Sixty years ago today Queen Elizabeth II was formally crowned queen of England and a bunch of other places.
I don’t think we had a television in 1953, but I remember seeing at least some of the events of that day in black and white on a small screen. Maybe it was at a neighbor’s house. I think the Lamars, retired farmers who lived next door to us along 9th Avenue, were the first in the neighborhood to have a television, and since they were tolerant and kindly folk, and experienced grandparents, their living room floor was covered many evenings with sprawling, giggling children from up and down the street. Or perhaps I saw it as a newsreel at the Hub Theater, preceding some now long forgotten movie. Or, more likely, I saw it in later years, a rerun of sorts, shown to provide historical perspective for some event.
In any case, I do remember seeing the young, new queen in her gilded coach, escorted by a procession in elaborate fancy dress.
It’s not like we were a family of monarchists, or even Anglophiles, but it was hard to escape the fairy tale we were being told — the young queen and her princely consort, the grand ceremony, the cheering crowds, the atmosphere of magic. It was a great show. It could have been a Disney movie.
Some time during the months leading up to the coronation toy replicas of the coronation coach appeared in the wonderful toy department of Vaughn’s Seed Store in Chicago, and after the coronation the price for the coaches that remained in Vaughn’s stock began to drop. I’m not sure how my sister talked me into pooling our allowances to buy one. Our allowances back then couldn’t have been very large, surely not enough to buy anything as significant as a coronation coach in anything short of many years’ stringent saving. And I can’t imagine myself at that age showing such restraint that would lead to actually saving that much money. Perhaps our father showed us a bit of mercy, and a small subsidy. Nevertheless, eventually, and perhaps just in time, we had enough cash in hand and traveled to Chicago to buy the coach. The manager generously added in two “Beefeaters” (in this case, actually Yeomen of the Guard rather than Yeomen Warders). The figures were appropriate to the coach and occasion but somewhat too large, out of proportion to the scene. They dwarfed the tiny figure of the queen seated inside.
I know I rolled the coach around on the floor from time to time, enough times to break a link in one of the chains, snap the head off one Yeoman’s halberd, and bend a horse’s leg or two, but most of the time it wasn’t a toy for playing but a model for display on a shelf, a prop for a fairy tale. My sister and I grew older and left home for other lives, and the coach remained on a bookshelf between our rooms. When our parents retired and moved to Florida the coach traveled with them. And when it was time to clean out that house the coach moved on to Texas with me, although I don’t think that I actually claimed ownership of it. But now, some 60 years after we bought it, it’s still with me, a small reminder of an earlier time and of stories that were old even then.