Editor’s Note: The articles in this series are the result of months of research in state and national archives, on Kauai, on the Big Island and in Honolulu, and within the Washingtoniana collection at Martin Luther King Jr. Library and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Key resources include congressional testimony, hearings and historical newspaper collections. 

In 1903, Mr. Kalanianaole went to Washington.

Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, the newly elected territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress, was a brown man moving to a segregated white city.

He would be taking on an often-thankless job at which he had little apparent chance of success and where detractors back home — both the planter aristocracy and Native Hawaiians still in shock over the turn of political events — would disparage his efforts and seek to undermine him.

The outcome depended entirely on how competently he navigated the murky waters of Washington. Hawaii was not a state at the time but a territory of the United States, so as its delegate Kuhio was allowed to introduce legislation and could enter the floor of Congress to make speeches, but did not have an actual vote.

That meant that his political victories would depend on convincing others, including people who knew nothing about Hawaii, to vote for legislation he sponsored.

Hawaii’s four congressional delegates today — Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and House members Ed Case and the newly arrived Jill Tokuda — have the right to vote now because Kuhio laid the groundwork for Hawaii to become a state. Its status as a state helps them channel money here, and they  issue regular press releases about how well they are doing for Hawaii’s residents.

Old Ebbitt Hotel
Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole was said to have spent his first night in Washington, D.C., at the famous Old Ebbitt Hotel. DC Public Library, People's Archive, Historic Image Collection

But, back in 1903 and lacking a vote, Kuhio needed a network of new allies to make that happen. He would need a place to live. He would need to learn how Congress operates, and all the related government agencies as well, to find ways to get federal funding ordinarily directed to states but not to territories.

Nothing about it was easy.

Getting to Washington in those days was grueling. It is almost 5,000 miles from Honolulu to Washington, D.C., or about a fifth of the way around the globe. It took six days by steamship from Honolulu to San Francisco, and then, after a brief stopover, another six days by rail, according to a surviving trip itinerary at the Hawaii State Archives.

If he was lucky and all went well, it would take about two weeks until he was pulling up in a horse and buggy outside his hotel.

Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole
Kuhio was photographed in Auckland, New Zealand, while he was on a world tour in 1901, the year before he was elected as a territorial delegate representing Hawaii. Wikimedia Commons/1901

Kuhio, who deeply loved the pleasures of Hawaii, would be stuck in Washington for long months at a time, in the gray sodden rains of early spring, the bitter cold of winter and the sweltering, smothering heat of Washington summers in an era before air conditioning.

Even today with modern jet travel, the 5,000-mile commute from Hawaii to Washington, D.C., is a logistical challenge. Former Rep. Kai Kahele, who lives in Hilo, found it hard to juggle the schedule, tweeting out to his followers about his long commute in the weeks before he stepped down.

Kuhio made the much slower journey back and forth for 19 years, because he was reelected 10 times.

One major thing was on his side: Public sentiment.

From the beginning, he was an historic anomaly and a media sensation — a royal prince, who grew up in a palace, who became a Washington power player.

In 1903 alone, more than 5,700 newspaper articles across the county talked about him or ran feature stories on him, according to a recent search of a historical newspaper database. Some 534 articles about him appeared in Kansas that year, for example, and 382 in Nebraska.

Readers were drawn to accounts of his dapper likability, outgoing personality, ready wit and even his growing reputation for engaging in physical fights to right wrongs.

This made him a celebrity in Washington and was a distinct social advantage. His own colorful history as a veteran of battlefield combat against the Boers and his marriage to his beautiful wife Elizabeth, made him an attraction.

He turned social meetings into strong and genuine friendships with allies who helped him do things for Hawaii.

“He was so lovable, so charismatic, that people flocked to him,” said Native Hawaiian educator Ku Kahakalau, who has studied Kuhio’s life. “They wanted to be his friend.”

Congressional historians a century after his death still waxed rhapsodic in writing about him.

“His was the stuff of romantic adventure novels like the ‘Prisoner of Zenda’, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ or ‘The Riddle of the Sands,’” wrote a congressional historian in a blog post in 2014.

But to survive in Washington at the time, Kuhio had to suffer a million small indignities, starting with the loss of  his actual name.

The Baird House, Washington DC
The home of ornithologist Spencer Baird, who had a collection of stuffed birds may be the source of the nickname Kuhio gave his home there, the “Bird’s Nest.” DC Public Library, People's Archive, Historic Image Collection

Stymied by the multi-syllable surname, Kalanianaole, American reporters instead grabbed the jazzy nickname from his youth and called him “Prince Cupid.”

In official Washington, meanwhile, “Kuhio” almost immediately became the preferred usage. That’s because the most powerful man in America, President Teddy Roosevelt, said that “Kalanianaole” was too hard to say and basically forced him to use his middle name instead.

“I shall not call him ‘Prince Cupid,’ and I cannot pronounce his last name,” Roosevelt said, according to a news report in the Boston Daily Globe on Nov. 29, 1903. “I never should be able to remember it, anyhow. Can’t we cut it off and make it simpler?”

Kuhio had to smile and accept it, but it must have been infuriating to have an arrogant man who had participated in taking over his country now taking his name as well.

“If I had my way we would annex those islands tomorrow,” Roosevelt had written to American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan on May 3, 1897, even before the Spanish-American War decided the question.

Equally interesting, however, is that many of his congressional colleagues referred to him, with surprising deference, as ‘The Prince”.

It would have been understandable for Kuhio to fall into being embittered and indignant, but that would have made him less effective. He was a realist, and also fundamentally “a man of aloha, who didn’t get into the rancor,” according to historian Davianna Pomaikai McGregor, professor of ethnic studies at University of Manoa.

Instead he adopted a posture that suited the mood of hyper-patriotric expansionist America. He embraced his new Americanism and took every opportunity to underscore Hawaiian loyalty to the United States.

Maybe he actually came to believe it himself.

Creating An Exoticism

Making allies was what Kuhio did best. He had been groomed for it as a prince and he was a consummate diplomat. He soon began building an extensive support network, throwing lavish parties, hosting poker games, being a genial companion at golf outings and an enthusiastic fan at horse races and baseball games.

That meant that he needed to have a place where he could entertain. It’s long been a mystery where Kuhio lived during his 19 years in Washington.

Congressional historians have no record of it and to answer the question, they refer to a biography of him written in 1980 by Lori Kuulei Kamae, which she researched in Hawaii. She described Kuhio as living in Washington in the penthouse of a 14-story building near Pershing Square in a place she said he called the “Bird’s Nest,” leaving no footnotes to say where she got the information.

Dewey Hotel, Washington DC
Prince Kuhio lived in the luxury Dewey Hotel between 1906 and 1916, according to D.C. directories. Courtesy: Collection of John DeFerrari

That’s probably not correct. By law, buildings in Washington, D.C., can’t be taller than 12 stories because of the outcry over a 14-story structure built in 1894 criticized as an over-large monstrosity and a fire risk.

There also was no Pershing Square in 1903, because it was a monument to Gen. Jack Pershing, a military hero in World War I, a conflict which had not yet occurred when Kuhio moved to Washington.

That means looking back into historical records in Washington, D.C.

Kuhio’s options were limited by race restrictions that were common at the turn of the century. Beautiful suburbs with fine homes were being built in upscale communities like Chevy Chase and Bethesda but non-whites were blocked from buying there. That’s a fact that has been known for a long time, but recent computer-aided statistical analysis has illuminated how widespread the bans were: Almost half of the new developments had racial covenants in their purchase deeds that banned anyone with “negro blood” or “not of the Caucasian race.”

Schools and parks were also segregated by race, in a city where 30% of the population was Black.

Historical newspaper accounts from those years and a review of 20 years of vintage telephone directories in the archives of the Martin Luther King Jr. library in D.C. shed some light on where he was housed. It seems that Kuhio spent much of his 19 years in Washington moving from place to place in a transient but more glamorous part of town, close to the White House.

In 1904, his address is listed as 1445 Massachusetts Ave., which postcards of the time show as a fine brick home, on a street lined with grand mansions housing prominent entrepreneurs like Alexander Graham Bell and former top government officials, according to a book, “Massachusetts Avenue in the Gilded Age: Palaces and Privilege.”

The house, which no longer exists, was built by a famous naturalist, ornithologist Spencer F. Baird, who owned a remarkable collection of 3,696 stuffed birds, including many specimens he kept in his home. Baird, a friend of John James Audubon, had been secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The bird collection eventually was donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The property was apparently left vacant after Baird’s death while his daughter prepared a biography of him. It makes sense that “Bird’s Nest” might have been a play on the name Baird, and where some of the preserved bird collection may have lingered in the house at the time Kuhio lived there, but it is hard to know for sure.

Kuhio’s wife accompanied him to Washington, where Elizabeth was said to “make a fine impression” among visitors. “Her gowns were greatly admired, as were also her charming manners,” wrote a journalist in 1914.

Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole
Prince Jonah Kuhio was often called “Prince Cupid” by the press. Library of Congress

Kuhio didn’t remain at that house very long. After 1906, city records show him living variously at the luxurious Dewey Hotel and the original Shoreham hotel at 15th Street and H Street NW. He rented houses at other times, including possibly during long visits from Queen Liliuokalani, who he was helping as she sought restitution from the federal government for the loss of the crown lands.

