It was the custom at the coronation of a Russian Czar for the monarch to provide a feast for his subjects, offering them free food and drink along with the granting of amnesties and distribution of gifts with the Imperial monogram. The day after Nicholas took the throne in 1904, half-a-million people gathered at Khodynka Meadow for the traditional event. When a rumor spread that provisions were limited, the crowds surged toward the banquet tables. Thousands were killed and maimed in the crush of panic. The bodies were hastily covered with tarps and piled onto trucks to be taken to the cemeteries and morgues, traveling through the streets of Moscow on the same roads as the gilded carriages carrying the Czar's guests to the coronation ball.
Lacking political instinct, Nicholas was unsure how to handle the crisis. That night, on the advise of his uncles to maintain protocol, the Czar ordered the continuation of coronation festivities, offering no expression of grief to his people as they buried their dead. Though in court circles the disaster was rarely mentioned, it was regarded as a bad omen for the new reign. Nine years later, another crowd would gather at the Czar's palace, not to celebrate but to voice its discontent.
Copyright © Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). All rights reserved.