DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

August 16, 2012

Column: Once, European royalty dined at Derry's Oxen Yoke

Rick Holmes
Derry News

---- — At the corner of Broadway and Oak Street is now a small strip mall. About 25 years ago, the Oxen Yoke Restaurant was where D’Angelo’s is now. It was a smallish eatery with maybe a dozen or so tables and a meeting room where the Kiwanis and many other social groups met. Over the decades many, many wedding receptions, showers and birthday parties had been held at the Oxen Yoke. The best tables were in the front near a pair of picture windows. The walls were done in the then fashionable knotty pine paneling.

The place always seemed very clean, the food good, the service was quick and the prices were reasonable. I remember in the late 1950s taking a number of young ladies there for after-movie dinners. With a few dollars in my wallet I could be a real man about town. My date and I could each have a sandwich, a couple scoops of ice cream and a vanilla Coke for less than $2. Leaving a quarter tip on the table sent the message to my date that I was a real big spender. Then we would suffer the indignity of waiting on the sidewalk for my parents to pick us up for the drive home.

The Oxen Yoke building had been built around 1900 as a store by Charles Kimball. In 1908-1909, the building was operated as a movie theater by Morris Katz. It was called the Pastime Theatre, showing movies six days a week. It was closed on Sunday — as was every store and place of amusement in Derry. The movies changed every Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. In addition to movies, the patrons would also be shown illustrated songs. The words would be projected onto the screen and an audience would take part in a sing-a-long with the help of a violinist, piano player and quartet. Usually there would also be a couple of vaudeville acts such as a comedian, singer and dancer. The silent flicks showed on Nov. 25, 1908, included “The Bandit’s Watermelon”, “Balked at the Altar” and “The Colonel’s Bird.” Admission was 5 cents.

It next was transformed into a funeral parlor and in 1920 it became an automobile garage. In 1947, Coburn Tripp made the building into a restaurant named the Oxen Yoke. It passed through a number of owners until the 1960s when it operated by Woody (Woodrow, 1914-1979) and Pat (Paquerette, 1920-1996) Barrieau. He was very active in town politics and was one of the sparks that started Derry’s annual Labor Day festival.

On the early afternoon of July 31, 1971, Woody got a call from a stranger who identified himself only as a part of a security detail. The Derry man was told that the Oxen Yoke had the reputation of being a place where people could get “all the secrecy one wants.” He refused to tell the restaurant owner who was coming to town. Woody told the man that he could guarantee that “the guest would be able to dine in complete peace.”

About a half an hour later, a detail of plain-clothed American and French security guards arrived at the Broadway restaurant in Rambler, Ford and Plymouth station wagons. After checking out the dinning room, they gave the OK for their charges to come in. Then, to Woody’s amazement, the kitchen door opened and into the restaurant came Prince Rainier and Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. Along with them was their 6-year-old daughter Princess Stephanie and her governess. The four were quickly seated at a booth in the very back of the dining room.

None of the other diners in the nearly filled restaurant seems to have noticed the blond woman wearing dark glasses and a “pale-blue midi dress.” Woody remembered later that she wore no make-up. He remarked that the Academy Award-winning actress was “more beautiful than in her movies. She has natural beauty.” He didn’t have any comments about how the prince or the nanny looked. Maybe nobody else that afternoon noticed Grace Kelly that day but Woody sure did!

The prince and princess ordered a meal of chopped sirloin, cooked medium rare and a couple of glasses of beer. The little princess had spaghetti and meatballs. Three security guards ate at a table by the front door. A trio of other agents guarded the outside of the building and apparently went unfed.

After the royals finished their meals, Mr. Barrieau came over and introduced himself in French. The prince said he remembered back in 1944 reading about Woody and Pat getting married in the city of Nancy. Woody had been the first American GI to marry a French girl. What really made the headlines in the French newspapers had been the generosity of the newlyweds. By tradition, a collection was always taken in the church to help the newly married couple start their life together. Woody and Pat donated their money to help French war orphans — a gesture that certainly helped cement the American-French relationship.

The prince left his table to spend a few minutes talking to Pat about the changes that had happen to Monaco and France since the war. He invited the Barrieaus to visit them in his palace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The prince of the 0.6 square mile principality remarked on “the small size of Derry.” Woody, in defense of his town, remarked that while it was small, it had produced men like Robert Frost, Matthew Thornton and Alan Shepard. Prince Rainier conceded: “That is good enough.”

Later, the royals and their security people said their adieus. They left the Oxen Yoke praising the restaurant for its “food, services, hospitality, and privacy.” Prince Rainier left behind an autographed menu and his promise that they’d return again one day. With in an hour or so they were at Princess Grace’s family estate in the Bald Peak Colony at Lake Winnipesaukee. It’s not known if they ever returned to visit Derry. Probably they didn’t.

In 1982, Grace, her Serene Highness, the Princess of Monaco died in an automobile accident. Prince Rainier died in 2005 after a reign of 56 years, during which time he did much to reform the economic and political well being of his principality. Princess Stephanie, after a career as a singer and fashion model, is now very involved in international charities. In 1993, the United States issued a Grace Kelly postage stamp — the first actress to be so honored.

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Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry and plans to hold office hours at the municipal center. He is the former chairman of the Derry Heritage Commission. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.