"A Polyglot Failure"

March 10, 1877

artist unknown

"A Polyglot Failure"

Children; Irish Americans; New York City, Celebrations/Honors; U.S. Tours by Foreign Dignitaries;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.

New York City; Russia;

Small Mickey: "Say, Alexovitch, shall I blackeroff your bootsorouski?"

American (mistaken for Grand Duke). "Oh, get out!"

This unsigned Harper’s Weekly cartoon shows an American man, dressed in a Russian-style fur cap and coat, mistaken for the visiting Grand Duke Alexis by an impertinent bootblack.

Alexis Romanov was the fourth son of Alexander II, the tsar of Russia (1855-1881). The Grand Duke’s previous visit to the United States in the winter of 1871-1872 was a social event and journalistic story of the first rank. In mid-October 1871, Harper’s Weekly ran a front page article, with portrait, anticipating the arrival of the handsome, 22-year-old Russian prince. The Grand Duke’s formal reception at New York’s harbor on November 21 included a United States naval squadron, fleets from local yacht clubs, and dignitaries from New York politics, business, and society. Thousands of New Yorkers filled the sidelines of the parade route to welcome the Grand Duke enthusiastically to their city. For several weeks, Harper’s Weekly carried more front-page articles, news stories, an editorial, illustrations, and several cartoons concerning his visit.

After traveling to Washington to meet President Ulysses S. Grant, Grand Duke Alexis returned to New York City, where he and his entourage stayed in a private wing of the Clarendon Hotel. The Grand Duke inspected the fortifications in New York’s harbor, reviewed the cadets at West Point and the Metropolitan Fire Department in Manhattan, and attended gala dinner-dances in his honor at the Brooklyn Naval Yard and the Academy of Music. At the latter event, large banners were hung from the ceiling to celebrate the American and Russian alliance. One depicted President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, with a family of liberated slaves at his feet; it was complemented by a picture of Tsar Alexander II, the Grand Duke’s father, abolishing serfdom in Russia.

After leaving New York City, Grand Duke Alexis traveled to San Francisco, stopping at major cities along the way, addressing a joint session of the Missouri legislature, and hunting buffalo with General Philip Sheridan at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Returning east, the Russian prince fulfilled his wish to visit a public school in Boston. Throughout his journey, he was surprised and impressed by the number of American politicians who began life in the working class.

The Grand Duke’s second visit to the United States, in early 1877, occurred with far less fanfare. At their behest, Alexis and his cousin, Grand Duke Constantine, were treated as private citizens, rather than as formal representatives of Russia.

In this cartoon, the bootblack is one of the thousands of poor and often homeless children who live in New York City in the late 1870s and survive by practicing a street trade. Notice the oversized coat and shoes which the boy wears, as well as his haggard face. His nickname "Mickey" indicates that he is Irish-American.

Robert C. Kennedy

"A Polyglot Failure"
June 17, 2024

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