The Detective’s Daughter – The Queen B’s of Baltimore



Kim, in Baltimore, packing for next week’s retreat in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.


Most nights my mom read to me from a book of fairy tales illustrated by Tasha Tudor. My favorite was Cinderella. I loved that story and also enjoyed watching the Rodgers and Hammerstein version on television. Prince Charming was portrayed by Stuart Damon. I was enamored with him and continued to be so even after he left royalty to become a doctor on General Hospital.

I’ve since learned I’m not the only Baltimore girl to become infatuated with a prince. Charm City has a history with royal marriages and those unions could be two of our greatest love stories,  both filled with heartache, high drama and scandal.

Elizabeth Patterson was a great beauty, and in 1803 thought to be the most beautiful woman in America. It was for this very reason Jerome Bonaparte, younger brother of Napoleon,  visited Baltimore. He was determined to meet the “exquisite creature” living here.

The Pagoda in Patterson Park, Baltimore. The park is named for William Patterson, last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence and father of Betsy Bonaparte.

They fell in love and were married on Christmas Eve 1803, but they were not destined for a happy ending. By the following fall Napoleon insisted that his brother return to France. Napoleon wanted the marriage annulled and for his brother to marry a German princess. Though Jerome promised Elizabeth he would straighten things out with his brother, he never did.

When they docked in France, Elizabeth was not allowed to leave the ship with her husband. She never saw him again. She gave birth to their son in London before returning to Baltimore to live out the rest of her days. Jerome married the German princess, but was not officially divorced from Elizabeth until 1815.

One of Baltimore’s most notorious natives has to be Wallis Simpson. Who has not heard of the King who gave up his throne to be with the woman he loved? Mrs. Simpson grew up in a row house not far from where I live. The stories about her are less than flattering, but no one can deny she lived an exciting life.

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Bessie Wallis Simpson childhood home.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were married for 35 years until his death in 1972.  It was intended that both Wallis and her prince be buried here in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery [also the final resting place of Betsy Patterson Bonaparte], but in the 1960’s Queen Elizabeth II agreed they should be laid to rest in England. They are side by side in the Royal Burial Ground near Windsor Castle.

They say well behaved women don’t make history, Betsy Patterson Bonaparte and Bessie Wallis Simpson  make that a true statement. March is Women’s History month. Take time out to read about these and other fascinating women.

Dear Reader, What famous woman from your hometown fascinates you? Is there a famous one in particular you would want to meet?


19 Thoughts

  1. I come from a sleepy suburb of Los Angeles, but never knew until recently that Genie, the famous feral child, was growing up isolated in my town, and on my very street. I learned about her acquiring language while I was in grad school but never knew she was from my little pocket of southern California until last year (what you find out when your class is gearing up for its half-century reunion)! Other than her, I might be the most famous. Yeah, it’s a sleepy town…

  2. I’ve never heard the story of Elizabeth Patterson! Fascinating story, Kim! I’ve never thought about famous women from my hometown. One is Isabel Bloom who is known for her sculptures. I have several.

    1. I have been intrigued by Betsy Bonaparte for years. She should definitely be the heroine in a novel. That gives me an idea! Isabel Bloom is a beautiful name. I must investigate further about her.

  3. Dr Helen Langner, the fourth woman to graduate from Yale Medical School, was from my town. She died at the age of 105. She was a child psychiatrist. I’ve been told by a hospital volunteer that even in her later years, other doctors would consult with her on difficult cases.

    I remember seeing her at library events(she lived next door to the library) and hearing her say that there was always so much more to learn!

  4. Did a little research and didn’t find any famous women from either my true hometown, or from where I live now which is definitely home. At least, none that I ever heard of. I love reading about unsung famous women from anywhere. Thanks for a great post, Kim.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Ginny. I’m with you, I love learning about these fascinating women. Everyday I get sidetracked by these stories when I’m supposed to be researching for my own book. The stories are hard to ignore.

  5. I had not heard the first story, and I wasn’t aware that Mrs. Simpson was from Baltimore. I must confess, I hadn’t heard about her or any of that drama until I started reading Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness mysteries. See you can learn something from fiction.

  6. I love Tasha Tudor, too. I discovered in doing research for my book, Iced Under, that she was a descendant of Frederic Tudor, the founder of the ice industry. Frederick Tudor’s sister had an affair with Joseph Bonaparte, ex-King of Spain, when both lived in New Jersey, thus bringing your story full circle.

  7. Hi Kim,

    I loved learning about Elizabeth Patterson. Yes, her sad life is definitely ripe for novelization. In fact I could see it as a Major Motion Picture (or even a Hallmark Channel movie … although I think a law was passed requiring everything on the Hallmark Channel to have a happy ending, so we better stick with the Major Motion Picture).

    Regarding Wallis Simpson, I too had bought into the romantic twaddle that Edward’s abdication speech produced. Like you, Mark, I didn’t really begin to realize what a genuinely awful person she was until I started reading the Royal Spyness books. That motivated me to do some additional research, and it turned out that Edward was no prize either. He was an undoubted racist (and caused major scandals on that front when he was Governor of Bermuda), and a Nazi sympathizer (and possibly a collaborator, although that charge isn’t actually proven).

    As a small amusing aside, my mother is a character in Royal Flush, the third Royal Spyness mystery. I purchased that privilege at the charity auction of the first Malice Domestic I attended as a 92nd birthday present for her. In the book, she is a girlhood friend of Wallis Simpson who married a German aristocrat. I should note that I told Rhys that she was welcome to include me as my mother’s character’s reprobate son, and she did so with gusto, having me grabbing all the best sandwiches at tea and pinching all the maid’s bottoms.

    So yes, everything is a circle!

    1. What a wonderful present for your mom! I absolutely adore the Royal,Spyness series. If you are coming to Malice this year, we must get together to trade Wallis stories.

  8. What an interesting post, Kim! And a rather sad one too! Thanks for sharing it! My own village is very small and as far as I know, not home to any famous people in history.

  9. Mira Lloyd Dock was from Harrisburg and started a movement to beautify the city well before Ladybird Johnson and others.

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