MOzarks Moments: The plot thickens and the fairy tale begins

Clockwise from top left: Gladys Berger Stewart from Ava/Nixa/Springfield who brought the Princess to the MOzarks and introduced her to her future husband. An article from October 10, 1947 tells of the Princess' wedding in Springfield. The Patterson House near Drury College where Kirby Patterson and his princess lived. This 1872 square grand Dunham & Sons piano from New York resided in the Patterson House and was probably played by the Princess, as well as occasional visitor, Rose O'Neill. The very tall, Princess Victoria Marina Patterson, talks with Prince Juan Carlos of Spain.

The princess of our MOzarks fairy tale, Princess Victoria Marina of Prussia, decided that since her family had fallen on hard times she would leave war-torn Europe and come to the United States to attempt to find a job. 

She thought that because of her background she might find a job in an embassy in Washington D.C. Early in 1946, she came to the U.S. to visit friends in New York City and then to look for a job in Washington D.C.

The problem with that was that she was restricted from working for the U.S. Department of State because of her former ties to Germany. She could not find a job, but she did find a friend. In Washington D.C. the princess met attorney Gladys Berger Stewart and they became good friends.

Stewart was originally from Ava and had attended college at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. The 1923 yearbook lists her as being 20 years of age. The 1930 census lists her as a lawyer living back in Ava. She is still living in Douglas County in the 1940 census. 

However, an article that was syndicated in various newspapers in 1947 says that Gladys Berger Stewart is “a lawyer in Nixa, Missouri, which is a small town, ten miles south of Springfield,” and that she “makes frequent business trips to the nation's capital.”

Stewart invited the princess to visit the Ozarks and she accepted. At a party thrown in her honor in Springfield, the statuesque princess, who stood just over 6-foot-4 in stocking feet, was introduced to one of Stewart's attorney friends. Stewart introduced Kirby Patterson as “one of the most-eligible bachelors in Springfield.”

The 40-year-old Patterson and 30-year-old princess hit it off, and after a whirlwind romance they were married at Trinity Lutheran Church in Springfield on Sept. 26, 1947, by pastor E. H. Koerger. The only others in attendance, there to serve as witnesses, were Kirby's sister, Mary Louise, and a friend from Niangua named William Williams. The stories in the newspapers afterward called it a “secret wedding.”

The couple set up house in an apartment in the large family home, known as the Patterson House, near Drury University. The home had been designed by Kirby's mother and aunt and built by his grandfather, Ezra Marvin Robards, in 1900. 

And that piano (remember the piano that started all this) was a centerpiece for one of the rooms in the house. In later years, while Rose O'Neill was living at Bonniebrook, she would occasionally visit the Pattersons at the house and play that wonderful piano.

Robards had been born in Avoca, New York in 1840. He had served with the 1st Independent New York Light Artillery during the Civil War. After the war, he married Mary M. Mathewson. They had six children, one being a daughter, Emily Mathewson Robards, who married Judge Orin Patterson in 1904. 

After the judge passed away in 1939, the house was converted to apartments for the grown Patterson children and their families.

A syndicated story by Irmis Johnson ran in a number of newspapers around the nation in January of 1948. It was entitled “Princess of the Ozarks,” and was subtitled, “From German Princess To American; Kaiser Bill's Granddaughter Transitions Into A Missouri Housewife!” It told the story of how the princess met Kirby. 

Princess Victoria was quoted in the article as saying, “It was fate that brought me to the Ozarks. If I hadn't happened to meet Mrs. Gladys Berger Stewart in Washington, I wouldn't have known that there was a Kirby Patterson in the world.”

On Aug. 21, 1948, Princess Victoria Marina Patterson gave birth to twins; a boy, Berengar Orin Bernhard Kirby Patterson and a girl, Marina Adelaide Emily Patterson. In 1954, the married couple would have another daughter, Dohna Maria Patterson.

One of the twins, Marina Adelaide Emily Patterson would grow to attend the University of Miami to study oceanography and marine biology. She joined the U.S. Navy in 1967, studied nursing and became a nurse at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital (which was named after its founder and the creek that flowed by his first cement plant, but seems ironically coincidental) in Bellflower, California.

In 1957, the princess and her commoner husband moved to Washington D.C., where Kirby Patterson worked as a prosecutor for the Department of Justice. Princess Victoria Marina was now back in the city where she could not find work, where she had met Gladys Berger Stewart and where she first heard about a place called the Ozarks.

For a while, the princess and the commoner lived their fairy tale life, but alas, in 1962, after 15 years of marriage and three children, they divorced. Kirby retired, moved back to Springfield and lived in the Patterson House.

Kirby's sister, Mary Louise Patterson, who was a portrait painter and had painted a portrait of the princess after she became her sister-in-law. Mary Louise Patterson moved back to Springfield from California in 1980, and was living in the Patterson House in 1989 when the Springfield Historical Site Board placed a plaque on the home marking its historical significance.

Victoria Marina Patterson, the princess who came to the MOzarks and found love, died in Taos, New Mexico in 1981 at the age of 63. Kirby Patterson, the MOzarker who married a princess, died on June 4, 1984, at the age of 76. 

Their story may not have been the traditional Disney movie fairy tale, but it was our “MOzarks Fairy Tale” and one that struck the fancy of people across this nation.

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