None of these buildings exist today. A lot of the beautiful old houses and hotels in Washington have been demolished to make way for squat office towers that house the legions of corporate and special-interest lobbyists who now work there.

Anywhere Kuhio lived, however, quickly became a popular gathering place for congressmen, a club where they could kick back, play poker and smoke a cigar while they talked politics. His rooms were decorated with mementos of his travels, art from Hawaii and big-game trophies, said Josh Litten, a publication specialists in the historian’s office of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The best way to get help for Hawaii was to network and to socialize,” Litten said. “He created an exoticism that was very in vogue at the time. It created interest, and that led to funding.”

One source of strength for Kuhio was his Republican party affiliation. This was the party in power and was less racist than the Democrats, whose ranks were dominated by Southerners from states that used Jim Crow laws to prevent Blacks from voting and who worked together on the national level to block anti-lynching legislation. Kuhio would have found the Republicans of that day much better companions, according to historians.

“At least he would have allies within the Republican party,” McGregor said.

‘This Damn Little Delegate’

postcard from the Dewey Hotel
This rather morose postcard commemorating three presidential assassinations was given to patrons at the Dewey Hotel. Courtesy Collection of John DeFerrari

In 1903, there were more Republicans than Democrats, and they all wanted to sit together in Congress, but desks then were assigned by a lottery system and legislators drew numbers to pick their seats. Nobody wanted to sit near the despised Democrats and there weren’t enough seats on the Republican side to fit all the Republicans who had been elected.

In that first session, Kuhio drew a good number, and chose the seat typically taken by the chairman of the House appropriations committee, Kuhio wrote a trusted friend in Hawaii. The committee chair had to come and ask Kuhio to consider moving elsewhere, which allowed Kuhio to graciously agree, asking only that he instead be seated on the Republican side of the aisle.

“I was told by other members that I was a lucky chap, and my giving up my seat was considered a courtesy, and would be a thing he always remembered, and would be returned in some way,” he wrote, with an apparent chuckle. “Here this damn little Delegate has a seat that some of those fellows would give anything to get.”

Nothing, however, could spare Kuhio from repeated racial insults, some of which made it into the pages of newspapers, and some of which he returned with closed fists.

In Kansas City, on his way to Washington, Kuhio and his wife were said to be “thoroughly enjoying” the entertainment at a popular theater, when an attendant tapped him on the shoulder and told him to get out and to “take the woman” as he left. The prince at first thought some mistake had been made, but grew coldly angry when he realized he was being ejected because of the color of his skin. The theater manager tried to make amends, but, the article reported, Kuhio “scorned them and left for the East.”

The Pacific Commercial Advertiser in Honolulu reported on the incident in November 1903, noting that “many native Hawaiians who have traveled in the States will appreciate the feelings of Prince Kuhio and his wife,” because, the paper noted, they are “likely to be mistaken for a negro.”

Once in Washington, these events became more common for Kuhio.

The barber shop in the U.S. Capitol was a popular amenity for legislators, but when Kuhio went to get a haircut and a shave, the barber refused to perform the service on him, using a racial epithet to describe Kuhio’s skin coloring, according to Kamae’s research.

Kuhio grabbed the man by the collar and threw him onto the ground in the hallway, succeeding in convincing the man to take a different view of the matter, and he later noted that he never had another problem at the shop.

On another occasion he was in a saloon where other patrons got into an altercation but he was rounded up as a likely perpetrator. In trying to defend himself, he was accused of disorderly conduct. Kuhio was arrested and thrown into jail, and refused to pull strings to get out more quickly, to make the point that he had been improperly jailed.

Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC
Prince Kuhio lived at the upscale Shoreham Hotel between 1916 and 1918. It has been torn down and no longer exists. DC Public Library, The People's Archive, Historic Image Collection

These incidents, along with a chain of other similar events, actually seemed to have boosted his reputation. It was a more rough-and-tumble time when men were expected to resolve disputes by fighting them out. And a lot of people sympathized with Kuhio over the injustices.

One wire story that ran in Oregon and Pennsylvania summed it up: “The Prince is handy with his fists,” as quoted by the Honolulu Advertiser on Feb. 18, 1903. “He knows how to use his fists in a mix-up,” the Indianapolis News reported.

Within three years of his arrival, Kuhio was firmly entrenched in the nation’s capital, with the Washington Times reporting that the legislator, “an acknowledged star of the congressional set,” was heading home to Hawaii for the summer recess.

“The Prince, as he is commonly and affectionately called by his fellow legislators,” had left the city, but would be expected to return at the next session, accompanied by his wife “who was so popular here,” the newspaper reported on July 8, 1906.

Next: Kuhio pushes for local self-government in Hawaii, resulting in the creation of the state’s county governments, including Honolulu.

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