You probably know that members of the United Kingdom’s royal family make regular visits to the United States for diplomatic and ceremonial purposes.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the Arlington Cemetery, June 1939.
But over the last 80 years members of the royal family have stopped in Arlington too, drawing much local attention and stirring up royal fervor!
Here are a few of their notable visits to the area:
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, parents to the current Queen Elizabeth II, were the first reigning British monarchs to visit the United States and made a stop in Arlington during their time in the country. The trip garnered both local and national excitement, with one columnist from The Northern Virginia Sun declaring that “you will look a long time to find in your history books anything that quite reaches the level of the moment which will be recorded this afternoon.”
Those gathered in Washington D.C. to greet the royals upon their arrival on June 8 included a group of approximately 300 Arlington residents. An entire division of the Arlington Boy Scouts attended the event. Three children from Arlington were also selected to participate as guards of honor for the royal arrival, including a representative from the Girl Scouts, a member of the Rover Scouts, and a cub scout from the Clarendon Methodist Church. In preparation for the occasion, the Arlington County Board voted for the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on June 8 to be considered a holiday. Arlington County schools were also given the day off as a holiday, marking a slightly early end to the school year.
In the society pages of The Sun newspaper, it was reported that numerous Arlington residents attended the garden party thrown for the royal couple at the British Embassy during their stay. On the second day of their visit, the couple toured Mount Vernon and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery, before embarking north for appointments in New York.
As part of a tour of the nation’s capital, Princess Elizabeth (who wouldn’t begin her reign as queen until February 1952) and Prince Philip also made stops at Mount Vernon and the Arlington National Cemetery during their brief three-day visit to the Washington, D.C., area, which bookended a longer tour of the Canadian territories.
During their time in D.C., the royal couple stayed at Blair House, the temporary residence of President Truman while the White House was being renovated – a project that lasted four years, from 1949 to 1952.
The princess and prince’s visit proved to be a whirlwind, scheduled out to the minute with activities and events. On the second day of their trip, the couple hosted a reception at the British Embassy, during which 2,000 people were selected to shake the princess’s hand. The honored guests were notified of their selection via mailed invitations in late October, which included the forewarning that the reception line “will be kept moving briskly at the request of Scotland Yard” and “Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip may not be questioned or quoted.” The couple was then treated to a dinner and party hosted by the President and First Lady.
Stops at Mount Vernon and the Arlington National Cemetery also took place on the second day of their visit. A 21-gun salute was fired in honor of the princess, after which their motorcade proceeded to the amphitheater through the cemetery’s west entrance. The couple was then brought through the trophy room to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where Princess Elizabeth laid a wreath.
The ceremony was accompanied by a performance of “Taps,” as well as “God Save the King” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the visit. The cemetery was understandably closed to traffic the day of the event, though citizens were permitted to attend the ceremony on foot.
Six years after her first visit to the U.S., this trip marked Queen Elizabeth’s first American visit as sovereign. This tour also included a stop at the Arlington National Cemetery, where the Queen would once again pay respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Queen Elizabeth lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery, 1957.
During this trip, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip touched down stateside October 16 at the Patrick Henry Airport (now the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport), where they kicked off a two-day stay in Virginia. The couple attended the 350th-anniversary celebration of the founding of Jamestown, toured the College of William and Mary, and dined at the Williamsburg Inn before departing for the D.C. area on President Eisenhower’s official airplane, the Columbine III.
From there, the queen and prince were welcomed by President Eisenhower and the First Lady, as well as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and set off on a full schedule of appearances. The pair toured the Capitol Building with Vice President Richard Nixon and Pat Nixon, visited the National Cathedral, laid the cornerstone for the new British Embassy, and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier crossing over to Arlington for this appointment.
The couple also traveled to College Park to take in a football game on October 19, in which Maryland upset UNC 21-7. After the game, Queen Elizabeth infamously asked to see an American supermarket and the royal motorcade headed for the Queenstown Giant Food grocery store in West Hyattsville, where they were given a brief tour as awestruck shoppers looked on.
To learn more about Arlington's history, visit the Center for Local History on the first floor of the Central Library.
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