Long an American citizen, Grant Ross still, and unashamedly, felt a tear welling up when he heard Queen Elizabeth II had died on Sept. 8.
The genial Scotsman, general manager of the Black Bass Hotel in Lumberville, felt an even deeper pull on his emotions as later he watched on television the queen’s funeral cortege travel through the Scottish countryside from Balmoral Castle to Edinburgh.
“I grew up near Dundee, and I recognized the villages and roads as the procession passed through. She was our queen. She was all I knew,” Ross said. “I was 10 years old on her 25th anniversary and I recall the street parties — and I was in Edinburgh during her 50th.”
He said he worked at a hotel near Kensington Palace then and he recalls sharpshooters going up on to the roof as part of the security measures.
This transplanted Scotsman oversaw the restoration of the Black Bass, when the late Jack Thompson bought it 14 years ago. There, he is surrounded by royal memorabilia collected and displayed at the hotel by a previous owner, Herbert Ward, who was an Anglophile. The collection bounces off walls throughout the hotel and circles the bar.
Ross, a natural storyteller, delights in sharing with guests bits of the history of the British Isles, with emphasis on Scotland, of course.
“She chose to die there,” he said proudly, and he is careful to point out the Scottish symbol on the giant royal coat of arms that dominates a stone wall.
“Mr. Ward was independently wealthy, related to the Scott paper and Kellogg families, and I suppose he had contacts in England who got these things for him,” Ross said.
The hotel, built in the 1740s, was a popular place for those with Tory sentiments during the American Revolution. Legend has it when George Washington was commander and chief of the Continental Army, the innkeeper, whose loyalties lay with the Crown, refused him lodging and sent him on his way.
The hotel’s memorabilia collection includes memorial plates and mugs and other curios plastered with royal faces in glass-fronted cabinets in the restaurant’s bar.
The display is arranged by date, starting from the Victorian Age at the left and going right up to the time of William and Kate, now Prince and Princess of Wales, and Harry and Megan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and their children.
For me, the most eye-catching of the memorabilia is a tiny coronation procession encased in glass above the famous pewter bar once owned by Maxim’s of Paris. The procession is composed of miniature hand-carved wooden figures, soldiers clad in their distinctive red coats and bearskin caps, horses, a coach, even a woman riding side-saddle.
Ross said he did not know whose coronation it was supposed to be, but he was truly impressed by the attention to detail and workmanship in each of the pieces. He said, “The soldier’s arms even move.” The little procession stretches across seven feet.
I have been to the Black Bass several times and those little soldiers were what I remembered seeing. It proves the British really know how to do pageantry — even if it’s just a miniature version.
I also recall being told by a very reliable source when I was a young reporter that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the exiled King Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson) had been guests at the hotel. They lived in Paris then but were free to roam the world with the exception of the British isles.
The collection was even larger when Ward owned the hotel, Ross said, but portraits of kings, George III and Charles II, his long curls trailing over his ceremonial garb, remain as does a giant royal coat of arms.
One of Ross’s favorite portraits of Queen Elizabeth II is a print of an original painting by an American artist. He posed the queen, a truly beautiful young woman, against a background of swirling, angry storm clouds.
Ross said: “She was an outstanding ambassador in a very troubled time — the collapse of an empire, family issues and more. People have forgotten the Falkland War, but she stood firm. She was remarkable. If American politicians could absolutely conduct themselves with the same kind of courage and dignity, we’d all be in a better place.”