THROUGHOUT THE years there have been many distinguished visitors at
St. Olaf artists, authors, statesmen, leaders in church and state-to
whom I was privileged to serve as hostess. Among these, just to mention
a few, were Kirsten Flagstad, Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, Ambassador to
Norway at the time of the invasion, Eunice Hilton, Betsy Kjellsberg,
Christopher Morley, Robert Taft, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Haile Selassie.
Through the generosity of the Maude and Louis Hill Family Foundation,
several Minnesota colleges were enabled for several years to secure
as guest lecturer an outstanding authority in his field whom we otherwise
could not have afforded to invite to our campuses. Those who came to
St. Olaf spent six weeks with us, February and half of March. Several
of the men were accompanied by their wives. It was not easy to find
housing in Northfield for a six-weeks period at that time of the year.
When this program was started I had already built my little home at
30 Lincoln Lane and so was privileged to rent my house to the college
for these guests during their stay at St. Olaf. Two of the speakers
stayed in guest rooms at the college. The other three with their wives
lived at my house. I myself moved up to the guest room in Hilleboe Hall
during the time and thoroughly enjoyed these six weeks with the seniors
in their dormitory.
Dr. and Mrs. J. S. Whale from England were the first to occupy my house.
The next year it was Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Compton, and lastly Dr. and
Mrs. Buckminster Fuller. It was a wonderful privilege for St. Olaf to
have these men on the staff and for students and faculty alike to get
to know both lecturers and their wives personally. Many opportunities
were provided in small discussion groups for such personal contacts.
John Mason Brown and Dr. George Cressy were the other two St. Olaf Hill
Senator Robert Taft visited Northfield September 7, 1939. I was informed
by Herman Roe of the Northfield "News" of his presence in
Northfield and that the following day was his 50th birthday. Hurriedly
a little pre-birthday party was arranged for him in Agrees Mellby Hall
with cake, candles, and all. The guests were not many, but included
Herman Roe, Congressman August Andresen, President L. W. Boe, Arthur
Lee, J. Jorgen Thompson, and Lyndon King of Minneapolis, a Yale classmate
of Mr. Taft. The cake was inscribed "Happy Birthday . . . 50 .
. . Taft for President."
One year we had as a guest speaker Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who addressed
the students on the work of the Human Rights Committee of the United
Nations. She was housed in Hilleboe Hall. The Student Senate was in
charge of hospitality for her and her secretary, and the members got
a real thrill out of breakfasting with them in the Hilleboe Hall Lounge.
One of our alumni, Joseph Simonson, served as the U. S. Ambassador
to Ethiopia for four years (1953-1957). He became well-acquainted with
Emperor Haile Selassie. On the Emperor's visit to the U.S. in the summer
of 1954, arrangements were made by Ambassador Simonson for the Emperor
to visit the campus for a couple of hours.
A glamorous tea table was set in Agrees Mellby Hall living room with
an eager group of hostesses ready to serve the Emperor and his party
on their arrival. Outside the building, college and city officials walked
about to be on hand to receive the distinguished visitors. When the
time set for their arrival came and there was no sign of the party,
there was some anxiety on the part of the awaiting hosts. After some
half hour's delay, however, after having circled Carleton and met President
Laurence Gould and other Carleton College officers, the colorful procession
came up St. Olaf Avenue accompanied by the Minnesota National Guard
and the highway patrol. It was of course a delightful experience to
meet the Emperor, and his aides, together with other Ethiopian governmental
officials. With a friendly wave from all of us, the group was off again
for its next destination after their hour-and-a-half visit at St. Olaf.
But it was the visit of Crown Prince Olav (now King Olav) and Crown
Princess Martha, May 7th and 8th, 1939, that was the most exciting of
all. The whole college was involved in preparation for their arrival.
They and their party were to be housed in Agnes Mellby Hall, completed
just a year previously. The entire first floor was turned over to the
royal party. The students who occupied the rooms on first floor vacated
them and moved in with friends living on the floors above. Mrs. Rygh,
the housemother, and I moved up to second floor to the room at the head
of the stairway. Since this was the first year that Agnes Mellby Hall
was occupied, there were a number of friends of the college who planned
to make this an occasion to see both the building and the royal party
at the same time. But this was to be distinctly a St. Olaf College visit
by their Royal Highnesses. This information was widely broadcast, and
at the same time the announcement was made that the royal party would
be in Minneapolis on their return trip from the West Coast and that
that meeting was open to the general public.
The personal maids and the valets arrived two hours before the rest
of the party. They looked over the quarters, unpacked baggage, and hung
up clothes. I noticed with interest that the first thing they did was
to put large photographs of the children on the dressers.
The living room in the quarters of the Dean of Women was turned over
to the Prince and Princess to serve as their private retreat. The Princess
slept in the adjoining bedroom and the Prince in the room just off the
lobby (now the guest room). The rest of the party was housed in the
two first floor student sections with the Chamberlain, Major Nicolai
Ramm Oestgaard, and the Lady-in-waiting, Mrs. Oestgaard, occupying the
room closest to the Crown Prince and Princess. The students had cleared
one closet in each room for the guests, made up the beds with fresh
linen, put out soap and towels, and had done what they could to make
the accommodations as much like those provided in a home as possible.
