Eight years before he emerged on the world stage as Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill took center stage at the newly opened Westchester County Center on March 8, 1932 to deliver an historic and visionary lecture on “The World Crisis” that helped to re-shape post-war Europe.
Fascinating historical details about Churchill’s only speaking event in Westchester County were revealed by author/historian Anthony Czarnecki of Cortlandt Manor earlier this fall in a lecture he gave at Cortlandt Town Hall.
Czarnecki said that Churchill’s appearance in Westchester County was arranged by Dorothy Olney of White Plains, who promoted cultural events at the new entertainment center; she booked Churchill for a $1,000 speaking fee. The Daily Reporter in White Plains announced the Churchill event as “England’s Most Interesting Man,” calling him “one of the most brilliant orators of the English-speaking world.”
Churchill’s speech was part of an American lecture tour organized to help him recover from his serious financial losses after the U.S. stock market crash of 1929. Czarnecki noted that Churchill negotiated a lucrative contract for the tour that earned him $50,000 – which, at the time, was three times the annual salary of the British Prime Minister.
According to Czarnecki, what was most prophetic and enduring about Churchill’s lecture was that he publicly promoted a “United States of Europe” and closer European unity to avoid “the old quarrels of countries.”
He also promoted a closer alliance between Great Britain and the United States because of their shared ties to “language, law, and literature.” Czarnecki concluded that a strong case could be made that the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) both had their origins in Churchill’s White Plains speech.
The White Plains event almost didn’t take place, said Czarnecki, because Churchill was struck by a car and nearly killed on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan shortly after his arrival in New York in December 1931.
While he was hospitalized, Dr. Otto Pickhardt, Churchill’s surgeon, took pity on his famous English patient and wrote a medical note to appease his well-known appetite: “This is to certify that the post-accident convalescence of the Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits – especially at meal times.”
As a result, Churchill was able to legally circumvent the Prohibition-era laws of the United States during his entire lecture tour. When Czarnecki noted this little-known amusing anecdote about Churchill’s “special treatment,” the audience reacted with a snickering “aah-hmm!”
Czarnecki’s lecture was sponsored by Van Cortlandtville Historical Society, Croton Friends of History, and Yorktown Historical Society, and hosted by the Town of Cortlandt.
Dan Bailey, President of Van Cortlandtville Historical Society, noted that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Society, which has been headquartered at the Little Red Schoolhouse on Locust Avenue since 1972.
Anthony Czarnecki belongs to Van Cortlandtville Historical Society, Westchester County Historical Society, International Churchill Society, and is past president of the Lincoln Society in Peekskill. For 25 years, he was Chief of Staff at the Westchester County Department of Correction. He currently is president of The Chartwell Group USA, a criminal justice consulting firm, and senior adjunct professor of criminal justice at Westchester Community College.
Van Cortlandtville Historical Society> vancort.net
Yorktown Historical Society > yorktownhistory.org
Croton Friends of History > crotonfriendsofhistory.org
Bob Foley is Program Director of Van Cortlandtville Historical Society.