On May 26, 1896 according to the Gregorian calendar, Tsar Nicholas II, known as Saint Nicholas II to the Russian Orthodox Church, was crowned Tsar of Russia. The traditional celebration banquet was scheduled for May 30 at a large open space to the northwest of Moscow, called Khodynka Field.
It was customary that gifts be given to the guests of such a celebration. There were commemorative scarves and ornately decorated porcelain cups, bearing the ciphers of Nicholas and Alexandra opposite the double-headed symbol of the Imperial dynasty, the Romanov eagle.
There were food gifts as well, bread rolls and sausages, pretzels, gingerbread, and a cup of beer. 150 buffets and 20 pubs were constructed, to handle their distribution.
Revelers began to gather on the 29th. By 5:00am on the 30th, the crowd was a half-million strong, and growing.
Khodynka field was a poor venue for such an event, the crowd far larger than could be safely handled. A military training ground, the plain before the speaker’s podium was pocked and lined with trenches and pits.
Rumors began to spread among the crowd. There wasn’t enough beer to go around. Those enameled cups, already a great novelty for the time, each contained a gold coin.
The crowd became a mob and began to surge forward, as rumors grew and spread. An 1,800-man police force was inadequate to maintain order. The crush of the crowd grew into a panic, and then became a human stampede.
1,389 people were trampled to death in the rout, another 1,300, injured.
The new Czar and Czarina didn’t hear about the disaster at first but, when they did, the royal couple spent the rest of the day visiting their subjects in hospital.
Nicholas thought it best not to attend a ball put on that night by the French embassy, fearing that it would make him appear insensitive to the suffering of his people. The Tsar’s advisers persuaded him to go, however, and later events proved him correct.
There was great public indignation over the disaster at Khodynka field, despite generous subsidies paid to victims, by the Russian government. Despite his best efforts, Tsar Nicholas became ‘Bloody Nicholas”, to the Russian people. For the Tsarina, that enameled coronation cup more closely resembled a ‘Cup of Sorrows “.
Mystics prophesied that Nicholas’ refusal to decline the invitation would lead to his doom. J. Balmont wrote in 1905 that “Who started his reign with Khodynka, will finish it by mounting the scaffold”.
Tsar Nicholas was murdered by order of the Ural regional Soviet in Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918. The Tsarina, the couple’s five children, servants, dogs and a number of individuals who had chosen to accompany the Imperial family into imprisonment, were shot, bayoneted and clubbed to death.
It was the end of the Romanov Dynasty, the end of Czarist Russia. The malignant ideology which arose to take its place, would murder more of its own civilians, than any system of government, in history.