A detachment of the Minnesota National Guard under the command of Adjutant
General Ellard Walsh was sent to the campus. Two guards were stationed
at each door of the dormitory and others at strategic places about the
campus. No visitors were allowed in the dormitory, no fond parents or
curiosity seekers. During the period of the visit, there was always
one senior student resident at each door to identify to the state troopers
the residents as they went in and out of the building. Next to having
the Crown Prince and Princess as their housemates, the girls experienced
their greatest thrill in having the doors swung open for them by a national
guardsman. That was royal treatment for them.
The royal party arrived about five o'clock after first having been
greeted by Northfield citizens and officials at Bridge Square. Students,
faculty, staff, and guests were gathered in front of the Finseth band
stand to receive them with the college band providing appropriate music.
After a welcome by President Boe, Sigvald Holden spoke in Norwegian
on behalf of the student body and flowers were presented to the Crown
Princess by Kathryn Jorgenson.
After the reception at the band stand, the members of the party were
assigned their rooms and given an opportunity to rest before dinner.
Our visitors had expressed the wish that they could see as normal a
sample of college life as possible. So the party ate in Ytterboe Hall
dining room with the freshmen and were served a typical Sunday dinner,
the only variation being that it was served at night instead of at noon.
At 8:15 p.m. there was a concert by the St. Olaf choir in the Gymnasium
which was followed by a gala reception for faculty, staff, and guests
in the Agnes Mellby living room with refreshments served in the recreation
room. The next morning a late breakfast was served in their private
living room to the Crown Prince and Princess and to Mr. and Mrs. Oestgaard,
prepared by some of the home economics seniors in the advanced food
class. Wishing to use whatever local products were available, they included
with the customary breakfast of grapefruit, toast, bacon and eggs, and
coffee, Northfield's Malt-O-Meal cereal. It was apparently a novelty
to the guests to be served porridge for breakfast.
The big event of the day was the morning convocation in the college
gymnasium at which the Crown Prince was awarded an honorary doctor's
degree from St. Olaf. Large American and Norwegian flags were in place
at the rear of the platform. All the dignitaries involved including
General Ellard Walsh were seated in an impressive semicircle. Everything
was proper and formal. The greetings and speeches were given; the Crown
Prince was at the lectern giving his response. Then came the never-to-be-forgotten
incident that has become a cherished story in the annals of St. Olaf.
Beloved Dr. C. A. Mellby, whose traditional fidgeting and often unconscious
movements had brought his chair to the edge of the platform, toppled
backward, chair and all, and disappeared from sight.
It was like a bomb shell. Breathless silence in the entire assembly!
On the platform startled expressions. The general jumped to his feet,
and then from behind the curtain the chair slid onto the platform with
Dr. Mellby in it calmly polishing his glasses. Mr. John Berntsen had
been behind the platform, caught the chair, and pushed it back into
place. That broke the ice; a cheer went through the audience before
calm was restored. President Boe said, "No one but Dr. Mellby could
have removed the stiff formality of the occasion so ingeniously and
gotten by with it so graciously."
Crown Princess Martha had been ordered to rest as much as possible
on this trip and not to make any public speeches. The Crown Prince had
been invited to a luncheon given by a group of doctors and lawyers in
Rochester. Princess Martha had felt it necessary to decline the invitation
to be the guest of the Rochester ladies. After a luncheon with the women
members of the party in the little dining room in Mohn Hall, she rested
for awhile and then with her lady-in-waiting went out to inspect the
campus at leisure. They even went over to the dairy barn to see the
Holsteins. Her husband was much interested in the development of herds
on some of his holdings in Norway. On her return she laughingly said
that she had learned something new about cattle care, that cows were
entertained with radio music and she wondered whether that helped produce
more milk. Apparently the herdsman had a radio in the barn for his own
Upon her return from her campus walk, coffee was served the women members
of the party together with college hostesses. After a short rest the
lady-in-waiting, Mrs. Oestgaard, told me that their next stop was the
Grand Canyon. She said that Princess Martha had noticed the comfortable-looking
shoes that the college girls wore, that her high-heeled shoes were unfit
for any walking around at the canyon and wondered if someone could go
with them to buy more suitable footwear. It was arranged that the President
of the Women's Student Government Association, Ruth Borge, should be
their escort. The store they entered didn't look too prepossessing for
the windows were practically covered with sales advertising. But the
women found the shoes they wanted. Each bought a pair. The next day
the windows of Sletten's shoe store were cleared, and in full view was
a chair on which was placed a pair of shoes with a placard stating that
this was the kind of shoe bought by Princess Martha and her lady-in-waiting.
The store was immediately sold out of shoes of that style.
The living room and foyer of Agnes Mellby Hall served as the general
gathering place for the members of the party and college and other official
personnel and visitors. The press, local, Twin City, Norwegian-American
and Norwegian, was in constant evidence, with reporters, interviewers,
and photographers. It was interesting to observe that when Prince Olav
was interviewed he always seemed to want Princess Martha near enough
so that she could hear both questions and the answers he gave, and make
any additional comments she might judge appropriate. She impressed us
as a very keen-minded person.
Whenever Prince Olav spoke either to a large assembly or at smaller
groups or in giving expression of appreciation for one thing or another,
he always included her so the phrase "The Crown Princess and I"
became a familiar one. Both of them were most delightful guests and
in every way displayed both the dignity and the charm associated in
our minds with the terms "Prince" and "Princess."