The City of New York has hosted hundreds of distinguished individuals and groups, from heads of state to accomplished athletes. The art of a New York City reception was the brainchild of public relations guru Grover A. Whalen, who served as the Chairman of the Mayor’s Reception Committee from 1917-1953. Whalen’s work is recorded in thousands of photographs and other materials, including scrapbooks, ephemera, and correspondence, and is preserved here at the Municipal Archives.
Whalen’s collection chronicles how New York City received guests from around the world. While relatively joyous in tone, I couldn’t help but notice a common denominator amongst many of the City’s guests, especially in the post-World War II era. A pattern of misfortune, if you will, worth exploring. This series, Doomed Guests, will offer a glimpse of once-distinguished guests of the City of New York and the tragedies that befell them afterward.
Faisal II, The “Boy King” Of Iraq
Faisal II, the last King of Iraq, assumed the crown in 1939 at just three years old, after his father was killed in a mysterious car accident. Since Faisal was underage, his uncle, Abdul Ilah, was appointed as regent. Faisal spent most of his youth outside the country and became close friends with his second cousin, the future King Hussein of Jordan. It wasn’t until after his New York City visit that he ruled in his own right.
Events of Visit
At age 17, King Faisal and an entourage traveled to the United States for a five week tour in August 1952. Stops included: Detroit, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Florence (Alabama), and Fort Knox, and of course, New York.
The young King planned to visit American development projects – agriculture, power projects, canal systems and land reclamation schemes. Water development and irrigation projects were of particular interest. Irrigation is “very much needed in our country,” Faisal told the press in New York, and “one of the most important problems of Iraq.”
If you went strictly by the press coverage, you’d never know Faisal was here for any reason other than to see a baseball game. Even the customary City Hall reception, hosted by Chairman Whalen and Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri, was cut short so that the King could get to the game on time.
Faisal was quick to emphasize the merits of baseball over its British counterpart – cricket. As he bluntly put it: “Cricket is too slow.” Baseball, on the other hand, was praised for several reasons: “First, the power they show when they hit homers. Second, the marvelous speed of the players in fielding and running. And last, their amazing dexterity.”
And what was Faisal’s favorite team? Why, the Brooklyn Dodgers, of course! Luckily, his stay in New York coincided with a game between crosstown rivals the Dodgers and New York Giants at Ebbets Field in Flatbush (Dodgers won, 5-4). Faisal was given a tour of the field (“Who are these men?” asked Faisal, pointing across the field, to which he got the reply, “Those are the hated Giants.”) and taken to the Dodgers’ dugout where he met Jackie Robinson and Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen.
Taking in the game from the cushy seats of team owner Walter O’Malley, Faisal goofed up when he smiled at O’Malley after Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit a home run. Undoubtedly a smile meant to reassure, rather than antagonize, “Kid Faisal” learned his lesson about how seriously New Yorkers take their baseball and their rivalries. Thomson’s home run hit out of the park was a little too similar to his hit off the Dodgers that clinched the National League championship the previous October. This was explained to Faisal, to which one of his aides sagely replied back, “Maktoob,” an Arabic saying that means, “It is written!” (It should be emphasized how headline-worthy this story was, with headlines such as, “King Lets Dodgers Down With a Smile,” “Young King Boots One - Ethics of Ebbets Field are Violated by Faisal,” and “King of Iraq Muffs One at the Ball Game”.)
In other activities, news reports described the King as a keen photographer, which he exhibited during a four-hour boat ride around Manhattan, hosted by Lt. Gen. Willis D. Crittenberger, Commander of the First Army. The New York Times wrote: “It is more than likely that the young King will become a temporary member of the White House corps of camera men. He is Iraq’s No. 1 photographer...” He used an Army Polaroid Land camera, “which produces a print one minute after the shutter is tripped.”
