A Duke’s drive through the deep south

Duke's route

Route of the Windsors, through southern Georgia, outlined in black over a 1950 Georgia highway map. They exited a train at Nahunta and drove west to Pearson on US 82 before going south to Lakeland, then west to Thomasville on GA 122. The motorcade took all paved routes, a rarity in that section of the state.

King Edward VIII’s abdication of the British throne for Wallis Simpson caused considerable turmoil in December 1936.

It had played out over several months in a will he or won’t he scenario that finally ended when he made a late night journey by sea to France after he and his brothers signed the abdication document.

His successor, King George VI, was on the throne, but soon had the dual turmoil of World War II and the problem of What To Do with the Duke of Windsor. There were still headaches, but fewer of them, when the Duke was posted to the Bahamas.

Time did not dim the appeal, though, of the idea of a King who gave up his throne for love.

In 1940, Elbert County sent out an invitation to the Duke and Duchess to attend the county’s 150th anniversary.

Considering his Bahamas obligations, the chance was nil that they would be able to appear, even if appearing in Elberton was high on their list.

The Elberton Star reported a letter sent back said, “The Duke and Duchess desire to thank you for your kind letter of welcome and offer of hospitality but much regret that duties will entail his remaining on these island[s] for a considerable length of time.”

Elbert County was thrilled to just get an official decline.

“The receipt of this letter and the fact that His Royal Highness saw fit to acknowledge the invitation is an exceedingly great honor, not only for Mr. [celebration director N.M.] Nelson but for the people of the country and state as well.”

Following the war, the Windsors – who married in 1937 – lived mostly a jet-set life, traveling frequently to New York.

In 1950, they took a break from New York to visit George Baker and the Horseshoe Plantation near Tallahassee, Fla., and the area buzzed with excitement for the precious few hours that an ex-King and his love would breathe the same air they breathed.

The Duke and Duchess were also in Tallahassee in January 1947, but that venture into the deep south did not capture the attention in Georgia of that in 1950.

The 1950 trek through the piney woods drew plenty of eyes. Apparently, one Sunday newspaper printed the route.

Dr. W.H. Howell, a pharmacist in Lakeland, told the Lanier County News that he was able to predict the time His Grace would be passing through town, based on that account. Howell was said to be just five minutes off that guess when the entourage rolled through.

The newspaper that published the route has yet to be discovered. Few south Georgia newspapers printed Sunday editions and it was not in the Savannah Morning News or Tallahassee Democrat.

The Windsors’ car trip began when they exited the train in Nahunta at 8:15 a.m. From there, they drove through Waycross, Pearson, Lakeland, Hahira and Thomasville before reaching Tallahassee.

The route was apparently changed late. The Valdosta Daily Times seemed to think the Windsors would be going through their town.

Instead, they turned west at Lakeland instead of going further south. Valdosta’s press quickly headed for Hahira when they learned of the change from Chris Trizonis of the Georgia State Highway Patrol, which escorted the Windsors through the state.

The cars apparently only stopped once after Nahunta – in Hahira, where they spoke to the Valdosta Daily Times.

A big crowd greeted them in Nahunta.

Douglas Enterprise editor Thomas Frier summed it up well in his account from February 2:

“Since it’s not every day that a Georgia Cracker gets to see a former King of England, we were all up for the trip.”

AT NAHUNTA, people were said to gather at the station from “Waycross, Nahunta, Jacksonville [Fla., presumably], Brunswick, Douglas, Blackshear, Hoboken and other towns.”

Also in attendance were Frier and Laurie Lee Sparrow, the latter from the Waycross Journal-Herald.

1950-01-30 Waycross Journal-Herald (Duchess of Windsor)

The Duchess of Windsor (Jan. 30, 1950 Waycross Journal-Herald)

Sparrow made special notice to describe the clothing of both:

The Duchess wore a Balanciaga wool suit of blue and red plaid. The Duchess said it was made in Paris.

He was clad in a “tweed suit and camel’s hair topcoat.” The Duke wore no hat, but did carry a pipe.

Further, Sparrow said, “No camera has ever done justice to the flawless skin, beautiful eyes, hair and beautiful figure of the Duchess.”

“In our opinion,” said Frier, “the Duchess is even more lovely than she has been described. She is as gracious in manner as she is beautiful.”

Sparrow and Frier were not the only ones gaga over the Duchess of Windsor. Mrs. George Brantley of Blackshear said the Duchess’ eyes were “gorgeous.”

The Journal-Herald gave the Duchess camellias, as did Beta Sigma Phi members. The Duke carried the box from the Beta Sigma Phis.

The Duke of Windsor took time to admire the scenery.

He asked what type of industry the area had. He had noticed a sawmill along the way. The Duchess, a Baltimore native, told the crowd that she liked hearing southern voices again.

Frier was amazed that they were indeed real, living people.

“What impressed us most about the former British monarch and his wife was their friendly and democratic attitude. There was no aloofness on the part of either as they amiably chatted with reporters and others gathered around the train.”

1950-01-30 Waycross Journal-Herald (Duke of Windsor)

Duke of Windsor (Jan. 30, 1950 Waycross Journal-Herald)

The luggage – estimated by Sparrow as being 60 pieces – was eventually loaded up and the three-car entourage sped away on Georgia Highway 50 towards Waycross.

AT PEARSON, the view was brief at 10 a.m., but noted on the front page of The Pearson Tribune.

Pearson folks smiled and waved at the Windsors and the gesture was returned.

IN LAKELAND, the motorcade rolled through at 10:25 a.m.

The Lanier County News watched the state patrol car followed by the Windsors in a station wagon. A jeep carried the luggage.

1950-02-02 Douglas Enteprise (Windsors)

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess is carrying camellias presented to her while the Duke is far left in the background. (Feb. 2, 1950 Douglas Enterprise)

BERRIEN COUNTY’S border was brushed, but the Nashville Herald made no mention of any celebrity visits.

ONE MILE EAST OF HAHIRA, the car stopped again at 10:45 a.m. to allow for Betty Wilkison of the Valdosta Daily Times and a photographer to get their story.

More camellias followed. Mrs. Lamar Wilson of the Daily Times pinned a Valdosta one, an Alba Piena Camellia, on the Duchess’ suit.

The Duchess, said Wilkison, “spoke with a pleasing accent and the congenial smile on her lips and in her eyes never left for a split second.”

He grinned at the flash bulb going off, remarking, “Those things are nearly as dangerous as an “A” Bomb or Hydrogen Bomb, aren’t they?”

The Duke took the time to nod at highway workers. They were impressed.

BROOKS COUNTY AND THOMASVILLE somehow missed the couple coming through.

The Times-Enterprise borrowed Valdosta’s report, adding a few notes about the Horseshoe Plantation, but nothing else about the ride through the city before entering Florida.

Sources: Elberton Star, Oct. 8, 1940; The Valdosta Daily Times Jan. 30, 1950; Waycross Journal-Herald, Jan. 30, 1950; Thomasville Times-Enterprise, Jan. 31, 1950; Lanier County News, Feb. 2, 1950; The Douglas Enterprise, Feb. 2, 1950; The Pearson Tribune, Feb. 2, 1950; Official Map: Georgia State Highway System, 1950. The Brantley Enterprise declined to write an original account, instead borrowing that of the Journal-Herald.

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