King Kalakaua in U.S. Newspapers

Leaders are often controversial, and King Kalakaua was no exception. Some saw him as a spendthrift who dragged the Hawaiian kingdom into growing debt. Yet, others saw the last king of Hawaii as the “Merrie Monarch” who revitalized Hawaiian culture and arts.

When Kalakaua traveled in the United States during his last trip in 1890, American newspapers also made their judgments.

The king exuded an aura of “kingly dignity,” and Mrs. John H. Kimball described him as a “polished” and “worthy gentleman.”
Kalakaua came across as “well educated” and “intelligent.”  The Pittsburg Dispatch says, “Kalakaua is a dusky monarch, but he is also a very shrewd and intelligent one.” Newspapers note that he spoke English fluently and also French, German, and Spanish.

The Morning Call describes Kalakaua as a “tall, robust man” with a “splendid physique” and in “perfect health.”

Dr. John H. Kimball, former Hawaiian government physician, described Kalakaua as “stately” and “decidedly handsome”:

“He was of stout yet well proportioned figure, with oval face, features heavy but regular, a clear brown complexion, close curly black hair, side whiskers, and mustache, and countenance of native type.”

Kalakaua also came across as a sociable, unpretentious person and a “brilliant conversationalist.” Dr. Kimball says,

“Kalakaua demanded the technical homage due to his rank, but otherwise he was socially as commonplace and unassuming as Abraham Lincoln. He would stop and talk with us whenever we met, just like any untitled person. … In fact, he had too much common sense to assume a superior or patronizing air toward his inferiors in rank.”

As for hobbies, The Morning Call describes Kalakaua as a “keen sportsman” (a “capital shot” and an excellent horseman), an “accomplished musician,” and a significant contributor to Hawaii’s arts.

Kalakaua had his vices of drinking and gambling. Dr. Kimball remarked that Kalakaua always had “male cronies who gambled and drank with him to his heart’s content” and that he “indulged to the detriment of himself and the Government.”

When Kalakaua visited Jefferson City, Missouri, he socialized with Missouri legislators. The king drank so much alcohol that when he left for Kansas City in a special train, he passed out. As legislator James Burns had a similar physique to Kalakaua’s, the legislators had him act as Kalakaua. Thus, Burns dressed in a fancy uniform, wide sash, and Kalakaua’s decorations. When the train arrived in Kansas City, amid the cheers from the crowd of men, Burns delivered a speech as Kalakaua:

“Gentlemen, I thank you for this reception. In my far away island home of the sea I have of en heard of Kansas City. I feel like one of you so much have I heard. I know Kansas City as the greatest and most promising town of the United States.”
The crowd cheered. Afterwards, Burns remarked, “And it was the first time in my life that I was ever taken for a negro.”
– Alice Kim

Sources from Chronicling America

“Uncle Sam’s Royal Visitor: Something About King Kalakaua and His Realm in the Sea”
Pittsburg dispatch., December 14, 1890, THIRD PART, Page 23, Image 23

“A Good Story: Of the Late Congressman James Burns of St. Joseph”
The Sedalia weekly bazoo., December 23, 1890, Page 2, Image 2

“Prominent Men: King Kalakaua, The Royal Visitor Who Is Now Being Entertained in This City”
The morning call., December 25, 1890, Page 13, Image 13

“How Are You, Mr. King?: Young America’s Salutation to Kalakaua”
Los Angeles herald., December 29, 1890, Image 5

“Jolly King Dave: Kalakaua Had an Easy Conscience and Always Enjoyed Himself”
Pittsburg dispatch., January 25, 1891, SECOND PART, Page 9, Image 9


3 Comments on “King Kalakaua in U.S. Newspapers”

  1. […] a couple of the anniversaries of his reign, instead of celebrating at home, King Kalakaua was traveling in the U.S. Mainland or on the Pacific Ocean to Yokohama, Japan. Read more about what he did during these anniversaries […]

  2. […] years after her first husband died, Kapiolani married David Kalakaua in 1863. When Kalakaua became the King of Hawaii in 1874, Kapiolani started her reign as the Queen […]

  3. […] in history — October 29, 1881 — King Kalakaua returned from his nine-month trip around the world as the first monarch to ever travel around the […]

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