The Cup of Blood
by Bob Kunzinger
I own a porcelain cup made in Russia in 1896. It is about four inches tall, white porcelain interior with blue and red markings. On the side is the seal of Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra, and “1896,” the date of his coronation. A friend of mine in St. Petersburg gave it to me. The “coronation cups” were made for the occasion to be filled with beer and passed out to the masses outside the Kremlin walls so peasants could celebrate along with aristocrats. The military training field where half a million people gathered was already a dangerous place to walk for all the trenches and mud pits. But things quickly went south when a rumor spread that each cup had gold in it and there were not nearly enough of them to go around. The stampede left over 1700 people trampled to death. The cup became known as the “cup of sorrow,” so called by Alexandra herself, but it is more often referred to as the “cup of blood,” and the tragedy seemed a bad sign for things to come during the reign of the last Czar. I own one of only five hundred or so made.
When I hold the cup, my mind wonders what they were talking about before the stampede, was it an exciting time or, because of the conflicts already under way throughout the empire, was it subdued and the cup distribution simply a brief diversion. Who made the cups? For me, owning one is a way to reach through a rabbit hole and pull out some nineteenth century reality, though I suppose it might also be considered moronic to have it in my possession and I should probably sell the damn thing on Ebay.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My cup of blood.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It is impossible to look at an artifact of such historical significance and not see it for its tragic past. I’ve never had a conversation simply about “the cup.” It has always been about the event which makes the cup unique.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bob Kunzinger’s work has appeared in multiple publications including The Washington Post, WW2 History, the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and has been noted several times in Best American Essays. He is a professor of humanities in Virginia.