One Knight’s Entertainment

On the night of April 16, 1879, a decent sized crowd filtered into the Academy of Music on 14th Street and Irving Place in Manhattan. As the woodcut below shows, the building was cavernous, and on this particularly night the balcony section and the boxes were filled; the orchestra section less so, but that was to be expected, because for tonight’s entertainment the view from that section wouldn’t provide only a limited view of the action. As the crowd arrived, they were greeted by music from the USS Minnesota’s Marine Band.

The curtain arose to disclose His Satanic Majesty Mephistopheles, played by Hugo Eitner, sitting on a tall chair. Opposite him, on the other side of the stage, sat Frederick Jenkins, who took on the role of the Prince. Each was attended by goddesses; Clio the Muse of History, Euturpe, the Muse of Music who smiled upon the Marine Band, and Caissa, the Goddess of Chess. Cassia’s blessings were begged by both Mephistopheles and the Prince, for spread before them was a giant chess board. The black and white squares stretched like a carpet over the stage, each square four feet square. The game was to be for the Prince’s soul.

Bugles blew, and all the chessmen but the kings and queens marched into the stage. The rooks wore tall castellated hats, carried staffs, and bore a picture of a castle on their breasts. The knights wore armor and carried a halberd, and the bishops looked venerable in their robes, grey beards and conical hats. 16 young ladies played the pawns, clothed in tights. The appropriately named Messr. Faustsel, playing the white king, escorted his queen Rachael Barrett to her spot. Leon Black, also coincidentally named, walked his queen Miss Miller to her spot.

 

A blast of bugles announcing the commencement of the game. Captain George Mackenzie, formerly of the Union Army and a chess master, directed the whites. Eugene Delmar, later the four time New York State Chess Champion, guided the Blacks. Colonel John R. Fellows called forth each move to the audience, and both players opened by moving their pawns forward. On the fourth move, a black pawn fell victim to a bishop, to the cheers of the audience. MacKenzie (the gent studying the board) was aggressive to the point of recklessness, sacrificing both rooks, a knight and a bishop, in order to increase the positioning of his living pieces.
Delmar was the first to call check, on the twenty-first move, but MacKenize repulsed the attack and launched a flank movement on the black king capturing a rook and proclaiming a check on the twenty-fifth move. Checks followed on the next four moves, and by the thirtieth MacKenzie shouted a triumphant “Checkmate.” The audience cheered, the pieces bowed, and the curtain descended. The crowd filtered out to into the cold April air.

 

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4 Comments

  1. You make a chess match sound very exciting. There was an ancient ruler and chess player who played with real people and executed them when the piece they were playing fell, but I can’t remember his name. The event you describe sounds much more enjoyable! As always interesting and well written :)

    Reply

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