Roughly 4,370 miles from Buckingham Palace, a wreath of pink and white English roses with a black mourning ribbon hangs on the front door of a townhouse fit for a queen.
There are no royal color guards with beefeater hats, no throngs of tourists outside this humble gated palace just up the road from the Royal St. George apartments in West Palm Beach.
The closest to a throne these regal quarters have is the denim sofa chair where Chris Ross was sitting just after 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 8 when breaking news from the television in his living room moved him to tears.
Queen Elizabeth II had just died.
“My daughter Aly was standing on the stairs and she came over to me and hugged me and was crying with me,’’ he said. “It was like losing a family member.’’
Ross, 60, isn’t related to the late queen. The Miami native wasn’t even born in England.
But as a passionate and unabashed royals fan —a Yankee commoner who says he has spoken to the queen while dreaming — Ross knew he needed to mourn the late Elizabeth.
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He flirted with plans to fly to Edinburgh, Scotland, where the queen initially was lying in state, but knew the long flight would be too painful on his sore back.
Instead, he decided to curtsy to the queen's legacy by creating a memorial inside his two-story townhouse off Military Trail.
As floral tributes were being dropped off at Her Majesty’s royal residences across Britain on Sept. 9, Ross drove to a West Palm Beach bank, opened his safety deposit box and brought home some of its precious contents.
Then, he gathered some other prized collectibles he keeps around the house, cleared all 23 square feet of the dining room table and meticulously laid it all out — a makeshift tribute from a lifetime of royal keepsakes.
What's in the makeshift memorial to Queen Elizabeth II
There are notes, correspondences, business records and proclamations, embossed with the regal Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Castle seals and at one time ensconced in the late queen’s famous red box.
There are commemorative books, buttons, stamps and ribbons with images of the queen from throughout her life, precious lockets with fold-out photographs of the Windsors, Christmas cards from Buckingham Palace.
There’s even a yellowed souvenir edition of the Daily Mail commemorating the queen’s 1947 wedding, piled in a paper sea of royal treasures held at the edges of the table by the backs of six Windsor chairs.
Perhaps most personal to him are four letters from the late queen thanking “Dear Mr. Ross” or “Dear Mr. Moncrief Ross” for sending, among other things, his congratulations for her golden and diamond jubilees and condolences after the death of her husband Phillip.
(When Ross wrote to the queen, he sometimes used “Moncrief,’’ an ancient Scottish name from his mother’s ancestors.)
Seeing it altogether on the dining room table — touching it and holding pieces of it in their hands — has provided a source of comfort over the past few weeks for Ross, his wife Kimberly and their two adult daughters, Chelsea and Aly.
“When you have a card or letter or document that she signed, you are literally holding something that she has held at one time,’’ he said. “It was good for me to hold something that I knew had been on her lap or on the desk before her.’’
Watching over the makeshift memorial, like a member of her royal Color Guard, is Queen Elizabeth II herself. Her dignified image is embossed on many of the 185 commemorative plates, saucers, tea sets, loving cups and beakers, made by Wedgeworth, Royal Doulton and other top British china houses, delicately crowded together on the glass shelves of a cabinet next to the table.
“This is a great piece,’’ Ross said, holding a fine English bone china dish with the first mass-produced image of Elizabeth as a toddler above the script “Our Empire’s little princess.’’
But the late queen isn’t the only star of Ross’ extensive collection.
There's an undated envelope dabbed with the wax seal of Prince Albert, the prince consort to Queen Victoria — who reigned from 1837 to 1901, a record surpassed on Sept. 9, 2015 by her great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth II.
There’s an 1855 decree signed by Queen Victoria appointing Charles Scanlon as a paymaster for the army’s services.
There’s a hand-written letter dated Jan. 1,1888 from the late queen’s great-grandfather, Francis, the Duke of Teck, offering a constituent “a thousand thanks for the dear dog which arrived here quite safely yesterday.’’
There’s even a lock of Queen Victoria’s hair.
“You can see it, one or two strands of Victoria's reddish-brown hair that she was known to have,’’ he says, eyeballing a tiny clear plastic bag.
He plucked that hair off eBay for $49. It came with an yellowing note — “The Queen’s hair April 26th, 1888” — that may have been written by Queen Victoria herself, Ross said, “because it is very similar to her writing that we have seen in different diaries.’’
Don’t get him started on the queen who inspired the Victorian Age.
“I have a whole ‘nother cabinet upstairs of Queen Victoria,’’ said Ross, who gave his oldest daughter Chelsea the middle name Victoria.
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Aunt introduced him to the British royals, ancestor traveled with one
For those taking in Ross’ vast collection for the first time, an immediate question is raised.
