“There was a reason for the protocol faux pas,” Hugo wrote to me in an email. “I had somehow managed to get a large grease spot on my bright orange tie that I did not want the queen to see.”
Hugo, who now lives in Columbia, Md., contacted me after reading last week’s column about the three new bells cast in the Netherlands that will take their place — probably next year — in the restored carillon. While the bells were installed in their permanent home near Arlington National Cemetery in 1960, they had been shipped over years earlier. (For a while, they were erected in the polo field in West Potomac Park.)
The same 1952 Times-Herald article that ran Hugo’s photo noted that Queen Juliana handed the smallest carillon bell to President Harry S. Truman, whereupon the president remarked it would “probably find its way into the hands of a young lady,” referring to his daughter, Margaret.
Impossible, said Diederik Oostdijk, author of the book “Bells for America: The Cold War, Modernism, and the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington.”
While it’s true that Juliana was supposed to hand the bell over, on the day of the ceremony no one could find it.
“It was accidentally delivered at the ambassador’s residence instead of the embassy itself, so on April 4 with more than 8,000 people in attendance, the queen had to improvise, and — using her hands to cover an imagined bell — mimed the passing of the gift to Truman,” Oostdijk wrote in an email.
“No one reported the gaffe, and I think the audience couldn’t see properly what was happening,” he added. “The bell was found days later, and was at the [Dutch] embassy for decades.”
Oostdijk is a professor of English and American literature at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam.
“I stumbled upon the carillon when visiting Arlington National Cemetery with American friends in 1997,” he said. “I had majored in American Studies and felt I knew a lot about Dutch history, but the carillon was completely unknown to me.”
Oostdijk’s book, published last year by the Pennsylvania State University Press, recounts the bumpy ride of the Netherlands Carillon. In Washington, nothing that big and prominent is without controversy.
There was controversy in the Netherlands, too. Some Dutch politicians, Oostdijk said, felt uncomfortable bestowing a gift meant to symbolize peace and international cooperation at a time when the United States was fighting a new war, in Korea. And the carillon’s first architect was jettisoned after worries that his early dalliances with communism might irritate political hawks in the United States.
Said Oostdijk: “The Netherlands and the United States had to reinvent themselves after World War II, and the carillon became a metaphor for that new relationship.”
Just as with then-new institutions such as NATO and the United Nations, a carillon, Oostdijk said, is an instrument where large bells (countries) and small bells (countries) have to chime in to create harmony.
In addition to the three newly cast bells, the carillon’s 50 old bells are getting a tuneup to make them sound better. Oostdijk thinks this is a great lesson for these times: “It’s important to strive for harmony, but not to forget the dissonant notes of the past.”
If you’ve driven past Arlington National Cemetery recently, you may have noticed what looks like a cellphone tower in front of Arlington House. What is it? Robert E. Lee’s former home is getting a renovation, but it wouldn’t seem to need such a large scaffolding.
Well, the Arlington House flagpole is getting repainted and its finial regilded. The scaffolding is to give workers access to the flag staff.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.