Chicago will forever have a special connection with Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away Thursday at the age of 96.
The longest-reigning British monarch visited Chicago in 1959 along with her husband Prince Philip, at the invitation of then Mayor Richard J. Daley. The royal couple was in the U.S. for an official tour of the Great Lakes region following the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. It would be their only U.S. port of disembarkation on the tour.
According to news reports at the time, more than 1 million spectators lined the lakeshore and Michigan Avenue for a parade to welcome the couple after their arrival via the HMY Britannia, at the landing at Buckingham Fountain.
“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,” Chicago Daily News reporter Henry M. Hanson wrote of the festivities surrounding the royal arrival.
“My husband and I are very glad to be here today. We have looked forward for a very long time to coming here and meeting our American friends in the middle of the country,” the queen said in her remarks to the gathered crowd.
Among the places visited in a 14-hour whirlwind tour by the queen and her husband were Navy Pier where a 2,300-foot-long red carpet welcomed them for a look at the Chicago International Trade Fair, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago, lunch at the Ambassador Hotel, and a formal gala dinner at the Conrad Hilton Hotel.
According to a Sun-Times story the following day describing highlights of the gala dinner, the queen was greeted by hotel magnate Conrad Hilton and a 26-piece U.S. Army band from Washington.
Inside the grand ballroom, she sat between Mayor Richard J. Daley and Chicago first lady Eleanor “Sis” Daley.
The queen wore a tiara bearing and emerald surrounded by diamonds, a white dress and diamond necklace also studded with emeralds.
“Today history, unforgettable history, has been made in Chicago, and we have all been privileged to be a part of it,” the mayor gushed in his remarks at the dinner.
After Daley toasted the queen, she offered her own toast “to the President of the United States.” The room burst into applause when the mayor told the royal couple to “come back and see us again and bring your children with you.”
In an unexpected tour stop, the queen underwent an emergency tooth filling replacement by a local dentist at his downtown office just hours before the gala dinner.
“Queen Elizabeth II won Chicago’s heart Monday,” the Chicago Daily News reported of the visit on July 6, 1959. “Crowds went daffy in a daylong love affair with the Queen.”
Below are some images of the historic visit: