Disaster at Khodynka Field
May 18, 1896 OS: There is a stampede on Khodynka Field in Moscow, Russia. Russia would adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1918 and the dates changed, moving forward by twelve days. The last Russian Emperor was crowned just four days earlier and a celebration party was to take place in the field. In anticipation of a large crowd of celebrants, many theaters were built along with 150 buffets and 20 pubs. The site was placed near a field which contained a ravine and many gullies. The evening before the banquet was to be held, rumors leaked stating the tsar would be offering coronation gifts. People began to gather at the field in anticipation of receiving a bread roll, a piece of sausage, pretzels, gingerbread, and a commemorative cup.
By 5 AM, there were several thousand people gathered together with some reports listing a number as high as 500,000. More rumors spread, this time along the lines of not enough beer and pretzels for all the people gathered together. Also whispered was the possibility that the enamel cups held a gold coin. The police presence of 1,800 was not enough for crowd control and as people pressed forward on the uneven terrain, people fell and were trampled. This further induced panic as people tried to get out of the crush. There were 1,389 people trampled to death and another 1,300 injured. Most of the victims were trapped in the ditch and were either trampled or suffocated there.
The field was so large that the party carried on without all the participants even aware of the tragedy in this one area. Tsar Nicholas and his wife made an appearance at the front of the crowd around 2 PM and by that time all traces of the tragedy had been cleaned up. Eventually the royal couple were told what had happened. A party was planned for that evening at the French embassy in Russia. Nicholas wanted to forego the ball in his honor, fearing it would show lack of concern for his subjects. Courtiers thought missing the ball would offend the French which would be worse and so Nicholas and Alexandra went to the ball and the next day they visited with those injured in the stampede.
The families of the dead were given government aid and many minor officials were dismissed for their role in the disaster. This did not appease the upset masses who felt the royal response was lacking. An Orthodox church was built on the site of the tragedy as a remembrance for those who died. While later outrage was the norm, those celebrating elsewhere on the field that day had no immediate notion of anything wrong. This was part of the issue as it took hours for the disaster to be reported at all and most did not learn of it until the next day.
18th of May. Saturday. Until now, everything was going, thank God, like clockwork, but today there was a great mishap. The crowd staying overnight at Khodynka, awaiting the start of the distribution of lunch and mugs pushed against buildings and there was a terrible crush, and awful to say trampled around 1300 people!! – diary entry from Tsar Nicholas II
I would rather live in Russia on black bread and vodka than in the United States at the best hotels. America knows nothing of food, love or art. – Isadora Duncan
The Russians imitate French ways, but always at a distance of fifty years. – Stendhal
All men — whether they go by the name of Americans or Russians or Chinese or British or Malayans or Indians or Africans — have obligations to one another that transcend their obligations to their sovereign societies. – Norman Cousins
Also on this day: 3,858 Years Old? – In 1952, Professor Libby dated the building of Stonehenge.
Vicksburg – In 1863, the Siege of Vicksburg began.
The Count – In 1897. Dracula was published.
Separate but Equal – In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson was decided.
Get Off My Lawn – In 1830, Edwin Budding’s lawnmower went on sale.