Queen Elizabeth II’s death reverberates across Baltimore, a city that played a role in her accession to the throne

Her uncle’s abdication after falling in love with a Baltimore woman cleared the path for Elizabeth’s reign

Published on: September 08, 2022 10:06 PM EDT|Updated on: September 09, 2022 10:37 AM EDT

Queen Elizabeth II smiles as she sits in the stands at a football game between the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina, October 19, 1957. In her row, from left to right: University of Maryland President Wilson Elkins, the Queen, Governor Theodore McKeldin, Mrs. Dorothy Elkins, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Courtesy of University of Maryland Archives.

When Queen Elizabeth II visited Baltimore in 1991 to see an Orioles game, then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke escorted her to a reception at Memorial Stadium. As the queen entered the room, the guests — team owners, local business leaders, coach Cal Ripken Sr. and his player-sons, Cal Ripken Jr. and Billy Ripken — grew silent, intimidated by the presence of a monarch.

The queen then turned to Schmoke and asked in a stage whisper, “Must one be named Ripken to be on this team?”

“That broke the ice,” said Schmoke. “She had a certain lightness of spirit the public didn’t always see. She gave you the sense that you were important to her at that moment, and that’s a real gift as a leader.”

Across the Baltimore region Thursday, people contemplated the death at age 96 of Queen Elizabeth, a monarch who led for seven decades and was one of the most powerful female figures in the world during an era that saw great changes in the roles of women. In a long and rich life, the queen marked two milestones in Maryland: she attended both her first football and baseball games here.

Many Marylanders spoke of feeling a personal connection to the queen, whose calm visage and clipped tones have been ubiquitous since the days of saddle shoes and poodle skirts.

“I guess I always thought she would live forever,” said Emma Kaufmann of Hampden, an author and illustrator who moved from her native England in 2000.

“As a child, I had great respect for the queen,” said Kaufmann, recalling that she attended a street party as a child in 1977 to mark the queen’s Silver Jubilee, or the 25th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Earlier this year, a Platinum Jubilee was held to mark the 70th anniversary. “There’s something so satisfying about her being in power. It was a feeling of security and tradition as well.”

Indeed the queen radiated that sense of continuity as recently as Tuesday, when she greeted Liz Truss, the United Kingdom’s new prime minister, at her summer castle in Balmoral, Scotland. Although it was a departure from tradition — the queen customarily installs new prime ministers from Buckingham Palace — the queen appeared in pearls and a tidy gray cardigan and skirt, her white curls perfectly in place.

On Thursday morning, U.S. Eastern Time, many Americans learned that royal relatives had rushed to the queen’s bedside at Balmoral Castle in Scotland after her health took a turn. By the afternoon, Britain’s longest reigning monarch had died.

“When you’re talking about the death of a long-standing public figure who is a constant for a lot of people, the passing is not just the passing of the person, but the passing of an era,” said Amy M. Froide, chair of the history department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and an expert in British and women’s history.

“Queen Elizabeth was a forerunner in that she had to be a working woman at the same time that she was a mother of young children and a wife,” said Froide, noting that in the first years after Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, her advisors suggested her children be kept in the background lest the public think she was not up to the job. “It wasn’t until later in life that she publicly embraced the role of mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and that’s been an endearing image for the British public.”

Froide pointed out that Baltimore, or at least a famous resident, played a key role in Elizabeth’s path to the monarchy. Her uncle, Edward VIII, served as king for just under a year before abdicating the throne so that he could marry his true love, Bessie Wallis Warfield Simpson, who was raised on East Preston Street in Baltimore. A graduate of the Oldfields School in Sparks, Simpson was married to her second husband, a British-American shipbuilder, when she and Edward fell in love, according to the Maryland Center for History and Culture. Royal protocol barred the king from marrying someone who was divorced. “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love,” Edward said on a radio broadcast as he announced his abdication.

Oakland Athletics' Rick Honeycutt, Jose Canseco, Walt Weiss, and Vance Law (left to right), walk past and greet President George Bush, Queen Elizabeth II, and Barbara Bush following a game against the Orioles in Baltimore, Maryland

Following Edward’s abdication, his younger brother, George VI, became king. Known for a stutter that he overcame, George served for 15 years before his death at the age of 56. Suddenly, Elizabeth was queen. She was just 25 years old and had two young children with her husband, Prince Philip. “She was not expecting to be queen and especially not so early in her life,” Froide said.

