"I was watching the show last night and thinking: 'Oh, that poor woman. Give it a rest,' " Letzer says.

"She has come down in history as a monster, as the woman who dethroned a king. Whether you like Wallis and Edward VIII or you don't, you have to understand that theirs was a love story. When he abdicated in 1936, he gave up his throne for the woman he loved."

When the scandal hit the papers, her hometown was beside itself with excitement. Baltimoreans were agog at the notion that a commoner — one of their very own — could seemingly step into a fairy tale and become the queen of England.

During just one three-month period in 1936, articles chronicling developments in the romance ran in The Baltimore Sun nearly every day.

One article described the gown that the 18-year-old Wallis wore when she made her society debut in 1914. A casual remark by Mrs. Simpson about her Maryland roots was probed for hidden meaning. A New York entrepreneur even tried to buy the rowhouse at 212 Biddle St., where she had lived for several years as a girl, and move the building to New Jersey, where he planned it as the central attraction in an amusement park.

"There are five things that make up the best stories," says Baltimore historian Zippy Larson, who gives a one-hour talk about the duchess to local senior centers: "sex, money, power, religion and mystery. And her life had it all."

But even at the time and despite her celebrity, an odor of disgrace clung to the duchess.

After all, she had been divorced twice. Shameful!

She began her affair with the king while still married to another man. Shocking!

It was whispered that she had bewitched the infatuated monarch with boudoir tricks that she picked up during a trip to Shanghai. Sleazy!

"I don't think that Baltimore is proud of the duchess," Letzer says. "I think Baltimore is intrigued by her."

Later, rumors surfaced that were far more serious, rumors that the couple had made and were being influenced by dangerous friends.

The two were married in 1937 in a villa owned by Charles Bedaux, who later worked actively for Nazi Germany. Later the same year, the Windsors made a high-profile visit to Adolf Hitler.

Vickers concedes that the duke, in particular, was naive and showed spectacularly poor judgment.

"After the duke abdicated, he was eager to find something to do," Vickers says.

"A man from the American Embassy wrote to him and suggested that he meet Hitler and see if he could get him to be more reasonable. The duke wasn't very bright, and he was arrogant. He should have kept his distance. But I don't think he was a Nazi."

As history has yet to issue a definitive ruling on the matter, it's understandable if even the duchess' most passionate defenders hedge their bets.

Larson, for instance, is emphatic about the extent to which the duchess continues to get a bad rap. But when the question is put to her directly, she says:

"I don't know if I find her admirable. I do find her fascinating."

And Philip Baty, a retired Washington investment banker, would have people believe that he and his partner, Ron Peltzer, started the museum in his basement dedicated to the duchess almost by accident, on a whim, because they just happen to live a few doors from her former Biddle Street home.