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In 1995, Vicki and I boarded the famed Cunnarder, the QEII (1969-2008) at the Port of New York and set sail on my 10-year sabbatical from McDonald’s for a crossing to England. Aboard was famed science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, then in his mid-70s, who died just yesterday. I’d  always been a science fiction fan, having grown up glued to Flash Gordon (the original) on TV, so was delighted to have the opportunity to spend 2 hours with him in the theatre, and hear him talk about writing the Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. He told great stories, as we all know. That classic ocean liner crossing, with its black-tie dinners in the Queen‘s Grill and long sunny afternoons looking out to sea, was a memorable experience for someone like me, who had grown up cruising on small boats on inland lakes with my family.

RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 in Trondheim 2008.jpg

To mark the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a flotilla of seven warships escorted the Royal Yacht Britannia through the rivers and lakes all the way to Chicago. It was a muggy July 20th in 1959, when the Brittania, then almost new, dropped anchor at Chicago’s inner harbor, heralding Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip‘s arrival, the first to the city by a reigning British monarch.

As a 16-year-old, I filmed the action from a unique vantage point — aboard my father’s little launch, as the glistening Royal Barge powered by, nearly swamping us,with Phillip waving at the pleasure boats and the Queen ducking behind the windshield to keep her curly hairdo in place.  Sailors at attention stood on the bow and stern of her mahogany, silver-trimmed barge, flying the royal banner. My film is long gone (I think I cut a clip from it into a high school film project we called “An Expose of Spiriualism.”

But here is a newsreel of the event from British Pathe: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/queen-conquers-chicago

The Queen’s barge landed at the Monroe Harbor seawall, since known as the Queen’s Landing, and she crossed a red carpet across Lake Shore Drive to Buckingham Fountain, where she was greeted by Mayor Daly and Governor Stratton. A million gawkers lined the shoreline and fountain area. They paraded in open cars up Michigan Avenue, crossed the Chicago River, and proceeded to lunch at the Ambassador West Hotel.

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