Dvořák's Arrival

Antonín Dvořák, Undated Photograph, Photo courtesy Music Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

The Dvořáks arrived just as the country was feverishly putting the finishing touches on the 400th anniversary celebration of Columbus's landing in the New World. There was a national taking of stock. What transpired over the last four centuries? What had we become? Where were we heading? In apposition to the small role Christopher Columbus was assigned for the relatively tame 1792 celebrations, the master navigator was now being held forth as an iconic figure for the United States and its growing sense of empowerment. Any misgivings intellectuals might have had about the catastrophe Columbus brought upon Native Americans and enslaved Africans were swept aside in the euphoria. The more recent 1992 celebration, sobered by revisionist debates, stands in stark contrast to what Dvořák encountered.

Starting on Monday, October 10, 1892, New York's island of Manhattan, draped in bunting and glowing with electric-light signs, played host to a revelry that continued unabated for three days and nights. The city became flooded with visitors. The Hudson and East Rivers teemed with naval flotillas and private boats that sailed out to greet them. Nightly fireworks exploded from atop tall buildings and gushed out in fiery "Niagaras" from the flanks of the Brooklyn Bridge. Temporary arches, designed by Stanford White, were erected across Fifth Avenue. And the 76-foot-high Columbus Monument, the largest stone of which weighed 36 tons, was ceremoniously raised by proud Italian workmen in the center of the newly named Columbus Circle, where it still stands. From his temporary hotel quarters just off Union Square, the staging area and principal hub for the all-day parades, Dvořák wrote to his friend Karel Bastar, noting the exact hour as well as the date:

New York Clarendon
Hotel, early morning
at 7 hours 18 14/10 92
[14 October 1892]

Just imagine row after row [of marchers], an incredible procession of peopleworking both in the fields of industry and the crafts, and huge numbers of gymnasts - among them members of the Czech Sokol - and crowds of people from the arts and also many nationalities and colors. And all of this went on uninterruptedly, from dawn until 2:00 in the morning ... Thousands upon thousands of people, and an everchanging sight! And you should hear all the kinds of music! ... Well, America seems to have demonstrated all it is and all it is capable of! I haven't got enough words to describe it all.