Reliving political, personal history

May 05, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun Reporter

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- It seemed most appropriate that Queen Elizabeth II should arrive here, a place of cobblestone streets and brick storefronts frozen in time, where people in period-piece costumes talk as if they're still in the 17th-century British settlement.

"Hail the Queen," someone shouted from a crowd gathered to see Her Majesty's entrance into the Governor's Palace, where she dined with the likes of Vice President Dick Cheney and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

And so the queen's fourth state visit to the United States continued, a day marked by a ceremony at Jamestown Settlement and a stroll through the fort at Historic Jamestowne, capped by a visit to the College of William & Mary. Today the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, will attend the Kentucky Derby, then go to Washington, D.C., for two days.

The couple came to mark the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, where her countrymen founded the first permanent British colony in America, retracing the steps they took on a visit 50 years ago, and taking some new ones at the relatively recently excavated fort.

There were serious moments, like the somber recognition that this country's history of slavery began in Jamestown. And there were lighter moments, such as when the queen, touring a museum of excavated artifacts, made light of a spatula used to treat constipation, calling her doctor over and saying with a faint smile, "You ought to have something like this."

A mix of tourists and school groups, residents and employees gathered in various sites to witness the rush of the motorcade. The crowd numbers were not overwhelming.

Dining on a lunch of rockfish and lemon tart in a tent outside the Governor's Palace, the queen expressed her gratitude, recalling her first state visit to the U.S.

"Prince Philip and I are delighted to be back in Williamsburg 50 years after our last visit," she said. "Some of the most vivid memories of the early years of my reign are from that first visit here in 1957."

She said she was "moved by the poignancy of walking around the archaeological site where the original fort once stood." The site, previously thought to have washed offshore, was discovered in 1996.

Earlier in the day, the royal couple, accompanied by Cheney, O'Connor and Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, among others, attended a ceremony at the Jamestown Settlement. Some members of the public had started lining up for the event at 6 a.m., about four hours before it began.

Clad in a long teal coat and matching hat, the queen sat erect, watching an interpretive dance.

The history of the settlement was on full display - including the once-ignored unsavory elements, such as the battles with Native Americans and the start of the slave trade, historical truths raised by the queen a day earlier in her address to the Virginia legislature.

O'Connor echoed those remarks, noting that 50 years ago when the queen first visited, segregation was still in effect in parts of the country. "It's ironic that the first African slaves were brought to shore by the Jamestown settlers," she said.

After walking through the settlement briefly and watching several demonstrations, the couple met at the pier where the prince had just toured a replica of the vessel the Susan Constant.

"Your Majesty," said Capt. Eric Speth, "on behalf of Jamestown Settlement and Jamestown's founding fleet, we salute you!"

A gun salute followed, the boom of four shots piercing the air.

At the Jamestown Settlement, William Kelso, the archaeologist who found the original fort, joined the queen as they strolled toward the James River.

The queen got a tour of the museum there, where hundreds of excavated artifacts are on display, examining the bits of jewelry and shards of pottery, appearing amused at a piece of silver jewelry that included a spoon for ear wax and the spatula.

At the College of William & Mary, the queen - now clad in a long pink coat and matching hat - paraded through the university president's house and out the door, as a throng of onlookers cheered her on. In the Great Hall, she chatted with several guests, including student government leaders and faculty members.

"Oh, so you get to do extra work," she remarked when told the students were government leaders.

In the courtyard of the Sir Christopher Wren Building, Gene R. Nichol, the college's president, noted the ties between the college and England, where the school was chartered by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1693.

Senior class president Jessica Vance named the queen an honorary member of the class of 2007, inviting her to ring the Wren bell, a senior tradition.

But not everyone was enthusiastic. While a small crowd waited an hour for the queen to arrive at the Governor's Palace, the fifth-grade students from Alabama were far less enthusiastic than their chaperones.

"Dad, let's leave in five minutes if she doesn't get here," said Jesse Smart, 10.

A high school student, also on a trip, consoled her friend. "It's almost over. Think of the hot tub, the swimming pool."

Then there were those who came to see the woman they saw 50 years ago, a woman who has aged and weathered the years as they have, a marker of their own age, in a way.

Maryanne Breese Brendel, 70, who saw the queen when she was a junior at William & Mary, walked to her alma mater with her husband, Jack, also 70. Just a day after having surgery, she was determined to recreate the moment when she met her husband 50 years ago.

"I was determined to see her in exactly the same setting," said Brendel. "I'm just thrilled that we had the chance to see her again on the same campus.

"I just feel like the whole circle is complete. It's the end of an era."

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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