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Before he was king of Thailand, he was a baby in Brookline

Posted by Your Town  October 16, 2009 09:03 AM

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By S.I. Rosenbaum, Globe Correspondent

The building at 63 Longwood Avenue in Brookline doesn't look much like anything special -- just a modest brick two-story, dating back to the turn of the century.

But to Cholthanee Koerojna, of Burlington, this unassuming building is the "Brookline Palace."

Within these walls, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand took his first steps, said his first words. Here his father, the prince, cooked meals for fellow Thai students. The family played on the rooftop.

"I feel sometimes, when I stood in front of that place, I have goosebumps," Koerojna said. "I think back to 1928, imagine seing the children playing in front of the building ...we feel warm feelings just seeing that building."

On Sunday, October 18, Koerojna will preside over a ceremony to dedicate a plaque commemorating the king's time here, from 1926-1928. Buddhist monks will chant and daub the plaque with holy water, before Thai dancers perform on the sidewalk in front of the building. The ceremony is expected to start at 9:45 am.

It's a part of Koerojna's quest to find and mark the places where the king and his family stayed during their time in Massachusetts.

"I help people to learn about them, and I feel so proud," she said.

In Thailand, King Bhumibol (pronounced poom-mi-pon) is a beloved national hero whose portrait hangs in most households. As a child, Koerojna prayed before his portrait for good luck.
Most Thai are aware that the king was born in Cambridge, making him the only foreign-born monarch in the world.

"People (visiting the U.S.) stop and swing by Boston just want to see where he's born," said Sittithep Krajangsart, a cook at Rod Dee restaurant, not far from the Longwood building. "When you're feeling like 'Hey, this is the town where my king used to live,' it's really amazing."

But even many Thai don't know the details of how the king came to be born here, said Koerojna.
The king's father, Prince Mahidol of Thailand first came to Boston in 1916 to study public health at Harvard University and MIT. That was how he met his wife, a Thai nursing student at Simmons and a commoner, Koerojna said.

Prince Mahidol returned to Harvard to study medicine in 1926, this time bringing his family. In Boston, he wanted to be known not as royalty but simply as "Mr. Songkla," Koerojna said. Arriving in the city ahead of his family, he stayed at the YMCA, she said.

"He wanted to live simply, like many other Americans here," Koerojna said. "He didnt want to be different from any other people. He really put himself down to earth."

Prince Mahidol first tried to rent a house in Brookline, but was refused a lease because the landlord didn't want tenants with children, Koerojna. So the family ended up living on the second floor of the apartment building on Longwood Avenue -- the Brookline Palace.

In 1927 their third child was born at Mt. Auburn Hospital -- a boy they named Bhumipol Adulyadej. He would eventually ascend the throne in 1946, after the death of his older brother.

Now 82, King Bhumibol is something of a polymath. He's an accomplished jazz composer, and has patented a method for seeding rainclouds, to stave off droughts.

Like many of her countrymen, Koerojna feels a personal connection to the king.

"Thai people call the king a father," she said. "They feel, when I have problems, 'My father helps me.'"

In 2000, Koerojna, an administrator at Mass Bay Community College, started a project to clean up and renovate the small public square in Cambridge named for the king.

The square was re-dedicated with a new sign and monument in November, 2003.
But that was just the beginning.

Koerojna began to research the history of the royal family's stay in Massachusetts, and identified 10 historic sites where royalty lived at different times.

Over the summer, her nonprofit organization, the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation, has affixed plaques marking most of the sites, including houses in Gloucester and Martha's Vineyard, two residences in Cambridge and one spot in Harvard Square.

On Thursday, they readied a plaque outside Mt. Auburn Hospital. And Koerojna plans to put up the final plaque next spring, on another house on Martha's Vineyard, now owned by the actor Tom Welling.

Most modern-day residents have been excited to find that their homes were once inhabited by royalty. Longwood resident David Stein, 28, said he found out about the building's history when workers asked to borrow his stepladder to put up the plaque by the door.

"I was surprised," he said. "It's a random fact but it makes our apartment a lot cooler."

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7 comments so far...
  1. Choltanee, I just wanted to comment on your article, I hope you still remember me from U Mass Lowell and also Kay Merrill too. When you get this can you e-mail me just to say hello.

    Posted by Barbara October 16, 09 11:13 AM
  1. What time will the ceremony be on Sunday?

    Posted by KJV October 16, 09 11:30 AM
  1. Barbara, It's nice of you to remember me. Yes, I rememer everyone at U Mass Lowell, Kay Merrill and Tom Costelo.
    The event will start at 10:00 am on the site. Please join us. Do not be afraid of rain. It it rains, we will hold the rest of prorgam at 90 Longwood Ave across street after unveiling the plaque. Please see the program and distribute to others.



