ON THE SCENE: A Thai prince and princess came to town
A new historical marker was unveiled at the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown on Saturday, July 15. While the New York Historical Association created most roadside historical plaques in New York from the mid-1920s to the 1930s, the state Education Department took over their creation in the 1960s. The latest was from an entirely new source, the Kingdom of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF), to commemorate a visitation by Prince Mahidol and Princess Mother to the eastern Adirondacks and High Peaks region 104 years ago.
Prince Mahidol and Princess Mother (Miss Sangwan Talapat) are revered as the father and mother of kings; he also as the father of medical care and public health in Thailand. The KTBF has created and placed a series of historical markers highlighting the Trail of Thai Royalty in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the Adirondacks.
On Aug. 20, 1919, having spent a night on top of Mt. Washington at the Summit House, the royal family drove through Vermont to cross Lake Champlain by ferry. Reaching Essex County, they spent the balance of the month vacationing in Lake Placid and visiting sites along the AuSable River and several other lakes in the region before returning to Boston. Unfortunately, a photo journal of their time in the Adirondacks created by the Princess Mother was lost. Thus details of where they stayed and visited are unknown.
The book “As Mother Told Me,” written by Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana Krom Luand Naraadhiwas Rajanagarindra, daughter of the Princess Mother, published in 1980, revealed many of the trip’s details.
Reflecting serendipity at its finest, a key player in bringing this historical marker is the connections made by longtime Lake Placid seasonal resident George McBride, who now spends about nine months of the year living in Chang Mai, Thailand. McBride came to the Adirondacks in 1980, initially as a North County Community College student, then SUNY Plattsburgh, eventually working at the W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center and Upstate Bio-Tech.
Approximately 13 years ago, McBride was transferred to Singapore as part of the closure of Upstate. While serving as a regional director, he and his wife came to know and fall in love with Thailand. They discovered McCormick Hospital after moving to Chang Mai, a long-time cultural and religious center and the largest city in mountainous northern Thailand.
“At the hospital, because of my background in biomedical sciences, I was asked if I could help out at the Museum of American Physicians and Nurses,” said McBride. “While assisting them at the museum, I learned that Prince Mahidol and Princess Mother studied in America and traveled to Lake Placid and this region, as documented in As Mother Told Me. They said, ‘Oh, you’re from Lake Placid; could you help,’ that’s why I am here, a serendipitous moment.”
Adding to the serendipity, Lake Placid resident Sisa Salgado, who manages Visions of Tibet and is highly trained in classical Indian and Asian dance, was in attendance at the unveiling Saturday.
“There is a close connection between Indian and Thai Classical Dance,” said Salgado. “The influence of Hinduism in Southeast Asia is significant. The dances we will see today will likely be based on Hindu stories, such as the great epics of Hinduism, Kings and their lives and dances of blessing and welcome. In many traditional philosophies worldwide, dance is believed to reflect the beginning of life, not just human life, but all life, the cosmos and god’s life. One of the main gods in the Hindu faith is Shiva, the God of Dance; he was a cosmic dancer. He is the one believed to have brought dance to our world.”
Indeed, following the singing of the U.S. National Anthem by Lynn Dewalt of Keene and the Thai National Anthem by Kim Ryan, a series of classical dances of welcome were performed, concluded by the Blessing Dance Rabum Daowadung performed by Jirakit Aksornlongawat and Yanin Thammarangsri.
McBride then provided an overview of the historical importance of Prince Mahidol and Princess Mother, their training in the United States, their travels about New England and this region, and, most significantly, their lasting impact in Thailand that remains revered to this day.
The first Thai royal to attend university in the U.S., Prince Mahidol was in the U.S. studying at the School of Public Health at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Son of King Chulalongkorn and Queen Savang Vadhana, Prince Mahidol was the father of King Rama IX. Mc Bride and Ms. Cholthanee Koerojna, president of KTBF, noted that his son, who would become King Rama IX, was born in the United States while Prince Mahidol was finishing his studies in public health. Rama IX was Thailand’s longest-serving and most beloved king.
“This site is dedicated to the Royal Family, and the History Museum is receiving a beautiful bronze cast plaque that tells the story and expresses gratitude and respect to the king who has dedicated himself to developing Thailand and the well-being of all Thai people,” said McBride.
“The Thai foundation contacted our director Aurora McCaffrey and asked if we’d be willing to have the plaque placed here,” said Sharp Swan, president of the Adirondack History Museum. “Aurora brought their request to the board, and, as Prince and the Princess Mother traveled throughout the county, we agreed this would be the perfect location. We feel privileged and honored to be a part of this dedication and to welcome other cultures, traditions, beliefs, and histories. In a greater sense, this plaque will open the door for people of our county to get to know and renew our friendship with the Thai people that began 104 years ago.”
Following Swan’s remarks, reading two proclamations, and a prayer by Somsri Tatanaprasatporn, MD, President of the Thai American Society of New York, the plaque was unveiled to great applause.
“We’re happy to have this new, or renewed, connection and relationship with the Thai community,” said museum Director Aurora McCaffrey. “We hope that Thai visitors will come to visit the site and, while here, broaden their awareness of the history of our region and the collections held at our museum.”
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)