How on Earth did this bloody happen?
Blame it on Auntie Isabel.
The late Isabel Ablett-McCormic, born in 1914 to English parents working in India for the British government, when India was still a colony, was a war bride who married into Ross’ extended family after World War II.
As a boy, “I would hear auntie talking about ‘The queen, the queen, the queen,’’’ said Ross, who was raised in Plantation and moved to West Palm Beach in 1995. “In my mid teens I started perking up, listening to her and really becoming enthralled in the royal family history.’’
In 1977, Auntie Isabel attended Queen Elizabeth’s silver jubilee and brought back a souvenir for her young Florida great-nephew — The commemorative plate that turned out to be Ross’ first piece of royal memorabilia.
“I was enthralled by the queen's ciphers and coats of arms,’’ he said. “The plate lists all the monarchs from Edward the Confessor to Queen Elizabeth.’’
He'd been bitten hard by the royal collectibles bug. Over the next 30 years, he accumulated about 750 pieces.
“I built and built. With the advent of eBay, it's a dangerous thing,’’ he said with a laugh.
Ross went on to have a successful career as a radiation therapist at Jupiter Medical Center. But his hobby turned him into an expert on all things British royalty.
He learned that much of the available memorabilia on eBay originated from British servants and peers who worked closely with members of the royal family.
“I started having to downsize the collection by getting rid of things more of a souvenir quality,’’ he said.
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I have a tea towel from Chuck and Di’s wedding in 1981.’ But it’s only worth what you paid when you bought it in a London drugstore.’’
In recent years, he has focused on collecting commemorative stoneware made by the great British china houses and authentic documents of royal business.
The oldest of his treasures is a coin minted in the 1700s during the reign of King George III, but Ross takes more pride in a few other oldies but goodies.
A lustreware bowl mourning Princess Charlotte, the only legitimate granddaughter of George George III, who died during childbirth in 1817, setting the stage for the reign of Queen Victoria. A pitcher commemorating the 1831 coronation of King William IV. And a wedding jug made in 1840 commemorating the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Ross jokes that he’s probably spent a small king’s ransom over the years on the collection, which isn’t all that unusual considering the big bucks other hobbyists pay for wine, coins, baseball cards, comic books and stamps.
Still, some first-time viewers of the Ross collection “are taken back at first,’’ he said. “To be honest, most Americans don't get the concept of honoring someone we broke away with. Let's face it. We gave up on the monarchy in 1776.’’
For Ross, it’s also personal. He says he has traced his lineage to his 25th-great-grandfather, Robert de Vaux, a Norman aristocrat who traveled with William the Conqueror to the king’s coronation on Christmas Day in 1066.
“It’s a historical thing,’’ he said of his hobby. “It's a tie to the land of my ancestors.’’
Other collectors just as avid
Even around Palm Beach County, Ross is not alone when it comes to strangers who’ve felt close connections with the late queen.
“I thought about that the other day how much affection I've had for this woman who I never met,’’ South Palm Beach Town Council member Bill LeRoy said Sept. 12. The Town Council started its monthly meeting that day with a moment of silence for the late queen.
“Our presidents come and go but she was there for 70 years,’’ LeRoy said. “She’s always been in our lives.’’
It’s the same with Ross, who said he saw the queen and her husband in person in 2016 on a visit to London for Elizabeth’s 90th birthday.
“We were able to see them go by in the car, as far as I am away from you,’’ he said. “I literally made eye contact, which was chilling to me.’’
On the day the queen died, Ross said he received 23 texts of condolences from friends. His eyes were still red with tears when his royal-collectible instincts took over.
“Five minutes after she passed away, I bought a mug of Charles as a child on eBay, before they tripled in price,’’ he said. “A lot of stuff started flying off eBay after she passed. It was like watching the stock market.’’
For at least another week or so, Ross and his family will continue eating their meals in the kitchen instead of at their usual spots around the dining room table; that will remain occupied for the time being by the royal family.
“It’s going to stay put for a while,’’ he said one day in late September as he looked over the collection. “I may ride the wave until after she’s buried.’’
Eventually, he wants to downsize his collection by getting rid of his “doubles.’’
“Out of respect I'll probably wait and maybe sell those off after she's laid to rest,’’ he said. “I can't physically do it right now. It would make me nauseous, especially things with her signature.’’
And he’s hoping his sore back heals up by next year so can fly to London to attend the first coronation of his lifetime.
Ross said he wants to connect with other royal collectors. Anyone interested can email him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: After Queen Elizabeth's death, West Palm man displays royal collectibles