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Queen Elizabeth II In Chicago: Monarch’s Only Visit To City Was ‘Unforgettable,’ She Said

Chicago was Elizabeth's only stop in the United States during a 1959 tour of the Great Lakes only a few years into her reign. Her husband, Prince Phillip, said the skyline was the most beautiful he'd ever seen.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Museum of Science and Industry in 1959 during her lone trip to Chicago.
Wikimedia Commons
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DOWNTOWN — People across the world are mourning Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday — and Chicagoans are thinking of their own connections to the long-reigning monarch.

Chicago was Elizabeth’s only stop in the United States during a 1959 tour of the Great Lakes only a few years into her reign. The two were celebrating the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which allows people to reach Chicago from the Atlantic Ocean.

The visit marked the first time a reigning British monarch visited Chicago — and the only time Elizabeth and Phillip stopped here.

The trip was full of glitz and glamour. Elizabeth said the day was “unforgettable,” while Phillip said the city’s skyline was “the most beautiful he had ever seen,” according to the Tribune.

Elizabeth traveled to Chicago via boat, coming ashore at a specially built jetty near Buckingham Fountain — a spot now known as Queen’s Landing in her honor.

Chicago welcomed the queen with a 21-gun salute, large crowds along the lakefront and cheers as she and her husband, Prince Phillip, proceeded through the city along Michigan Avenue. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the spectacle — even though the visit only lasted about 14 hours.

Credit: Chicago Park District
Queen’s Landing during the royal arrival.

A video from the Chicago Film Archives shows a grand procession for the queen and prince during the 1959 visit.

Another video of the visit:

The queen and Phillip were welcomed by then-Mayor Richard J. Daley and Gov. William Stratton, among other officials.

“The city went daffy,” Chicago Daily News reporter Henry M. Hanson wrote, according to the Sun-Times. “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.”

Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Britannia underway in 1959, when Queen Elizabeth II used the yacht to travel to Chicago.

The two royals had lunch at the Ambassador Hotel — the queen using flatware made of solid gold to eat duck and lamb, while her feet rested on a pillow, according to the Tribune — and toured a small portion of the lakefront.

The queen visited the Museum of Science and Industry, where she excitedly said, “Oh, look. A Spit!” after seeing an English Spitfire fighter plane hanging from the ceiling, according to the Tribune.

The queen also said the museum’s exhibits made her wish she had her children with her, according to a museum souvenir booklet.

The duo also stopped by the Art Institute of Chicago before heading to the Drake Hotel, where the queen took over the Sapphire Suite to meet with local leaders — and most of the Daley children.

The queen also stopped at a dentist’s office inside the hotel to have an emergency filling replaced, according to the Tribune.

After that, the duo and 1,200 guests had dinner at the Hilton Hotel, where Daley incorrectly sat to the queen’s left instead of her right — and then told the royals to return with their children, according to the Tribune. Elizabeth wore a jewel-studded tiara and necklace.

The queen and prince made a final stop at Buckingham Fountain before getting back onto their ship to leave, fireworks overhead.

The city had to pay about $75,000 — about $740,000 in 2022 — for the visit, according to the Tribune.

It was Elizabeth’s only visit to Chicago, though her daughter-in-law, Princess Diana, made her own headline-making trip to the city in 1996.

Elizabeth was 96 and had been the queen of the United Kingdom since 1952. Phillip died in 2021.

Credit: Chicago Public Libary, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Abbott-Sengstacke Family Papers
The invitation to the royal dinner.
Credit: Chicago Public Libary, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Abbott-Sengstacke Family Papers
The program for the royal dinner.
Credit: Chicago Public Libary, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Abbott-Sengstacke Family Papers
Credit: Chicago Public Libary, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Abbott-Sengstacke Family Papers

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