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This week in history: Queen Elizabeth II visits Chicago

While on their way to Canada via the St. Lawrence Seaway, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stopped for a visit to Chicago.

Richard M. Daley welcomes Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to Chicago on July 6, 1959.
Mayor Richard M. Daley welcomes the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to Chicago on July 6, 1959.
Charles Gekler/Chicago Sun-Times

As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:

Any visitor with just 13 hours to spend in Chicago would probably hit the highlights: at least one museum tour, a trip to the top of Willis Tower, a stroll down the Magnificent Mile, maybe a ballgame and at least one Chicago-style hot dog or deep dish pizza.

If you’re royalty, however, that itinerary includes a personal welcome from the mayor, guided museum tours, dinner at a fancy hotel and one procession lined with cheering crowds. That’s the kind of day Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip experienced during their 13-hour visit in 1959.

Stopping by en route to Canada via the St. Lawrence Seaway, the royals from the U.K. received an enthusiastic welcome from Chicagoans.

“The city went daffy,” Chicago Daily News reporter Henry M. Hanson wrote for the July 6 edition of the paper. “A wild, noisy reception went off on the lakefront. Jets crisscrossed overhead. Fireboats shot plumes of water 100 feet in the air. Mortars bombarded the sunny blue sky with the Stars and Stripes and Union Jacks.”

The royal couple arrived in Chicago Harbor that morning on the HMY Britannia (HMY stands for “Her Majesty’s Yacht”), according to records from the Chicago Public Library. A barge brought them to Queen’s Landing, just east of Buckingham Fountain (no, the fountain was not named for the London palace).

Once they disembarked, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip walked down a flower-covered dock to a reception where Mayor Richard J. Daley, Gov. William Stratton, their wives and officials from the 12 Commonwealth nations greeted them, Hanson wrote.

“Bands played. Rockets exploded,” he noted.

Over 500,000 people turned out to greet the queen, Hanson said, and a particularly hardy group of 20 people waited all night at Buckingham Fountain just to catch a glimpse of the queen.

“Just call me Mr. Nuts,” 26-year-old Fred Hoffman told an unnamed Daily News reporter. “This is the second time I’ve waited for her.

“I wouldn’t be here now, except that I waited a night and two days in the London drizzle to see the coronation. Compared to that, this is a snap,” he said.

Five English nurses also waited to see the queen.

“We would have been here earlier,” one of the nurses said, “but we all had to work until 11 o’clock last night.”

After the reception, the royal couple rode down Michigan Avenue in a convertible towards Navy Pier while thousands of residents cheered, Hanson said.

At the pier, workers rolled out a 2,300-foot red carpet for the royal couple as they received a 20-minute tour of the Chicago International Trade Fair. Officials then took them on a tour of the Museum of Science and Industry as well as the Art Institute, Hanson wrote. They dined at the Ambassador Hotel for lunch and later enjoyed a reception at the Drake Hotel that evening before dinner with the mayor at the Conrad Hotel.

At 11 p.m., Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip boarded the barge to head back to the HMY Britannia, which sailed on to Canada.