Queen Elizabeth II: Philadelphia park ranger recalls queen’s 1976 bicentennial visit

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, died Thursday. She was 96.

Queen Elizabeth II will forever hold a large space in world history, but she also holds a space in Philadelphia history, a place she visited in 1976, and some people are still around who remember it.

In 1976, all of America was celebrating the nation’s bicentennial, especially in Philadelphia. A special time to host her majesty.

The Royal Yacht Britannia pulled into Penn’s Landing on July 6, 1976. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were greeted by Mayor Frank Rizzo and Gov. Milton Sharp.

queen elizabeth ii philadelphia

Office of the City Representative


People crammed the streets, hoping for a glimpse as the queen’s motorcade headed to City Hall, where the mayor presented a royal proclamation, and then to Independence National Historical Park.

There, Park Rangers were ready.

“It was amazing,” Helaine Myzel Lawton said. “I mean, we were absolutely thrilled to be seeing the queen.”

Helaine Myzel Lawton was a 19-year-old Park Ranger assigned to open a door for the queen.

“The queen comes to open up the door, I was enthralled,” Myzel Lawton said, “and the woman standing next to me was like, ‘open it up, open it up.’ I kind of froze for a second.”

The queen was given a tour, stopping to chat with a group of Girl Scouts.

She visited and touched the Liberty Bell, but the most symbolic moment was the dedication of a new bell, the Bicentennial Bell, a gift from Britain inscribed with the message “let freedom ring.”

queen elizabeth ii philadelphia bell

Office of the City Representative


Queen Elizabeth II’s evening was fully booked, including a reception with 600 people at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“The Americans were finally sort of embracing that royal bond,” Richard Lyntton, author of “From Cottage to Palace,” said. “Securing that British relationship across the pond, as the Americans always like to say.”

And images of her visit traveled the world. Myzel Lawton spotted one in London.

“There was one of her in Philadelphia,” Myzel Lawton said. “I remember being very proud of that.”

It was quite a change from 200 years before.

Philadelphia was the place where the colonies rejected the British monarchy and declared their independence.

But in 1976, Philadelphia welcomed Queen Elizabeth II as a friend.

Queen Elizabeth II had a multi-city tour, including a state dinner at the White House, but it was Philadelphia that had the honor of welcoming her first for the bicentennial.  

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