- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

HONOLULU — The docent at Iolani Palace stands near the 23-carat gold-leaf thrones and asks visitors to “hear” the Royal Hawaiian Band playing on the lanai and “see” the ladies in their ball gowns as they are twirled around the room by their men.

The Throne Room — with its imaginary ball hosted by Hawaii’s monarch from more than a century ago, King David Kalakaua — is the last stop on the tour of the only royal palace on American soil.

“The king loved to dance and danced with every woman at the ball,” the docent, Hokulani, says.

He also loved roses, she says, painting a vivid picture of a room decorated with roses and leaves of the fragrant maile vine, which grows in Hawaii’s mountain areas.

The drapes and the carpet are dark red, and the seats of the thrones also are red, although the fabric has faded through the years. “The fabric won’t ever be changed because Hawaiians believe that mana (spiritual power) lives in the fabric,” Hokulani says.

The palace, described as American Florentine style, was completed in 1882 at a cost of $360,000. Much of the furniture, in the American gothic style, was part of a 225-piece order from the company that made furniture for the White House, the guide says.

Electricity replaced the original gas lights after Kalakaua, who reigned from 1874-1891, visited Thomas Edison in New York City. “Iolani Palace had electricity before the White House,” she says.

After watching a 15-minute video in Iolani Barracks on the palace grounds, visitors place cloth booties over their shoes for 45-minute tours conducted by volunteers from the Friends of Iolani Palace, the nonprofit organization that operates the state-owned building.

The highly polished floors are made of fir, a soft wood that is damaged easily, the docent explains. The visitors also are told not to sit on the furniture, not to bring candy or gum into the palace and not to take any photographs.

A reporter is asked to put away his pen and take notes with a pencil to avoid the possibility of ink staining the carpets.

Entering the main floor of the palace, visitors first see the grand staircase, made of koa, a prized native hardwood.

Place settings of the original china and crystal adorn the table in the adjoining dining room, where author Robert Louis Stevenson was a guest several times.

The king sat in the middle, rather than at the head of the table, so he could better talk to his guests, according to Hokulani.

She urges visitors to use their imagination in the Gold Room, where the king and family members or guests would enjoy music. The room is furnished sparsely, and the gold carpet and drapes that once adorned the room have never been retrieved, she says.

Many of the furnishings were sold by the provisional government after the 1893 overthrow of the last Hawaiian monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, who succeeded her brother, Kalakaua, after his death in 1891. A worldwide search has brought many of the furnishings and artifacts back to the palace.

On the palace’s second floor, visitors see the sparsely furnished room where Liliuokalani was imprisoned for eight months after being convicted of treason for having knowledge of a plot to restore her to the throne. The windows are still covered as they were when the queen was held there so she would not see what was going on outside.

It was in this room where Liliuokalani, a prolific songwriter, wrote her haunting hymn “The Queen’s Prayer.”

Adjoining the Imprisonment Room is the bedroom of Queen Kapiolani, the wife of Kalakaua, her bed still covered with her original red satin bedspread.

Also on the second floor is the king’s office, where visitors see some of the books belonging to the king, an avid reader.

In the palace basement are re-creations of the chamberlain’s office and kitchen, along with galleries displaying jewel-encrusted crowns of Kalakaua and his queen and other royal artifacts. A minimuseum of royal artifacts is on loan from Bishop Museum, named for Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the great-granddaughter and last royal descendant of King Kamehameha the Great, who united the Hawaiian islands in 1810 and ruled until his death in 1819.

After the overthrow of the monarchy, the palace was used as the capitol of the provisional government, the republic, the territory and finally the state of Hawaii. Restoration began after the new state Capitol was completed in 1969 on property behind the palace, and the palace was vacated.

Also on the palace grounds is the Coronation Pavilion, which was built in 1883 for the coronation of Kalakaua. Until recently, it was the site of the inauguration of Hawaii’s governors.

Other artifacts from the days of King Kalakaua and Queen Liliuokalani are housed at Bishop Museum, located across town from the palace.

In addition to viewing the museum’s numerous displays, visitors also can hear stories about mythical, ancient and modern figures in Hawaii’s history.

Half-hour daily storytelling sessions feature Kalakaua; King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma; Umi, a 15th-century chief on Hawaii Island; and mystic heroes, who include such spiritual beings as Pele, the goddess of the volcano.

The story of Kalakaua is told through the eyes of his wife, Queen Kapiolani, and his sister who succeeded him, Liliuokalani. The women are portrayed by Noelani Tachera and Chiya Hoapili, cultural education specialists who are attired in gowns and rhinestone tiaras symbolic of the monarchy period.

Part of their portrayal includes Kapiolani and Liliuokalani encouraging a weary Kalakaua to go to San Francisco to rest and seek medical treatment.

Kapiolani, although not known as the composer in the family, writes a love song for the king, “Kaipo Lei Manu,” and looks forward to singing for him on his return.

However, as the USS Charleston approaches Honolulu, they notice that the vessel’s flag is at half-staff, draped in black. Kapiolani wails; her king is dead.

Following the storytelling, visitors see the artifacts related to the stories they have heard during a 45-minute “Behind the Scenes” tour, which takes them to the museum’s Castle Hall, built to house 1.6 million artifacts, documents and specimens.

Before entering the temperature-, humidity- and light-controlled rooms, visitors are asked to put cameras, purses and any protruding objects into lockers to prevent damage.

Visitors see gourds and other implements related to the hula, which Kalakaua, known as the “Merrie Monarch,” revived after years of suppression influenced by Protestant missionaries.

They also see the guitar Liliuokalani used to compose her famous anthem “Aloha Oe” and the gown she wore to Kalakaua’s coronation. The top of the gown is original, but the skirt has been re-created because the original deteriorated.

• • •

Iolani Palace is in the Capitol District of downtown Honolulu, at the corner of King and Richards streets. By car, use the Likelike Mall.

Guided tours of the palace are held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets: $20 adults, $5 children ages 5 to 17. Children younger than 5 are not permitted in the palace. Reservations recommended; call 808/522-0832.

Self-guided tours of the Palace Galleries, which showcase jewels, regalia and photographs, are $6 for adults, $3 for children 5 to 17; children younger than 5 are admitted to the galleries free. Reservations are not required. Admission to the galleries is included in admission to the palace.

For more information, call 808/538-1471 or visit www.iolanipalace.org.

The Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St., Honolulu, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission: $14.95 adults, $11.95 seniors, $11.95 children ages 4 to 12. Visit www.bishopmuseum.org for detailed directions to the site or other information, or call 808/847-3511.

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