Hyattsville's Brush With Royalty
60 years ago today, Queen Elizabeth became Great Britain's royal sovereign. Did you know she once paid a surprise royal visit to a Hyattsville supermarket?
Today marks Accession Day in Great Britain and the Commonwealth nations which hold Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. (That includes you, Canada). Accession Day marks when the Queen learned of the death of her father King George IV and ascended to the throne herself as soverign.
It's something like a monarchical Fourth of July celebration, as near as I can figure out. People have the day off, gun salutes are fired at castles and national sites across Great Britain, and people gather for parties and food
It's also her Diamond Jubilee, the 60th year of her reign. In that time she has done a number of notable things, but perhaps most noteworthy for local residents is Queen Elizabeth II's jaunt through College Park and Hyattsville during an October, 1957 visit to the United States.
The football game, an upset win by the Terps over favored North Carolina, apparently baffled the British press, which struggled to describe the action as much as Prince Phillip struggled to comprehend the affair.
Whatever confusion American Football may have left the foreign visitors was apparently made up by the antics of then-Maryland Gov. Theodore McKeldin, a Republican who held the state's top spot for eight years between 1951 and 1959. McKeldin jumped up and down "wildly" as the game progressed, forcing the Queen to have to stretch her neck around the governor as the Terps defense forced an interception.
On the way to the game, the Queen caught a glimpse of the supermarket in the (appropriately named) Queens Chapel Shopping Center in Chillum and told her consort that she desired to visit the market. It's unclear from the reports the name of the supermarket visited by Queen Elizabeth, however the people @QueensChillum, the official Twitter account for the shopping center, say that it was the very Giant Food supermarket which still stands there.
(UPDATE: 5:30 p.m. - A reader writes in with even more evidence that it was indeed the Giant supermarket we know today. He notes an article from a 1968 edition of the Baltimore Afro-American recognizing Don D'Avanzo for a promotion to Giant's supervisor for its Washington, D.C. area stores. D'Avanzo was managing the Queens Chapel location the day Elizabeth paid her visit. He is mentioned in many articles recounting the Queen's visit to the store. The Afro-American article does not mention D'Avanzo's role in the Queen's visit, but it does confirm that he was emoployed by Giant during that time.)
While the football game went on, the State Department quickly adjusted the Queen's itinerary according to her wish. They contacted the store management, which only had an hour to prepare for a royal visit, and instructed the manager to keep the news on the down-low.
When the Queen did arrive at the store, according to the report found in the October 20, 1957 edition of the Lewiston, Oh. Morning Tribune, bystanders were shocked.
"One woman almost dropped her groceries when the Queen spoke to her," reads the report.
The Queen payed interest to the shopping carts equipped with a child's seat, while Prince Phillip noshed on some cheese and crackers offered up by store's staff.
In all, the visit to the supermarket lasted about 15 minutes and was "conducted with soup-to-nuts thoroughness" by the store's management.
A writer for the Canadian Press, George Kitchen, provides the most in-depth parsing of the queen's visit to the supermarket which this reporter has been able to dig up. He noted that many customers nearly dropped their shopping when they caught glimpse of the queen. He also noted the Queen's interest in the deli and the dairy sections of the store.
News of Elizabeth's visit to a supermarket was no surprise to Ed Creag, Associated Press editorial writer published in the Lumberton, N.C. Robesonian. Supermarkets were a new phenomenon in America, and were only just beginning to catch on in Europe.
"The supermarket, in its awesome majesty, is a growing symbol of American abundance," wrote Creagh. "It is growing so fast, in fact, that if many more of them are built there won't be any place for customers to live."