The Queen Breezes In for an Afternoon Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Queen Elizabeth laid a wreath at the World Trade Center site in memory of the victims of 9/11. She later visited a garden memorializing the British citizens who were killed that day.
By N. R. KLEINFIELDPublished: July 6, 2010
Her Majesty swept into town in the baking hours of the early afternoon and was gone by early evening, a tantalizingly concise blip of a royal visit. It was not even queen for a day, but five active hours of her presence nonetheless managed to infuse a drowsy, blisteringly hot summer afternoon with a jolt of magic.
HER FIRST VISIT Elizabeth II addressed the United Nations in 1957, five years after she became queen.
Enlarge This Image Todd Heisler/The New York Times
AND HER THIRD Fifty-three years later, the queen spoke to the United Nations General Assembly again.
Enlarge This Image Yana Paskova for The New York Times
Spectators at Ralph Bunche Park stood on a balcony to watch for the arrival of the queen’s motorcade to the United Nations.
Queen Elizabeth II in New York is a rarity, and her presence on Tuesday drew the attention and emotion of the city and invigorated a feeling of civic uplift on a day when energy was hard to muster.
On her third visit to New York, the 84-year-old Elizabeth, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the 89-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, squeezed in three gestural stops: She addressed the United Nations General Assembly, then made excursions of homage to ground zero and to a garden in Hanover Square, in the financial district, memorializing British citizens who died on 9/11.
On her past visits — in 1957 and 1976 — she stayed longer and was much more visible: She rode a ferry the first time and dropped in at Bloomingdale’s the second. But Tuesday, there were scant opportunities to see her, and her precise movements were not revealed to the public. New Yorkers had to work hard and rely on serendipity for even a glimpse.
After arriving by private plane from Canada, where she had been visiting for nine days, she appeared at just after 3 p.m. before the delegates of the 192 nations of the General Assembly and assorted dignitaries, addressing the body for the first time since 1957.
Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, introduced her by saying, “In a changing and churning world, you are an anchor for our age.”
In an address of just eight minutes, well shy of infamous harangues from the podium by other long-reigning leaders, Elizabeth told a packed hall, “In my lifetime, the United Nations has moved from being a high-minded aspiration to being a real force for common good.”
She noted that the greatest transformation she had witnessed was in social attitudes, suggesting that much change was prompted by public pressure.
“Many of these sweeping advances have come about not because of governments, committee resolutions or central directives — although all these have played a part — but instead because millions of people around the world wanted them,” she said.
Acknowledging that the body faced important new challenges like terrorism and climate change, she said, “It has perhaps always been the case that the waging of peace is the hardest form of leadership of all.”
When she finished, the audience applauded politely.
Next, her motorcade, escorted by police officers, made its way down to the 16 acres of ground zero, replacement structures still inching into the sky, so she could pay her respects to those whose lives ended when towers toppled on an ordinary morning that turned unfathomable.
All day, visitors and workers were mystified about when she might come. When asked earlier in the day, a worker imploring passers-by to enter Pronto Pizza, which borders ground zero, said: “I don’t know, I don’t know. Pizza! Pizza!”
A pedestrian traffic guard said: “I heard 2:30 and 5:30. Sorry, buddy, Scotland Yard has been out of touch.”
The small, white-haired monarch, wearing a flowered suit and white gloves, and with an elegant silk hat on her head, stepped out of her car just past 5:10 p.m., in the still-pulsating heat that had reached 103 degrees in Central Park, a whisper of wind riffling the air. Scores of camera-ready onlookers teetered on the perimeter of the rebuilding site, keen to catch sight of her.
Not a bead of sweat on her face, Elizabeth inched her way past an honor guard, before being welcomed by Govs. David A. Paterson of New York and Christopher J. Christie of New Jersey and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Sarah, one of Mr. Christie’s children, handed the queen a bouquet.
It was hardly a regal location — plywood sheets framed by American and British flags — but it was where the south tower once stood. She solemnly laid a wreath in remembrance of the lost lives. Then, along with her husband, she greeted some of the families of the victims and first responders.
Paula Berry and two of her three sons, Nile and Alex, had come over from Brooklyn. Ms. Berry’s husband, David, a securities analyst, died in the attack.
“She was absolutely fantastic,” Ms. Berry said. “I felt a breeze off of her.”
Prince Philip asked Nile what he did. He said he had just graduated from high school. He is 17.
He asked Alex, who is 13, what he wanted to be. Alex told him he wanted to be a billionaire.
“It was pretty cool,” Nile said. “She’s this normal lady who seems to care about us.”
As the queen departed, she gazed left and right as the rising structures were explained to her. She was clutching the bouquet as she passed Sarah Christie. Sarah looked at her brother and gave a smile.
From ground zero, the queen’s final foray was to nearby Hanover Square to officially open the British Garden, a triangular sweep of greenery that actually opened two years ago as a memorial to the 67 British citizens who died on Sept. 11.
Outside the garden, Collin Mitchell, 57, a tax specialist from Guyana who now lives in Brooklyn, had arrived five hours earlier in hopes of spotting her. “My mother always took her children out — she would pull her entire brood to events like these, flag in hand,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I want to keep that legacy. My mom passed in 2005.”
Mayor Bloomberg remarked that New York was named after the queen’s first cousin 10 times removed, and told her the United States was “grateful for your friendship, leadership and support.”
The queen was introduced to some of the people who had been important in the creation of the garden, and met families of the British victims.
Among those invited was Evelyn Tompkins, a private art dealer who helped raise money for the garden. She lost several friends who were Anglophiles on Sept. 11, and she has long been captivated by the queen.
“I’ve always admired her greatly because I think she’s the ultimate role model for the modern woman,” she said. “She just amazes me. She never puts a foot wrong. She always looks absolutely beautiful.”
Handed a pair of scissors, Elizabeth snipped a red ribbon. Just before 6 p.m., she climbed back into her car and, just like that, the queen was gone — back to England, where the temperature hovered in the heavenly 60s.
Reporting was contributed by Neil MacFarquhar, Isolde Raftery and pool reporters.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 8, 2010
An article on Wednesday about the visit to New York of Queen Elizabeth II misstated the age of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in some editions. He is 89, not 88. And an accompanying picture caption referred incorrectly to the last time the queen addressed the United Nations, in 1957. It was five years after she became queen, not four years. (Though she was formally coronated in June 1953, she became queen in February 1952 upon the death of her father.)