think the worst of some folks.
[NR] We’ve talked a lot in specific about the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson, and sort of the story and how that played out. I think that that really captured the consciousness of Americans of that time. But it sort of seems like we’re going through another rebirth of interest in the British Royals, and we’ve got a Royal Wedding coming up and all of these sorts of things. What is it about British Royalty that captures the American consciousness in such a way that perhaps other royalty doesn’t? What is it? What do you think makes that such a big deal?
[PB] Well, they’re certainly people you wouldn’t see out on the street every day.
[NR] Right [laughter].
[PB] They’re always impeccably dressed, impeccable manners. Well, except for Prince Harry.
[NR] Right [laughter].
[PB] I certainly hope that charming and lovely Meghan Markle will tame that boy [laughter]. He’s a naughty child .
[NR] [laughter] But do you think that – isn’t it odd though that Americans would be so in love with this country that they broke away from? I mean, is it just, you think, that they’re… The impeccable dress or the air of that they’re different than us? You think that that’s what attracts us to them?
[PB] I guess everybody has a different reason for being enamored with the Royals. I guess, I don’t know, that maybe the pomp and circumstance. They make such a production of a marriage. Anything that happens is – even a funeral is a big to-do.
[NR] And have you gone over to see any of the collections in Europe?
[PB] Mhm, sure.
[NR] And are you recognized as “the defender of the Duchess?” Do people –
[PB] They wouldn’t know me if I jumped on them and bit them on the neck [laughter].
[NR] So what’s happening with the collection? If people want to learn more about the Duchess, they want to come see the collection. Are there opportunities to see it from time to time?
[PB] Not anymore. We gave thirteen years of opportunities to see it. Since it is a private collection we never kept public hours.
[PB] But we gave plenty of opportunities for people to come through, especially through Doors Open [Baltimore]. Every year the crowd got bigger and bigger. And the attendance was competing with institutions like the Walters, and the Peabody, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
[NR] Yeah. Because it’s quite the fantastic collection and it’s not just the Duchess as well. You have other collecting interests, I suppose, that people would see?
[PB] I suppose that the big thing we have is the art collection. It’s comprised of more than 700 pieces and spans six centuries.
[NR] Pretty significant. And you said it’s no longer open. It’s not going to be open long-term. And you were sharing with us before we started the interview that you might be moving on at some point. What would happen to this collection?
[PB] It’s going to become someone else’s toy. We gave two months of auction previews and they’re just no more. Tomorrow, on the 9th, the collection goes on eBay for a ten-day sale and ends the day of the Royal Wedding.
[NR] Okay. So you’re timing it with the Royal Wedding. So if people want a piece of this collection, they don’t just have to listen to it. They could actually buy some of it.
[PB] Well, they have to buy the entire thing.
[NR] Oh, it’s all one lot?
[PB] It’s going is one lot.
[NR] Is there a reserve?
[PB] Well, there’s opening bid.
[NR] What’s the opening bid?
[PB] The opening bid is going to be $7,000.
[PB] The value of the collection is somewhere between $14,000 and $15,000.
[NR] Okay. So if people are interested in that, I guess they can look up the Duchess Lot on eBay, which will be up pretty soon. And then going into the Royal Wedding. Any thoughts on the upcoming Royal Wedding? Will you watch it? Is there going to be a viewing party at the house?
[PB] Oh sure. No. No parties. The house is going to get dismantled with the collections inside and sold at other auctions, local auctions. Is moving to a warmer climate. You can’t take 4,000 square feet, sixteen rooms of art and antiques, definitely downsizing.
[NR] Right. Any bittersweet feelings about leaving the collection?
[PB] No. It’s just stuff. When you’re dead you can’t take it with you.
[NR] So what do you think people get wrong about the Duchess?
The Duchess’ Connection with Nazi Germany
[PB] It still goes with that Nazis… People accusing them being Nazi sympathizers and Nazi spies. That was so ridiculous. In these recent publications, it’s nothing more than speculation. Granted, you can’t chronicle every moment of someone’s life. For instance, there was a documentary called Britain’s Nazi King? with a question mark. It really slammed them and pointed out the FBI files on the Duke and Duchess. J. Edgar Hoover had files on everybody. Absolutely everyone. I have a copy of the files. There’s only a couple of things in there. And this documentary claims that the letters sent to J. Edgar Hoover accused them of being Nazi spies. Oh my!
