The Dodgy Perth team is spending some much needed downtime in Kalgoorlie. Like good historians, we booked ourselves into the Palace Hotel, which was probably much finer when it opened in 1897. Downstairs is the Hoover Bar; upstairs you can stay in the Hoover Suite. In the foyer is the famous Hoover Mirror, together with a copy of a romantic poem he sent to a barmaid at the Palace with whom he had fallen in love.
Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the USA, was a mining engineer on the Goldfields from 1897, just as the Palace Hotel opened. He was a regular visitor to the pub, and when he left town Hoover gave them the magnificent mirror as a parting gift. And the long poem addressed to his local sweetheart, the first verse going:
Do you ever dream, my sweetheart, of a twilight long ago,
Of a park in old Kalgoorlie, where the bouganvilleas grow?
Where the moonbeams on the pathways trace a shimmering brocade
And the overhanging peppers form a lover’s promenade?
They quite like Herbert Hoover at the Palace Hotel, and a great deal of their advertising likes to stress the connection. But, unfortunately (as you’ve probably guessed by now) all the above is total and utter rubbish. Except for the bit about Hoover working on the Goldfields.
The poem isn’t by Hoover at all (who, like many engineers, couldn’t write lyrically if he tried) but by Texas poet Hilton Ross Greer in 1906. It was originally set in Mexico and addressed to Carita. Someone, probably someone who had never visited Kal since it now contains references to things that were never there, simply substituted local allusions for the original:
Do you ever dream, Carita, of a twilight long ago,
When the stars rained silver slendor from the skies of Mexico?
When the moonbeams on the plaza traced a shimmering brocade,
And the fountain’s tinkling tumult seemed a rippling serenade?
As for the mirror, it’s never mentioned until after a major redevelopment of the Palace in 1936, where it suddenly becomes advertised as a tourist attraction. Originally just described as a ‘banksia-framed mirror’ in the dining room, a couple of years later it had obtained a new story about its origin.
The manageress, Mrs V Cook, spun a tale about how it had been made in Florence in the 1850s, shown at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1880, cost £1000 to make, had originally been covered in gold leaf, could grant wishes, and had been painted brown by her late husband to fit in with the rest of the furniture. Actually, we believe that last bit.
The mirror looks 19th century, and is certainly magnificent and worth the trip to Kal just to see it. Even more so now they’ve stripped off the brown paint and restored it to its original (gilt-less) beauty. But, sorry Palace Hotel, it has nothing to do with Herbert Hoover. Nor does the poem.
Sometimes, being a historian is a bit like telling kids about Father Christmas.