As we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the Russian Nobility Association in America, it seems quite appropriate to look back at some of the history of the relations between these two countries. The State Visit to the U.S. in 1871-72 by Grand Duke Alexis, son of Czar Alexander II, one evening of which in New York is beautifully described in the piece below, was a culmination of a period during which relations between the U.S. and Russia were at their most cordial. During the American Civil War Czar Alexander II had been a strong supporter of the Union and of President Lincoln’s determination to keep the Union together. He proclaimed in what can be considered one of the most critically important documents in American and world history, that any intervention in the American Civil War by any European power in support of the Confederacy would be regarded as causus belli by Russia. To emphasize the seriousness of this policy, the Czar dispatched his Pacific fleet to San Francisco and on September 24, 1863 the Russian Atlantic fleet dropped anchor in New York harbor (as pictured on the opposite page) where it was enthusiastically welcomed by the local populace. The fleet remained for seven months, leaving only after both the U.S. and Russia had satisfied themselves that any danger of interference in our Civil War by any European power had passed. After the conclusion of the war, Russian-American relations remained cordial, culminating in the State Visit of Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch in 1871.

The ball at the Academy of Music, last night in honor of the grand Duke Alexis, was a complete success. The attendance was large and brilliant, the decorations were unusually fine, the music was excellent. The tent at the head of the dancing floor was a marvel of splendor and oriental magnificence. Five calcium lights placed at the top of the tent illuminated a fountain in the background, and made the ball appear like a fairy palace. The sides of the inclosure were painted in imitation of lustrous silk, and figured in colors to harmonize with the ceiling, which was hung with festoons of roses, radiating from a central point, with very pleasing effect. Gilded pillars added to the richness of the scene. Under the tent was an artistic terrace, in front of which were numerous pots containing natural flowers. Back of the terrace was a scene representing moonlit clouds visible through an opening among trees. One of the striking features of the decorations was the large allegorical painting over the tent, showing the genius of America and the genius of Russia clasping hands. The genius of America was represented by a female figure clad in national colors and costumed like a Goddess of Liberty, while the Russian genius was a male figure in regal apparel. At the right of the painting was a banner bearing an allegorical picture of President Lincoln freeing the slaves, while at the left of the large painting was another banner upon which was depicted the Emperor of Russia (Alexander II) liberating the serfs. The American and Russian national colors were, of course, prominently displayed in the decorations.


The Russian Squadron in the Harbor of New York, October 1863, on a Supposed Secret Mission,
by Special Arrangement with the Federal Government
(Artwork from Frank Leslie’s THE SOLDIER IN OUR CIVIL WAR, 1893)

At nine o’clock, the guests began to arrive, and during the next hour carriages were continually driving up in front of the Academy. At ten o’clock the interior of the building presented on of the most magnificent scenes that has ever been witnessed in the city. The brilliantly illuminated decorations and elegantly dressed ladies combined to entrance and bewilder the spectator.

The Grand Duke opened the ball at eleven o’clock with Mrs. Hoffman, wife of Governor Hoffman. The Grand Duke’s table occupied the place of honor at the head of the room, and the other tables filled all the remaining available space in the supper hall. The table was tastefully arranged with a profusion of choice and natural flowers. The ornamental confectionery and other designs on the table included two temples of the Czar Alexander; two monuments of Washington, with cupids and American flags on top; two imperial meringues, with American eagles and flags of both nations, and two ships of war, made of nougat and spun sugar. The bill of fare was printed in French and English, in gold letters, on white satin, and included every choice of tempting luxury which the ingenuity of the caterer could supply.

After supper, dancing was resumed with spirit, and it was a late hour before the last of the revelers left the Academy, carrying with them the pleasantest memories of the Grand Ducal ball.

Excerpts from Leslie’s Illustrated Paper • November 30, 1871 • New York City
For some of the content of the introductory paragraph, we acknowledge with thanks
the contribution of Mr. Kostantin George
Annual Spring Ball -- 2018


2018 Mar 01