ROYAL WEDDING | From Baltimore to the Duchess of Windsor
BALTIMORE (WBFF) - One week from the Royal Wedding, all eyes are on London and the soon-to-be American Princess.
But not all British royal weddings were as celebrated.
Before Meghan Markle, there was another American divorcee who commanded world-wide attention for her romance with British royalty.
Wallis Warfield Simpson, from Baltimore, became known as the woman who shook the empire.
Since 1991, Zippy Larson's feet have followed some pretty famous footsteps.
“This is the church where she was married the first time, the Episcopal church,” she says as she points to the delicate stain glass at the top of the New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral on St. Paul Street in downtown Baltimore.
Larson is a tour guide who developed the first all-day tour in Baltimore based on the life of Wallis Warfield Simpson, who became the Duchess of Windsor.
The tour highlight’s Simpson’s childhood home at 212 E Biddle Street and the Belvedere Hotel.
“This is where her girlfriends came to gossip, sip tea, talk about clothes,” Larson says.
Simpson lived a fascinating life filled with jewels, glamour and worldwide fame.
“I would give my right arm to sit down and have tea with her," Larson laughs.
She lived a life so intriguing that Phillip Baty turned his the basement of his Biddle Street home into a museum dedicated to the Duchess.
“I mean, not everybody can marry a prince or a king,” he says.
His collection features authentic gloves and replica jewels.
“No one else had anything like it,” he says.
But the intrigue surrounding the Duchess isn't just about an American living out a fairy tale in designer gowns draped in jewels. Like any good story, this is about the journey, and it was one paved in scandal.
Before King Edward VIII, there was Ernest and Earl.
Mark Letzer, President of the Maryland Historical Society, says: “Her first husband [Earl] had been very abusive.”
Even though taboo, Simpson divorced - until a charming, half-British man swept her off her feet.
“Her second husband Ernest Simpson went to England with her,” Letzer explains. "And they met the Prince of Wales. The three of them were friends, they were part of a group.”
Larson explains that the King “used to stop by her flat, where she lived with her husband who had a job and had to get up in the morning and he'd stay late and late.”
Soon Ernest Simpson was out and the King moved in on Wallis Simpson.
“He just became obsessed with her,” Larson says. “He felt he couldn't live without her. And then he was told, ‘You must choose.’ It is impossible for us to accept the fact that there might be a queen with two living husbands. ‘This is just outrageous, so you must choose The Crown or her,’ and he chose her.”
The world was shocked, Letzer says.
“It was typical for kings to have affairs... To abdicate the throne was unheard of.”
Larson says Wallis Simpson became hated across Britain.
“They threw stones at her car; she had to lie down in the back of the car. The Brits felt she had stolen their king, she captured him and stole him off the throne.”
After the king abdicated the thrown, Letzer says: “They were both exiled from England. They weren't part of the Royal family.”
Wallis Simpson was simultaneously ostracized by society and hounded by the press.
She quickly became one of the most famous women in the world, even gracing the cover of Time magazine as Woman of the Year.
She was never given the title of Her Royal Highness. She was given the title of Her Grace, the Duchess of Windsor.
But to Americans, she became royalty, a commoner who climbed the ranks.
Letzer says: “She changed the way the world operated, in many ways. The King of England, the most powerful thrown in the world, and he gives it up to marry the woman he loves.”
Letzer says decades later, the allure of the Duchess not only lingers but continues to fascinate.
After all, one of the most requested objects in their collection once belonged to the Duchess.
Letzer says, “We're very lucky to have one of her dresses here that was made by Givenchy in 1954.”
The “monkey dress,” as it became known, was given to the Maryland Historical Society by the Duchess herself.
Wallis Warfield Simpson didn't just become a celebrity, she became a historical figure.
The girl from 212 Biddle changed the course of the British Royal Family.
Larson says: “It's a path where Meghan Markle will not have difficulty. It’s paved for her, wide and beautiful and fresh-scrubbed. For Wallis, it was rough, very rough.”
From prep school at Oldfield’s to afternoon tea at the Belvedere Hotel, the society girl from Baltimore was raised with one purpose, Larson says.
“Wallis was brought up to intrigue men. That's how Southern women of the era were raised. To attract men. To keep his eye on me.”
And all these years later, it's still what she does.