It was five years later that Queen Elizabeth paid her first trip to Maryland, attending a football game at Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland, College Park. State Department officials arranged for the royal couple to see the Terps take on North Carolina, according to an article in the college newspaper, The Diamondback, about the 50th anniversary of the game.

“I was struck by the fact that she was so young and attractive. It all took a second to sink in. It was pure excitement,” Howard Miller, who was president of the university’s student government and sat with the queen, told The Diamondback in 2007.

After the game, which the Terps won 21-7 before a crowd of 43,000 fans, the queen and prince popped into a Giant grocery store, where he nibbled on samples of cheese and crackers, according to The Washington Post. The queen, clad in a mink coat, was fascinated by such proletarian delights as frozen chicken pot pies, mass-marketed Halloween costumes and shopping cart seats for small children. “How nice that you can bring your children along,” the queen told one mother, according to the Post.

Another Maryland stop came some 50 years later, when she and Philip took a tour of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt in May 2007. The queen was in the U.S. to mark the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Maryland in fact is named for Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who approved the charter establishing the Maryland colony in 1632.

From the earliest days of her reign, Elizabeth embodied a sense of duty and devotion to her role, Froide said. She is one of the most well-traveled monarchs in history and maintained a busy schedule even after Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died in April 2021 at age 99. Many have become familiar with the couple’s story through the Netflix series “The Crown.”

“It says a lot about her sense of duty and service that she kept working essentially up until her death, especially in a moment when we are reconsidering the value of labor and work and what it means,” said Froide. “She thought until the end that duty was her calling.”

Froide noted that King Charles III, Elizabeth’s oldest son and successor, is not nearly as popular as his mother. And after having a woman monarch rule for 70 years, Britain will be unlikely to have another for several generations. The line of succession moves from Charles to his eldest son, Prince William, then William’s oldest son, Prince George. Only in the event of a tragedy or abdication would a woman take the throne for several generations.

Kaufmann, the Hampden artist, was not thrilled by the prospect of Charles taking the throne. The 73-year-old commands less respect among the British public than his mother did, she said.

Kaufmann said Charles’ history may have been tarnished by his troubled marriage to, and contentious divorce from, Princess Diana, who died 25 years ago last month in a fatal crash in Paris. The new king “tries to meddle with politics” while the Queen was less outspoken about her political views, she said.

“It’s a big time of turmoil in England now,” she said, referencing the United Kingdom’s new prime minister and an ongoing energy crisis fueled by high gas and electricity bills. The queen “helped people to some degree to feel like it’s going to be okay. It’ll be a bad period for the next two months.”

Neill Howell, executive chef and owner of The Corner Pantry, is from Colchester, a town in England, and moved to Baltimore in 2011, he said.

“It’s sad but she had an amazing life,” Howell said. “She did a lot for the country, and I personally was a big supporter of the royal family. It’s something to be proud of, especially if you’re from England.”

Of course, people in the Baltimore region who are not from England also felt a strong connection to the queen. Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. recalled meeting the queen on May 15, 1991, when she attended her first baseball game at Memorial Stadium. It was a night game against the Oakland Athletics.

The queen “was extremely friendly and engaging,” Ripken wrote in a statement Thursday. “That was such a memorable visit to Baltimore and brought so much excitement to our city and the team.”

“Baseball provided me with many special experiences and that was certainly one of them,” Ripken wrote.

The queen, prince, President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush greeted players in the O’s dugout, and then stepped a short distance onto the field to wave to the crowd. They departed after two innings.

Jerry Coleman, a sports radio host from Owings Mills who was covering the game, recalled the thrill of seeing the queen head to the field. “She was very quiet, as usual,” he said. “Just waving and taking it all in. She was immaculate in the way she presented herself and was wearing gloves throughout the game.”

Schmoke, the former mayor and current president of the University of Baltimore, recalled that on the same visit the queen accompanied him on a tour of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in West Baltimore.

“People really felt a place of honor that she chose to visit Baltimore,” he said. “To have a monarch come to your community is not something that happens every day. It was a very special moment for our city.”

Alissa Zhu and Cadence Quaranta contributed to this report.

An earlier version of this story misidentified the network that airs "The Crown." It is on Netflix.

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