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PILLSBURY MEMORIAL CEREMONY, READING, MASSACHUSETTS

A little while back we were contacted by George Mirijanian, President of the Massachussetts Chess Association, advising us that there was to be a memorial ceremony in Laurel Hill Cemetary, Reading, Massachussetts on Saturday 17th June.

Unfortunately we were not able to have a representative present but are grateful to George Mirijanian and Frank Kolasinski of the Western Massachussetts Chess Association for involving Hastings Congress.  

Following the ceremony George Mirijanian and Frank Kolasinski kindly sent us pictures of the event as well as an account of the proceedings and text of speeches which you can read below.

A memorial to Pillsbury was  unveiled.  The memorial was made by Roessler & Sons, a company which was established in 1895 - the year of Pillsbury’s famous victory at Hastings.

Guests of honour were Mrs. Deborah Hart, Pillsbury’s great grand-niece, who lives in Massachussetts and her son Christopher who lives near Hastings.  We have established contact with them and will certainly invite them to the Congress.

Pam Thomas
Hastings International Chess Congress
16 August 2006

 

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Gravesite Marker purchased by Massachussetts Chess Association

 

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A captive audience

 

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Covering the new marker prior to the unveiling

 

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Deborah Ann Hart, Pillsbury's great grand niece, preparing to introduce her son

 

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F. Kolasinski, WMCA president

 

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Paul MacInnis, one of the spearheads of the project

 

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George Mirijanian, President, Massachusetts Chess Association

 

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Christopher Logan Hart, great great grand nephew of Harry Nelson Pillsbury

 

Pillsbury's grave marker (note there is no reference to who he was or his accomplishments)

 

Speech prepared by Harold Dondis, longtime columnist for the Boston Globe, at the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial

I am relying on others to provide a biography of Harry Nelson Pillsbury. Instead I rush to the Hastings Tournament of 1995, one of the most distinguished chess tourneys of history and one that immortalized Pillsbury. I perhaps will duplicate the other speakers in some respects. The Hastings Tourney was a Gentleman's Affair, in a sense one of the mightiest Round Robin tourneys ever arranged, for it included every great player in the world. I know of none of that period that did not enter. There were 22 in all. Of the great players, the greatest was Emanuel Lasker of Germany, who held the World Championship for 27 years. The great names included among others, Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch, noted author, Wilhelm Steinitz the first World Champion, Carl Schlechter the drawing master, Joseph Henry Blackburne, who was said to have announced checkmate in 16 while playing blindfold chess, and Mikhail Tchigorin, the grandfather of Russian chess. Harry Nelson Pillsbury was a virtual unknown from America, formerly a regular at a little chess room at the corner of Boylston and Tremont Street in Boston , and a secret inhabitant of the invincible chess machine Ajeeb which took on all players,. I say the tournament was a Gentleman's tournament because the Hastings tournament had been organized by a group of four ardent chess patriots in England who formed a committee and got the backing of England. They raised money from the British Chess Club, and from English royalty that included Earls, Viscounts and the Lord Mayor of London, President of the Metropolitan Chess Club.

A Gentleman's tourney indeed, a 21 round robin. Attire tended to be formal in those days. The players used chess clocks, and time controls were painfully slow, 30 moves in two hours, then fifteen moves per hour thereafter, games so slow and long that they came close to torture. Between rounds the entire ensemble were taken to National monuments and to theater, where they chose a concert instead of the play Charley's Aunt, possibly because chess players prefer music or instead that Charley's Aunt could not be presented in many tongues. Later they attended a musical program at the Hastings museum near the site of William the Conqueror's great triumph. After mid tourney a banquet was held with an elaborate Gourmet menu, toasts made with speeches by the players, including Emanuel Lasker who announced he had taken up residence in England.

For me this was the most exciting tournament I have ever witnessed except perhaps for the portion of Fischer-Spassky I attended. You will ask how I could have been there at Hastings. It is true that I am not quite old enough. I am shy by only 27 years, and I admit to no pre-conception memory, but in reading about the tourney, one could not help but occupy a chair in the audience in spirit. As the tournament progressed, it became apparent that three of the players would struggle for the title, Lasker, Tchigorin, and Pillsbury. The tension became unbearable as the match went well beyond the half way mark. After this point Lasker and Tchigorin, both of whom had beaten Pillsbury, now struggle for the lead with Pillsbury, as Carnival day interrupts the three players breaking toward the gate, thus increasing the excitement. On August 31 with two games to go, spectators are stunned by the defeat of Tchigorin, the leader, by Janowski a Polish Master in a mere 16 moves. And the audience were shocked indeed when Joseph Henry Blackburne, nicknamed by some as the Black death, has the Black pieces and crushes Lasker with a dramatic offer of a Knight sacrifice. Pillsbury wins his game to take the lead. In the last round Lasker wins brilliantly, Tchigorin eventually defeats Schlechter and Pillsbury plays one of the most memorable end games on record, sacrificing a pawn to penetrate Gunsberg's position and win. Pillsbury receives the first place award and cables the Brooklyn Chess Club, his sponsor, of their victory.

