Thursday, March 10, 2011


If you have not seen the Princess Diana exhibit at Union Station in Kansas City (or anywhere else) and you have any interest whatsoever in Diana, England, Elton John, fashion, and/or sparkly things, then stop reading this drivel and get your royal arse to Union Station.

If you have seen the exhibit, then you will likely agree that it is a stunning piece of pop culture's juiciest and most curious history. The expertly arranged traveling museum begins with a look at various Spencer family heirlooms, namely jewels, letters and paintings up to hundreds of years old. I asked, but they will not let you leave with any of the tiaras.

(The same would turn out to be true for all of Di's dresses, including her wedding gown, even if you offer to leave them the 25-foot train.)

Turn the corner and you are in Diana's childhood home, Althorp. Letters to her parents, favorite toys and old suitcases, among many, many other treasures, sit waiting behind glass for your glimpse and a sigh. Home movies play on a screen, with some of the unwitting props on display around the pale pink room. Hardly royal, this room could just as easily have been filled with anyone's tchotchkes from her infancy to courtship. But ours wouldn't be that interesting, really, would it?

Journals from her late teens describe, in her own writing, her courtship to Charles. Just as you finish reading a large wall plaque with the simplest version of their history, the sounds of "Trumpet Voluntary" pipe from the room next door. You turn the corner and face...

The. Dress.

Yards upon yards of hand-made silk and lace. Dated? Probably. Timeless? Definitely. While no modern bride of 2011 will ever walk into a bridal store and request a gown with enormous sleeves, mountains of fabric, bows at every turn and a train longer than most living rooms, every bride will want to look as beautiful as Di did on her wedding day.

Never mind that Charles was already flinging with Camilla. Forget the part that she was barely 21 and he was an aged 33-year-old man who still lived with his parents. Ignore every part of your brain that tells you this was a tremendous piece of pageantry that gave birth to bridezillas worldwide and ultimately ended in the most publicized divorce since Henry VIII.

Put all of the logic and cynicism away for when it is someone else's time to wed and remember how it felt to be excited about something so beautiful. So British. So unlike anything we had ever seen here before.

Remember how the blushing bride made the monarchy human. Remember the joy with the birth of each boy, Barbara Walters's interview with the young family, the growth of a young girl into a capable and independent woman who wrote her own rules and loved out loud.

Remember the beauty of England's rose, and, as you approach the end of the magnificent train and notice the trumpets fading and Elton John's familiar arpeggios coming from the next room, remember how all of her joy was swiftly and suddenly wiped from the earth, from her sons, and turn the corner into the funeral room, letting loose the ugly cry as you read her brother's original announcement of her death while Elton John sings his haunting anthem.

Feel more than just a tad guilty for ever buying any book, magazine or collectible with Diana's face, knowing that love of Di came, ultimately, at a steep, unbearable price.

Turn the next corner and see the hundreds of volumes of condolence books from all over the world. And then watch Diana come to life again as you walk through the next room filled with Diana's greatest hits and misses as a fashion icon. Try to wrap your head around the fact that she was once inside each and every one of these dresses and suits.

Try to imagine scaling the glass case and climbing inside of the dress, allowing your skin to be where hers once was.

Read her many letters of correspondence in the next room and make your way out through the gift shop.

And if you leave wishing you could go back to the wedding room and just live in a time before anyone knew any of the heart-wrecking truths and tragedies to come for a bit longer, know you are not alone.

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