Well, what you don’t hear is that there were only four letters. Two of them had return addresses, and the content was just ridiculous accusing them of being spies. And the other two letters, what you don’t hear is that they were hand-written. There were no return address. The handwriting was someone who was completely neurotic with bad grammar, misspelled words and the content was just madness. So the two letters that had return addresses, J. Edgar Hoover’s reply was simply, “Thank you for your letter.” There was no follow-up, nothing. There wasn’t anything there. The only other thing in the FBI files was an escorted tour of Quantico during the war when the Duke of Windsor was governor general of the Bahamas. He was there just to get advice on how to protect the Bahamas in the event of Nazi invasion. That’s it. I mean, some people want to make a great, big lied production out of something that was just so simple.
[NR] You have this passion for her. Did it predate moving into the neighborhood and – ?
[PB] No. I had to get an education as well.
[NR] Really? So it wasn’t that you grew up sort of interested in the – were you interested in the Royals
in general? Or just sort of –
[PB] A bit.
[NR] – came to you because of the connection, because of the proximity to her home.
[PB] Right. I’m no cultist. I don’t have candles under her portrait doing “woo, wah, ahhs.” I’ve got better things to do. It’s just a collection. It’s only stuff. And with the auction, it’ll be gone, and I’ll move on.
[NR] So we ask everyone before we sign off here on PreserveCast about their favorite historic building or place. And so we would love to hear from you before we sign off. What would would that be?
[PB] Without question, the Washington Monument and the parks that surround it. I’ve spent so much time there every year with Flower Mart and it’s just beautiful around there. And you know, the city, the state, they won’t allow developers to come in and tear it down like they allow them to tear everything else down. Anybody walks in with money, they’ll let anybody tear anything down. They just don’t care. But the parks, the monument are so beautiful. I spend a lot of time there. And I’ll plug the Flower Mart. Everybody should go to Flower Mart.
[NR] Yeah. Tell us what Flower Mart is. So for people who are listening who are from outside of the state, what is Flower Mart? How long has it been going? What’s been your involvement in that?
[PB] Flower Mart originated in 1911. And it’s a flower festival surrounding the Washington Monument, the first monument of Washington in Baltimore in the historic – premier historic – area. It’s been held consecutively since 1917. I mean even during World War I.
[NR] And II for that matter.
[PB] And World War II, it was run by the Women’s Civic League. And in 1999, a non-profit group took it over from the Women’s Civic League after 82 years, and that was the average age of the Women’s Civic League [laughter]. Bless their hearts. I love those ladies. But then they just couldn’t manage Flower Mart anymore.
[NR] So you manage it?
[PB] I’m am only committee chair for the dog show. Even though I’ve held a lot of hats down there, worn a lot of hats helping do this. And its an institution that really needs new blood and needs to be attended because it’s important. It’s fun. There’s lot to do. There’s very interesting things for everyone even for children. That the dog show is the biggest standing audience of any event down at Flower Mart.
[NR] And what kind of dogs are being shown at this? Has that been a part of it since the beginning as well?
[PB] No. It was invented. But it was fashioned after big dog shows, with agility events and we simplified it. Because people don’t want to stand on those cobblestones all day long or the dogs get antsy. So we simplified it into a simple little neighborhood destined show. We only had twenty contestants. But everybody got a gift bag. Sponsors are restaurants, and Pet Valu on Charles Street, a lot of places donate cash so we can buy things, toys and other treats for the [dogs]. Everything in these bags. The bags are wonderful. Even if they don’t win, they get a great gift bag full of squeak toys. Even elderly dogs will turn their head to a squeak.
[NR] So this isn’t your prototypical dog show? This is the community dog show, in a sense?
[PB] There’s first, second, third place. And the fourth place is congeniality like it’s some quirky little beauty pageant.
[NR] [laughter] So obviously, you have a passion there for the show as well for the Flower [Mart].
[PB] The only tradition in Baltimore that’s older than Flower Mart is the Preakness horse race.
[NR] Yeah, which kind of puts it in context. So I guess the Duchess, kind of pulling it full circle, do we know? Did she go to a Flower Mart?
[PB] I bet she did. She walked all over. She had walked down St.Paul Street to go to her school… Well, before she was boarding at Old Fields.
[NR] Full circle and a good way to wrap this up. Well, this is been fantastic and really illuminating and interesting to talk to someone who has so much passion about a piece of Baltimore history and beyond. And I appreciate all the good work that you’ve done in preserving and protecting that place. And I wish you all the best in the future. Thanks so much for joining us.
[PB] Thanks, I was glad to be here.
You don’t need to open a history book to find us. PreserveCast is available online from iTunes, the Google Play Store, and wherever else you download your podcasts, as well as on our website PreserveCast.org, where you can find a complete archive of all our previous episodes plus photo galleries and additional content. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter at PreserveCast.
This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service, and in partnership with the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
Our website is made possible by the Historic Preservation Education Foundation. This week’s episode was produced and engineered by me, Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band, Pretty Gritty. And most importantly, thank you for listening and preserving!