All Hail the Kings

C aspar, Melchior and Balthasar have made their appearance in the Knights of Columbus-sponsored crèche at the corner of Chapel and Church Streets; presented their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus; and would have bestowed upon New Haven school children another day off from school if Three Kings Day, which happened January 6, hadn’t fallen on a Sunday. Now, according to the Biblical tale, the kings—or, if you prefer, wise men—are journeying home by a different route in order to avoid evil King Herod. They’re about to be followed in the calendar by another King—one Martin Luther, Jr.—and another school holiday, this one more widely celebrated across the nation.

But these are not the only kings to be found in our city. In fact, between first and last names, the online Whitepages directory lists more than 4,800 Kings in the New Haven area. (They’re overwhelmed by more than 12,000 Queens.)

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Flights of Fancy - January 24, 2019

Like our people, some of our byways bear kingly monikers, intended or not. There’s the boulevard named for MLK, of course. Less traveled is King Place, juxtaposed between presidential Washington Avenue and Truman Street. This King of The Hill neighborhood has a short reign, just one block long, but it’s the highest-ranking royal route in town, followed by equally tiny Prince Street just south of the Frontage Roads.

Don’t be misled by the fact that Crown Street runs along the top of George. Our George was named for Mr. Washington, not any of the six British kings of that name, and our first president decidedly did not want to be king. When told that Washington would return to his farm after serving as president, an astonished King George III reportedly replied, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”

George Street isn’t the only one to resist the monarchy. None of the obvious suspects among New Haven thoroughfares are actually named for English royals—neither John nor Elizabeth nor James nor Richard. Only York Street has a whiff of the British. According to Doris B. Townshend, author of The Streets of New Haven, it was officially named in 1784 for the members of “the Yorkshire group, sent by Ezekiel Rogers in the fall of 1638,” which originally settled on that street and “tended to cluster together in the beginning.”

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Miller, Mississippi at Long Wharf Theatre

As streets go, it seems the royals lose out to the regicides Whalley, Goffe and Dixwell, whose influence and reach are far greater. Castles, too, are in short supply here, though Yale gives it the old college try with its towers and arches and impenetrable gates.

Constructed not in the Dark Ages but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, their designs were plundered from Oxford and Cambridge. Legend has it that one of Harkness Tower’s makers even poured acid down its stone face to make it look more historically distinguished. Aside from that, the only other castles in town are the metaphorical kind that equate to “a man’s house,” as the old saying has it (though Bill Miller’s Castle isn’t too far outside city limits).

Nevertheless, Yale has had its kings. President Kingman Brewster led the way from 1963 to 1977 through some of the campus’s most tumultuous years and bestowed an honorary degree on Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964. (You can learn about “The Kings at Yale,” including Martin’s wife, Coretta, in the exhibit of that name through March 1 at Sterling Memorial Library.)

It’s surprising how many monarchs one small city can hold. But perhaps the most important of the bunch are those who never set foot here. The persecution of Puritans in England under the reigns of James I and Charles I led the separatists who formed New Haven Colony to flee England for our shores.

Over at King/Robinson Magnet School, a global is just the thing for New Haven’s future world rulers. If they can’t wait for education to do its work, they might win the keys to the kingdom right away by getting their hands on a king and protecting him with a rook at a public library chess meetup. For less taxing entertainment that will allow you to sit on a plush throne and relax, check out The King and I at the Shubert Theatre this spring. If you can’t make it to Cafe Nine for tonight’s birthday tribute to the King—Elvis Presley—you can still kick back at home and listen to the music of New Haven’s Johnny King.

When searching for a royal meal in our New England kingdom, we have plenty to choose from. There’s Burger King, China King and Pizza King (just “Ring the King,” their marketing suggests). You can order a princely meal of king crab legs at Cajun Boiled Seafood, or take a page from the book of France’s most famous queen and let yourself eat cake from one of our prized bakeries. For the nap you may need after your big meal, Jordan’s Furniture will deliver a king-sized mattress (free with the purchase of a set for $597 or more).

Though the days of the three magi have passed us by (at least for this year), New Haven remains a city fit for kings.

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Join her this month on Goodreads for a guided winter reading of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.

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