    Significance: In one of the units at 63 Longwood Avenue, Prince Mahidol lived with his wife and three children: Princess Galyani Vadhana, Prince Anandha, and the newborn Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej, from 1926 until they all returned to Thailand in 1928. Prince Mahidol, who was here to study at Harvard Medical School, is known as “Father of Modern Medicine and Public Health in Thailand”. Both his sons became kings of Thailand: Anandha (as Rama VIII) and Bhumibol (Rama IX, "The Great") now in the 63rd year of his reign.
    Officiating: KTBF, Thai Monks, Honored Dignitaries, Property Owners
    Thai Classical Music by Thai celebrity, Duangpon Pongphasuk
    Fruit and Vegetable carving by Chef Amorn Phongtong of Sticky Rice Restaurant
    Welcome: Ms. Jennifer Sricharoenchaikit, KTBF Public Relations
    USA Flag and American National Anthem Sung by Children of Park School
    Thai Flag and Thai National Anthem Sung by Thai celebrity, Duangpon Pongphasuk
    Historic overview of significance of the historic home by Ms. Amornrut Harnpukdipatima
    Unveiling of the plaque by KTBF’s president and the historic home owners
    Monks chant and dot the plaque
    KTBF’s prayer by Ms. Chadamanee Lesnick
    Introduction, Ms. Cholthanee Koerojna – President of KTBF
    Proclamation of Trail of Thai Royalty Day by Selectman Jesse Mermell, Town of Brookline
    Resolution of Trail of Thai Royalty Day (Statewide) from The House of Representatives of Commonwealth of Massachusetts by Sarah Van Auken on behalf of State representative Frank Israel Smizik

    PRESENTATIONS to Historic Homeowners, Park School and Town of Brookline for their Contributions to the Trail of Thai Royalty
    Ms. Cholthanee Koerojna, KTBF President
    Mr. Vernon Alden, KTBF Director
    Mr. Charles Intha, KTBF Director
    Mrs. Wilai Phromphen Atkinson, Brookline resident and KTBF supporter

    Preserving Thai History in Brookline: Ms. Somnuk Pulling, Ms. Chadamanee Lesnick, Ms. Sasikarn Haskell, Mr. Nelson Pulling
    Property Owner/Management
    Mr. Rob Crawford, Park School
    Mr. Kim Atkinson, Brookline resident and KTBF supporter
    Comments by Honored Invitees ~ Elected Officials in Attendance

    Thai Classical dance – “Rum Ayai” of Khmer-Thai of the E-Sarn Tai (South E-Sarn of Thailand), by Isabella Haskell
    Thai Classical dance – Benediction, Krai Raj Sumlerng by Siriwan Palajit
    Refreshments provided by KTBF members and supporters
    Fruit and Vegetable carving by Chef Amorn Phongtong of Sticky Rice Restaurant

    Posted by Cholthanee Koerojna October 17, 09 12:40 PM
  1. i agree, big deal! who cares. this is the U.S.A, not thailand. lots of people have done good things, so we should have ceremonies for them also? He is the king of thailand, not America. We have no king here, nor do we want one!

    Posted by rolonso October 18, 09 08:54 AM
  1. Rolonso- you really dont see the "big deal" in the only foreign-born monarch in the world living in our state/city?

    I think this is very interesting and am glad that something positive is being done about this. Saying this is the "USA and not Thailand" is a bit ignorant (and arrogant and obvious). We should strive to accept and learn about other cultures, especially ones that have such a close/strong connection to our community. I would understand your concern if public funds have been used for this project, but this article mentioned nothing about Brookline taxpayers involvment in any of these ceremonies.

    Posted by Greg from Waltham October 19, 09 02:19 PM
  1. It was a lovely event, especially to hear Park School students proudly singing our American National Anthem, and an angelic rendition of the Thai National Anthem by Thai songbird Ms. Duangpon Pongphasuk. More highlights were speeches by honored guests, classical Thai dance, gorgeous carvings of melons & vegetables by Chef Amorn Phongtong of Sticky Rice Restaurant (from Marblehead, MA) and a joyous feeling of celebrating a piece of international history. This Trail -- a gift to the Commonwealth by KTBF and private donors -- not only honors the royal family of Siam / Thailand -- it honors our heritage of hospitality, international friendships, higher education, community service and cultural exchange. The impact and meaning of the Trail goes far beyond Thai royalty in Massachusetts, although that history is uniquely fascinating!

    Posted by Amy from Gloucester (Brookline High graduate) October 19, 09 09:11 PM
  1. My father often told me of seeing what he called "the royal nanee pushing the royal baby carriage down the street". Since I knew the King was born in Cambridge and my father was a Harvard student at the time I always assumed he had seen the king in Cambridge. I was tickled pink to discover the king had lived in Brookline, a mere two blocks from where I now live! I therefore determined to attend the ceremony and found it delightful. The singer is highly talented and although of course I did not understand a word I found the Thai national anthem quite lovely to listen to. I was also tickled to find the king's sister had attended kindergarden at Park, as my sisters and I did more than twenty years later! After going home and doing some online research on the king I found him to be a most interesting man.

    Father often joked that after seeing the king as a baby if he went into a Thai restaurant and told them he knew the king would he get a discount!

    Today I passed by intending to take a close-up picture of the plaque and was most distressed to find someone had tried to deface it by flinging some subjstance (it looked like plaster) on the plaque. It appears to have done no lasting damage though and can probably be easily washed off.

    Posted by Seth from Brookline October 20, 09 04:22 PM