JAMESTOWN, NY (WNY News Now) – Following the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II, historians in Jamestown are reflecting on her life and legacy.
“Before she was Queen, she did come to Western New York. Her and Prince Philip were in Niagara Falls in the fall of 1950. So that’s probably the closest she ever got to Jamestown,” says Victoria Parker, curator at the Fenton History Center.
Even though the Queen never visited Jamestown, Parker recounted that Jamestown resident Helen Overs, a Western New York Episcopal Church parishioner, met the Queen in Wales in June 1950.
150 Jamestown residents attended the Queen’s coronation in 1953, unfortunately, there is no specific photographic evidence of this journey.
“We love those kinds of stories, documents, pictures, all that kind of thing. Unfortunately, all we have is what people gave us,” admits Parker. “So if the Queen was here and nobody wrote it down, we don’t know. Or any big event like that. So if you have a personal story or maybe photos, if you write it out or if you wanna do an oral history interview, we love to capture those kinds of stories so that they future generations, a hundred years from now when somebody asks what we know about Queen Elizabeth, we can say, ‘these people came from right here in Jamestown and met her and were able to attend events like that.’”
The curator explains that being able to make a local connection to such a historical person or event, can make history come alive.
For Janet Wahlberg, President of the Board of Trustees and research assistant at the Hall House, her family’s long-standing love of history is what first developed her fondness for the Queen.
“Well I follow the Royal Family and I just always thought she was such a class act and she always looked so together, and just mainly because she was a class act. I thought that was something that must’ve been hard to do some days,” says Wahlberg.
Wahlberg says the Queen’s grace while taking the throne, a position she was not originally intended for, but came by after her uncle abdicated and her father was named King, indicated that she believed in country over self, a trait that stood strong for her seventy year reign.
“Because I’m a little older than others and have followed the news on her so much, I always thought it was interesting that during World War II, the family remained in London even during the blitz, and that she was a truck mechanic and that wasn’t just with her nails done and looking real fluffy,” assures Wahlberg. “She really was a truck mechanic, drove the trucks and worked with the Army. The family encouraged that closeness to the British people and I think that’s quite interesting and most people I don’t think would remember that or know that.”
Despite being a country that rebelled against the crown, American’s have always shown an interest in the Royal Family, similar to the draw of other celebrities or rock stars. This idealization however, may wane as King Charles III, who is less popular than the Queen, takes the throne.
“I think some of it’s waining in the British Isles, their love for the Royal Family. And of course things have changed a lot, things aren’t so proper proper and just perfect as they’ve been through the years. So I expect it to ease off a little, but we’ll see,” says Wahlberg.
Anyone interested in conducting local or family research is encouraged to do so at the Fenton History Center’s Hall House with the help of staff and volunteers. Who knows? They may be able to trace their lineage back to the Royal Family.