Wear Your Slippers

Linda Burton posting from Honolulu, Hawaii – “It’s not for me to reason why,” I grumbled as I tucked my camera in my bag and pulled slippery bootees over my sensible shoes. The Guard Guide continued to bark instructions to everyone. No smile, no aloha warm. Kayla wiggled her feet admiringly, “Baby boots,” she said. Here we sat, on a bench outside the Iolani Palace doors, ticketed for the tour that included “audio,” being sternly lectured as to how we should behave. “Do not take off your slippers. Do not touch anything. Do not get any pictures. There is a button on your wand for each room. Push it when you get there. Now go.” The door opened and the group of us meekly entered the Palace one by one. Highly polished floors stretched ahead in the Grand Hall; I stepped and slid and almost fell. “Be careful GMom,” Kayla warned, “just glide. And turn on your sound.” Both of us pushed Button 2 on the audio wands hanging from our necks, and glided on the shiny floor. The Throne Room was to our left.

Everybody advises a visit to the Iolani Palace. “Hawaii is the only state with a real palace!” is the claim of uniqueness; Hawaii once was ruled by a king. And a queen, as well. But I didn’t enjoy my Palace time, because my note-taking apparatus – my camera – was not allowed; and my mission-in-mind was to see the only state capitol that once was a palace (it served as State Capitol 1958-1969). I struggled with slippery boots on slippery floors, and there were no seats for a minute of rest now and then (don’t touch anything!). I had questions for the volunteer stationed near the elevator door; she could not answer them, but smiled a gracious smile, at least. Kayla seemed to enjoy the skating-rink slide from room to room, and happily pushed the buttons on her audio wand. She stayed far ahead of me, moving with ease; we finally met again at Stop 14; Queen Liliuokalani’s Imprisonment room.

It was an ordinary-sized bedroom in the upper back corner of the Palace; a private bath, a closet, and a balcony overlooking spacious grounds made up the suite. The room was bare of furnishings; one door opened to the “middle bedroom” and that to Queen Kapiolani’s bedroom on the front. Another door opened to the Upper Hall; across from that the Music Room, Library, and King Kalakaua’s bedroom at the front. Kayla and I pushed Button 14 for some audio to explain: imprisonment? Mine was too faint to hear; Kayla squinted and reported hers described the Music Room instead. So who were these two queens, and why was one imprisoned? That’s the question I asked the Volunteer. She didn’t know the answer, but shook her head in apology. “I’ll have to find out,” was the bottom line.

Kayla and I finished our glide through the almost-empty rooms; returned our slippers at the door; and left, cameras out and sure-footed once again, still pondering the plight of the queen. Back in our room, Kayla sprawled on her bed with the new books we bought in the Palace Gift Shop; books about Hawaiian princesses and queens. And I searched the internet, reading the history of Hawaiian monarchy, the struggle between the royalists and the commoners, the overthrow, the queen’s imprisonment in the room where we had stood. And then the selling of the furnishings; the deterioration of the building and the different views about the past; the efforts to restore the royal opulence.

“Wear your slippers!” now was clear to me; some tender feelings linger there.

The Story of the Palace, in abbreviated form. Read the Iolani Palace website for more detail. http://www.iolanipalace.org/index.php/history/restoration-of-the-palace.html

The cornerstone of Iolani Palace was laid December 31, 1879; in December 1882 King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani took up residence.

David Kalakaua (1836-1891) was descended from the chiefs of Kona who aided Kamehameha I in the consolidation of the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom. He ruled from 1874 until his death in 1891. He was the first Hawaiian king to visit the United States, and to travel around the world as he tried to foster good will with other nations. During his reign he tried to increase the power of the monarchy; this angered many foreigners and led to revolt; a new constitution stripped him of most of his powers. He died of kidney disease in the United States, where he had gone for treatment, and is buried at Mauna Ala Royal Mausoleum in Honolulu, the last Hawaiian king.

King Kalakaua was succeeded by his sister, Liliuokalani, who was proclaimed queen on January 29, 1891. She had served as Princess Regent during her brother’s nine-month journey around the world in 1881 and his visit to the United States in 1890.

Queen Liliuokalani (1838-1917) was determined to strengthen the political power of the Hawaiian monarchy and to limit suffrage to subjects of the kingdom; she attempted to bring a new constitution into place. This galvanized opposition forces; the Committee of Safety, composed of Hawaii-born citizens of American parents, naturalized citizens, and foreign nationals, along with the support of the American Minister to Hawaii, orchestrated the overthrow of the monarchy.

On January 17, 1893, she yielded her authority and sent this message to Sanford Dole, who was named President of the Provisional Government: “Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.”

In 1895, an abortive attempt by Hawaiian royalists to restore Queen Liliuokalani to power resulted in her arrest. She was forced to sign a document of abdication that relinquished all her future claims to the throne. Following this, she endured a public trial before a military tribunal in her former throne room. Convicted of having knowledge of a royalist plot, she was fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years in prison at hard labor. The sentence was commuted to imprisonment in an upstairs bedroom of Iolani Palace.

During her imprisonment, Queen Liliuokalani was denied any visitors other than one lady in waiting. She began each day with her daily devotions followed by reading, quilting, crochet-work, or music composition. After her release from Iolani Palace, she remained under house arrest for five months at her private home. For another eight months she was forbidden to leave Oahu before all restrictions were lifted.

After the overthrow, Provisional Government troops took control of the Palace. Government officials carefully inventoried its contents and sold at public auction whatever furniture or furnishings were not suitable for government operations. Iolani Palace became the government headquarters for the Provisional Government, Republic, Territory, and State of Hawaii. During WWII, it served as temporary headquarters for the military governor in charge of martial law in the Hawaiian Islands. Used for nearly three-quarters of a century as a government capitol building, the Palace fell into disrepair.

Government offices vacated the Palace in 1969 and moved to the newly constructed Capitol on land adjacent to the Palace grounds, and restoration of the Palace began in earnest. The Junior League of Honolulu funded and staffed an extensive historical research project. Researchers uncovered clues about construction, furnishings, and palace lifestyle in nineteenth-century newspapers, photographs and manuscripts found in various archives and libraries. Friends of Iolani Palace (founded by Liliuokalani Kawananakoa Morris, grandneice of Queen Kapiolani) oversaw the restoration and continues to manage Iolani Palace as an historic house museum, and to share the history of the Hawaiian monarchy. Many original Palace objects have been recovered and returned from different parts of the world – glassware found in Australia, a table in the Governor’s mansion in Iowa, a chair in a local thrift store. The quest to find original furnishings and artifacts continues.

In 1993, 100 years after the overthrow, President Clinton signed a Congressional resolution (Public Law 103-150 ) in which the United States government formally apologized to the Native Hawaiian people.