For those of you who do not play chess and find this boring, I have a little tale to tell. Harry Nelson Pillsbury was tall and angular and he could have passed for the Hollywood Sherlock Holmes. We all will agree that Holmes was a fictional person invented by Arthur Conan Doyle. But Pillsbury's physical likeness to Holmes has not passed the attention of many chess commentators. Harold Schonberg, the prominent music critic of the New York Times, author of "Grandmasters at Chess" carried this clue a long way and concluded that Sherlock Holmes won this tournament while impersonating Harry Nelson Pillsbury. This bit of fantasy, delivered in a paper read at the Sherlock Holmes Society in New York, contained excellent substantiation from Schonberg. He pointed out that in the episode of "The Final Problem" Holmes had had his critical encounter with Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls In fact, Holmes had lured Professor James Moriarty, the brilliant mathematician and psychopathic gang leader, to the Falls where both wrestled and went over the Falls. Conan Doyle wrote that Holmes had died in the encounter, but later Doyle confessed in the tale "The Adventure of the Empty House" that Holmes survived and traveled abroad to avoid the Moriarty gang. Schonberg noted that Holmes, adept at disguise, returned in 1894, in adequate time to play in the Hastings tournament.

Schonberg reasoned that only a genius such as Holmes could have come ahead of the twenty-one greatest chessplayers in the World at the famous Hastings tourney. I salute Schonberg as a masterful music and chess critic. But I believe that Schonberg got the story backwards. I believe instead that Pillsbury was much more likely to have been Sherlock Holmes in Holmes' masterful detective work. I say this because none but Pillsbury could have exposed the Hound of the Baskervilles, none but Pillsbury could have noted that the dog did not bark in the night at the victim in the "Silver Glade" and none but Pillsbury could have divined the existence of a serpent on a bell rope in "The Speckled Band". So I leave it to those present to decide whether Schonberg or I am right. 

Please understand that my adventure in fantasy completely confirms that it is appropriate that we congregate here to honor a genius, a son of Somerville and a rare person whose star has always shone brightly in the history of chess and whose games, to use Tarrasch's famous quotation, "like love, like music, have made men happy." It is our highest privilege to pay tribute to such great a man as Pillsbury. He will never be forgotten as long as chess is played. “

 

Speech made by  Frank Kowalinski at the ceremony to mark the the anniversary of Pillsbury's death.

“Good afternoon everyone! Let me first of all say what an honor it is to be here representing the Western Massachusetts Chess Association, and chess players everywhere. 

Grandmaster Harry Nelson Pillsbury was surely a grand master long before the official title was ever created. He left a proud, but all too short legacy, winning at Hastings in 1895, before eventually being acknowledged as the strongest American chess player of the day.

Through the efforts of many, WMCA was able to collect $122 in donations for this effort made at tournaments and clubs throughout western Massachusetts, an area that Harry was familiar with, having played a 28-board simul there on December 16th, 1898,  not long after winning the U.S. Championship match against Jackson Showalter. This is a noble endeavor which we have been able to accomplish here today, thanks to the efforts of many, but a special mention must go out to George Mirijanian, president of the Massachusetts Chess Association. George contacted me back in March of this year, and I was able to bridge communication between him and Ms. Deborah Ann Hart, Harry's great-grandniece, who currently resides in the same small western Mass. town that I live in: South Hadley. 

It is through the cooperative efforts of Ms. Hart and her family that we are able to be standing here today, remembering one of the greatest chess minds of all time. Although Harry's meteoric rise to the top ended nearly as abruptly as it began, his genius did not go unnoticed by the other greats of the day, such as the world champion Dr.Emmanuel Lasker, who remembered Harry in passing as the "victor of Hastings, the pathfinder in the thickest of chess theory, gifted with pleasant and loveable traits, a source of pleasure and joy and a teacher for thousands".

His feats of memory have become legendary, as he once held the world record for blindfold chess, playing 21 opponents simultaneously, while also playing a hand of whist.  Before his chess exhibitions he would do memory tricks: fifty numbered pieces of paper, each with a five-word sentence, would be given to him. He would read them and then drop them into a hat. Next having someone would draw them out, and call out the number one by one, Harry would rattle off the correct sentence. At the end, he would then recite each sentence backwards.  I remember hearing about the great Harry Nelson Pillsbury when I was still a child and just learning the game. The descriptions of Harry were colossal;  fantastic, bringing to mind a line from the movie, "Good Will Hunting", in which Matt Damon describes his character's own gift with mathematics, by comparing himself to Beethoven. "He just looked at the piano, and it made sense". The same was true for Harry when he looked over the pieces on the sixty-four squares, "they just made sense". Harry was nothing less than a virtuoso … a Mozart of the chess board, his flame extinguishing itself long before it's time. He will be remembered here today, and perhaps by many future generations, this "youthful, great and lovable man" (again I'm quoting Dr. Lasker) through the combined efforts of chess players everywhere, the Massachusetts Chess Association and the Hart family

Thank you for being a part of this dedication today, and for remembering the late, great Harry Nelson Pillsbury, for in the end, is this not one of the things which we all aspire to: to be well loved and remembered with favor? And last but not least, thank you, Harry, for leaving us the games to be played over and the memories to savor.

 

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