Former Park Service ranger recalls opening door for Queen Elizabeth during Philadelphia visit

Queen Elizabeth visited Philadelphia back in 1976 for the bicentennial celebration. She gifted the US the Bicentennial Bell.

Friday, September 9, 2022
Former Park Service ranger recalls Queen Elizabeth's Philly visit
Queen Elizabeth visited Philadelphia back in 1976 for America's bicentennial celebration. She gifted the United States the bicentennial bell.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, has died. She was 96 years old.

"The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon," Buckingham Palace said in a statement Thursday afternoon. "The King and The Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow."

The queen is preceded in death by her husband of more than 70 years, Prince Philip, who died on April 9, 2021, at the age of 99.

Queen Elizabeth is survived by her three sons, Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward; one daughter, Princess Anne; eight grandchildren, Princes William and Harry of Wales, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York, and Peter and Zara Phillips, as well as Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn. She is also survived by 12 great-grandchildren.

Her eldest son, Charles, the Prince of Wales, succeeds her as king. His wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is expected to become queen consort, a title that Queen Elizabeth requested at the time of her Platinum Jubilee.

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, has died. She was 96 years old.

Many across the country are mourning the loss of the queen, including Helaine Myzel Lawton. She got to meet the queen back on July 6, 1976, in Philadelphia.

"There was a lot of excitement in the air. A lot of electricity in the air. We were very proud it was the bicentennial! The USA was 200 years old," said Lawton.

Queen Elizabeth was in Philadelphia for the bicentennial celebration where she gifted the United States the Bicentennial Bell.

In 2013, the bell was moved to make way for the Museum of the American Revolution.

The bell will make its way to its new home, soon at the corner of 3rd and Walnut streets at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024.

Lawton was 19 at the time of the queen's visit. She just finished her sophomore year at Temple University and she had a summer job with the National Parks Service where her dad also worked.

SEE ALSO: Queen Elizabeth helped Philly celebrate America's bicentennial in 1976

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stand with Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, left, and Pennsylvania Governor Milton Shapp, right, in Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 6, 1976.
AP Photo

On this day, she had a special job that all these years later she remembers like it was yesterday.

"I can close my eyes and I can see her walking up the steps into Independence Hall. I can see the white gloves they made me wear, and I can see myself and my colleague opening the door," recalled Lawton.

She was quoted in the New York Times at the time saying she couldn't wait to tell her grandchildren about this moment.

SEE ALSO: Queen Elizabeth II dies: What to know about succession, funeral, coronation, more

"My granddaughter is 3 and a half years old, so she's too young to understand. My husband is British, we have his whole family you know -- they love her. And I am very, very sad. Very sad," said Lawton.

The news of the queen's passing is echoing around the world as people reflect on her long and storied life.

"One way to think about the queen is not only as a person but as a symbol. When she came to the throne in 1952 and was crowned in 1953, there was a lot of writing at the time about what kind of symbol she was, what did this mean?" said Alastair Bellany, a history professor at Rutgers University.

Queen Elizabeth II stands at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 6, 1976 as she began her visit to the United States in that city.
AP Photo

Seven decades later, she was the longest-reigning British monarch, and many wonder -- what happens next?

"One thing that people agree on is that she took very seriously the notion of monarchy as duty as service...Charles is a very different kind of person. He's got his own ideas and he will try and imprint them on the monarchy and that will be interesting to follow because it will be a hard act to follow," said Bellany.

And a piece of her will always be here in Philadelphia.

"I was lucky. Even though I never met her, I just opened up the door, and it sounds stupid, but I got to do that. To see her up close," Lawton said.