Queen’s Landing: Elizabeth II’s Chicago Visit in 1959

On July 6, 1959, the sun was shining in Chicago, appropriately so, as the city was prepared to show off to a royal visitor. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, planned a stop in Chicago while traveling through Canada along the then recently opened St. Lawrence Seaway.

Queen Elizabeth’s 13-hour tour of Chicago began as HMY Britannia arrived in Chicago Harbor. A smaller barge brought her to the aptly named Queen’s Landing on the lakefront east of Buckingham Fountain, described by some as Chicago’s front door. Although Queen’s Landing takes its name from Elizabeth II’s visit 60 year ago, Buckingham Fountain was named in memory of Clarence Buckingham, no relation to the English royal palace, when it was dedicated in 1927. Both designs for the landing and the fountain are available in the Chicago Park District Records: Photographs and Chicago Park District Records: Drawings, available in Special Collections at Harold Washington Library Center.

Upon her arrival, Queen Elizabeth was greeted by Mayor Richard J. Daley and Mrs. Eleanor "Sis" Daley, Illinois Governor William and Mrs. Shirley Stratton, and 12 ambassadors representing the British Commonwealth nations. Invitations to this official reception were sent to more than 700 lucky attendees by Col. Jack Reilly, the Mayor’s special events director. He described the guest list to the Chicago Tribune as those representing “local organizations of all types, including fraternal, religious, labor and others from every neighborhood in the city.” After short remarks and a quick review of the troops gathered at the lakefront, the Queen, her party and welcoming committee made their way parade-style in cars along Michigan Avenue, and eventually east to Navy Pier. There, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited the International Trade Fair, traversing the longest red carpet in the world, 2,300 feet and on loan from Polk Brothers store, before making their way to other events and visits at Chicago landmarks.

After lunch at the Ambassador Hotel, the royal party toured the University of Chicago campus and Museum of Science and Industry. They took a quick look at the Art Institute of Chicago, then attended a reception at the Drake Hotel with Midwest governors and mayors. At just about 8 o’clock that evening, after a short delay to allow the Queen to receive an emergency dental filling, the royal procession was led by the Black Horse Troop of Chicago’s Medinah Temple to a dinner hosted by Mayor Daley at the Conrad Hilton Hotel.

Nearly a thousand people dined with the Queen at the Mayor’s dinner, including singer Etta Moten Barnett and Chicago Defender publisher and owner John H. Sengstacke. Several of the six courses offered that evening were named for the locks along the St. Lawrence Seaway including Fresh Strawberries Cote Sainte Catherine, Prime Chicago Filet Mignon St. Lambert and Double Consomme Iroquois.

Queen Elizabeth addressed the attendees that evening, sharing, “Ever since we landed this morning we have not ceased to be impressed by the massive dignity of your city…We shall carry with us…a memory of the generous hospitality of Chicago which will long warm our hearts.”

After a fireworks display at the lakefront, the Queen shared with Mayor Daley, “This is an unforgettable day – a day I will never forget.”

Learn more about Queen’s Landing in Special Collections’ Chicago Park District Records and about some of the folks who attended the dinner in the Abbott-Sengstacke Family Papers and Etta Moten Barnett Papers, both part of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection at Woodson Regional Library.