During an interview broadcast to his constituents by the Arabic unit at Voice of America, his interviewer informally addressed him by his first name, and then explained to the listeners in Iraq that Americans weren’t really“Your Majesty” types, but thought complimentarily of Faisal as “a regular guy.”
Served at a luncheon at the St. Regis, the roof was totally redecorated for a lunch in the King’s honor. A sunken garden had been installed in the restaurant the night before, featuring $5,000 worth of flowers. Mosul kobah “a la Bakr,” the famous meat pie originated in the city of Mosul was served (prepared by the wife of Abdullah Bakr, Charge d’Affaires of Iraq in Washington).
Less than a year after Faisal’s trip to the United States, he became old enough to rule Iraq in his own right. His reign would only last five years.
The monarchy’s end was quite similar to the regicide of the Russian Tsarist autocracy in 1917. On July 14, 1958, a coup d’état, orchestrated by officers who called themselves the “Free Officers” (inspired by the Egyptian Free Officers who overthrew the Egyptian Monarchy in 1952), raided the Qasr al-Zuhur (Palace of Roses) and directed the royal family to the courtyard, under the pretense that a helicopter would pick them up. Instead, they were lined up, facing the palace walls, and machine-gunned. Among the dead were Faisal; Abdul Ilah; Princess Nafeesa, Abdul Ilah’s mother; Princess Abadiya, Faisal’s aunt; and Princess Hiyam, Abdul Ilah’s wife. Mob mentality ensued and took over Baghdad; Faisal and Abdul Ilah’s bodies were dragged through the streets and hung outside the Ministry of Defense as evidence that Iraq had been liberated from its Western ties.
Thus ends the story of one of our Doomed Guests: Faisal II, the last King of Iraq.
Iraq’s political history (especially from the early to mid-20th century) is fascinating stuff and I highly recommend exploring the subject further. For a straightforward overview, check out The Iraq War: Origins and Consequences by James DeFronzo and this synopsis on the 1958 Iraqi Revolution, written by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Both were great resources in writing this post. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are from the Grover A. Whalen papers, NYC Municipal Archives.
Faisal Fatigued by Hike: Cancels Chicago Appearances After 8-Mile Walk in Detroit. (1952, August 21). The New York Times, p. 21.
Faisal II of Iraq to Arrive Today: 17-Year-Old King, on His First Trip Here, Will Tour U. S. and Visit the President. (1952, August 12). The New York Times, p. 4.
Faisal Pilots Boat on Harbor Tour, Shows Proficiency With a Camera. (1952, August 16). The New York Times, CI(34,538), p. 17.
King Faisal of Iraq Here for 5 Weeks. (1952, August 13). Somerset Daily American, p. 1.
King Faisal of Iraq Here for U. S. Tour. (1952, August 13). The New York Times, p. 1.
King Faisal, in Washington, Sees Truman: Faisal in Capital; Guest of Truman. (1952, August 17). The New York Times, p. 1.
King Lets Dodgers Down With a Smile. (1952, August 14). The Kingston Daily Freeman, p. 16.
King of Iraq Muffs One at the Ball Game: Faisal Fascinated by Giants, Dodgers. (1952, August 14). The New York Times, p. 1.
Weary King Visits Jersey Refinery: Faisal Starts Day With $1.40 Tour of Radio City -- Attends Luncheon and Sees Play. (1952, August 15). The New York Times, p. 12.
Young King Boots One. (1952, August 14). The Kansas City Times, p. 11.
DeFronzo, J. (2009). The Iraq War: Origins and Consequences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Retrieved March 15, 2017
Kouyoumjian, A. (2007, March 24). Iraq may need what it once had -- a constitutional monarchy. Seattle P-I. Retrieved from http://www.seattlepi.com/local/opinion/article/Iraq-may-need-what-it-once-had-a-1231769.php
Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History: The Iraqi Revolution — of 1958. (n.d.). Retrieved from Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training: http://adst.org/2014/07/the-iraqi-revolution-of-1958/