In this excerpt from his autobiography, The Making of an American ©1901, Jacob Riis recalls an incident as a young man in Denmark:
The third day after I reached the capital, which happened to be my birthday, I had appointed a meeting with my student brother at the art exhibition in the palace of Charlottenborg. I found two stairways running up from the main entrance, and was debating in my mind which to take, when a handsome gentleman in a blue overcoat asked, with a slight foreign accent, if he could help me. I told him my trouble, and we went up together.
We walked slowly and carried on quite an animated conversation; that is to say, I did. His part of it was confined mostly to questions, which I was no way loath to answer. I told him about myself and my plans; about the old school, and about my father, whom I took it for granted he knew; for was he not the oldest teacher in the school, and the wisest, as all Ribe could testify? He listened to it all with a curious little smile, and nodded in a very pleasant and sympathetic way which I liked to see. I told him so, and that I liked the people of Copenhagen well; they seemed so kind to a stranger, and he put his hand on my arm and patted it in a friendly manner that was altogether nice. So we arrived together at the door where the red lackey stood.
He bowed very deep as we entered, and I bowed back, and told my friend that there was an example of it; for I had never seen the man before. At which he laughed outright, and, pointing to a door, said I would find my brother in there, and bade me good-by. He was gone before I could shake hands with him; but just then my brother came up, and I forgot about him in my admiration of the pictures.
We were resting in one of the rooms an hour later, and I was going over the events of the day, telling all about the kind stranger, when in he came, and nodded, smiling at me.
“There he is,” I cried, and nodded too. To my surprise, Sophus got up with a start and salaamed in haste.
“Good gracious!” he said, when the stranger was gone. “You don’t mean to say he was your guide? Why, that was the King, boy!”
I was never so astonished in my life and expect never to be again. I had only known kings from Hans Christian Andersen’s story books, where they always went in coronation robes, with long train and pages, and with gold crowns on their heads. That a king could go around in a blue overcoat, like any other man, was a real shock to me that I didn’t get over for a while. But when I got to know more of King Christian, I liked him all the better for it. You couldn’t help that anyhow. His people call him “the good king” with cause. He is that.
All of Jacob Riis’ books are in the public domain and may be downloaded freely from Project Gutenberg, HERE.