- Historic Sites
Innocents At Home
February 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 2
That afternoon Gorky went out to see the city. Mr. Mandelkern, the liberal real-estate broker, who spoke Russian, had invited Gorky and his party to take an automobile drive through Central Park and up to Grant’s Tomb, then considered to be one of the city’s beauty spots. It wasn’t the tomb, however, that caught the novelist’s attention. It was the fact that only one policeman was on duty there. Gorky was so delighted by the contrast with Russia, where, he said, dozens of police guarded every monument in Moscow, that he sprang out of the auto, shook the astonished policeman’s hand, and excitedly spoke to him in Russian for some time before realizing that the man could not understand a word of what he said. After a ride down Riverside Drive, with Mr. Mandelkern pointing out the houses of the rich, the party lunched at the St. Regis and then returned to their hotel.
In the early evening, Mark Twain and William Dean Howells stopped in at the Belleclaire, set a tentative date for the literary dinner, and stayed on to talk, through an interpreter, about Russian and American literature. When they left, they spoke to some of the reporters who were lounging about in the hotel lobby. “We are going to offer Gorky the literary hospitality of the country,” said Twain. “He is big enough for the honor. It is going to be a dinner with only authors and literary men present.”
Gorky had a few friends in for dinner that night, and then set off with them for an evening at the circus at Madison Square Garden.
The following day, Friday the thirteenth, was an odd and crucial one for the visiting novelist. First, it was reported in the Times that a spy—a senior man in the Russian intelligence service—had followed Gorky from Europe to America on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse . On the trip across, the article asserted, the agent had cunningly concealed his importance by travelling second-class. Since arriving in Manhattan he had, with equal guile, passed himself off at the Belleclaire as a revolutionist eager to pay his respects to Gorky; at Club A as a German newspaperman busily taking notes; and at Mr. Wilshire’s party as an unobtrusive liberal sipping Russian tea. The agent, who took good care to vary his accent and his suit with each part he played, was afflicted with an occupational handicap, however—a small blonde mustache set in a florid face—and this gave him away at last. It was gradually remarked that what seemed a variety of people in a variety of clothes lacked variety of face; after the revelation in the Times , the man was seen no more.
Then, at about eleven that morning, large numbers of people began coming into the Gorky suite, as if they were welcome. The imperious callers stood, chatting with one another, and then formed a line that proceeded slowly past the startled Russians. Neither Gorky nor Madame nor the secretary, Burenin, could imagine why the crowd was there, nor could they quite make out what was being said to them. None of the three spoke more than a few phrases of English. Madame, who had attended none of the parties that week, was especially troubled, and asked Burenin, who usually knew what was going on, why those men and women passed by in procession, shaking her hand. He didn’t know. Then Gaylord Wilshire and Peshkov arrived, and Wilshire began introducing some of the more important callers to Gorky—Kuechi Kaneko, the Japanese Socialist; Bliss Carman, the poet; Ida Tarbell, who two days before had predicted imminent revolution to a convocation of Barnard girls. Wilshire went on to mention in an offhand manner that he had arranged this reception as a surprise party for Gorky and that it offered a fine opportunity for Gorky to meet some essential Socialists. With the shifting faces and the delayed reactions of translated talk, Gorky found conversation difficult, and it was in the midst of this turmoil that Wilshire came up again and began speaking excitedly about two union men in Idaho who, Wilshire said, had been charged with murder and jailed simply because they were union organizers. Gorky listened and sympathized with the men. Later, Wilshire took aside young Peshkov, to whom the names of the two men—W. D. Haywood and Charles Moyer—signified something, and went through the story again. Haywood and Moyer, secretary-treasurer and president of the Western Federation of Miners, had been jailed on a charge of conspiracy to murder Frank Steunenberg, former governor of Idaho; Wilshire was sure the charge had been trumped up (a jury later decided that it indeed had been), and a telegram of support from Gorky would hearten the prisoners. In fact, Wilshire had a draft of such a telegram in his pocket. He read it aloud to Peshkov, who told him he thought “it expressed Gorky’s sentiments.”
The crowd diminished and at last the Gorkys were left alone with two couples whom they had invited to lunch—the Markhams and the Leroy Scotts. (Scott was a writer of revolutionary thrillers who had recently returned from Russia and who belonged to the Club A set.) They sat down to lunch. There was considerable discussion about the jailed union leaders—after all, Gorky’s guests pointed out, the men had been accused of a serious crime; they had not yet been tried; their innocence or guilt was for the jury to decide; and they might well be acquitted—and, after lunch, Gorky was worried. He wasn’t sure what Wilshire might do and he felt he knew far too little about the whole case to allow himself to get involved. He sent for a messenger and had him run a note to Wilshire’s home stating that he did not want that message sent in his name. The telegram, however, had been sent, and copies released to the press: