Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! . . . To Indianapolis!

If you watch the mainstream media and listen to one of our major political parties, you know that America is crawling with Russians, especially on this day when we choose our elected leaders--completely under their influence of course. Russian influence that is. Well, in the good old days of the Cold War when the aforementioned political party felt more kindly towards them, Russians came to Indianapolis. And they were armed. But not with rifles and bazookas. Instead they used pens, for they were cartoonists.

Yes, sixty years ago, in May 1958, while the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race was going on, the city was invaded by two Russian cartoonists, Vitalii Goriaev (1910-1982) and Ivan Semeonov, who worked in their native country for the humor magazine Krokodil. They came at the invitation of journalists, Jameson G. Campaigne, editorial page director of the Indianapolis Star, and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Charles G. Werner of the same paper. Their visit would coincide not only with the Indianapolis 500 but also with the national convention of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC). Indianapolis was supposed to have been a closed city to visitors from Russia, but the U.S. Department of State consented to Campaigne's request and allowed them in. No one suspected that the Russians would escape from their keepers and make a trip to the big city. Not Indianapolis, though. New York. That big city.

Goriaev and Semeonov arrived in New York towards the end of May 1958. Horrified by traffic but excited by the movement and "holiday mood" of the city, they drew pictures of skyscrapers, art galleries, pigeons, children, American women, and big American cars. As the date of the 500 approached, the two made their way west, to Indianapolis, where, on the evening of Thursday, May 29, they attended a reception and banquet at the Continental Hotel, hosted by Eugene Pulliam, publisher of the Indianapolis Star. On hand were forty-four other cartoonists, including Hoosier cartoonists Karl Kae Knecht of the Evansville Courier, William B. "Robbie" Robinson of the Indianapolis News, Eldon Pletcher of the Sioux City, Iowa, Journal-Tribune, Bill Crawford of the Newark News, Eugene Craig of the Columbus Dispatch, Cy Hungerford of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Charles Werner of the Indianapolis Star.

The big day came on Friday, May 30, when the cartoonists were in the stands for the running of the race. The beginning of the race was marred by a terrible crash in which driver Pat O'Connor was killed. Goriaev made a sketch of his fellow spectators hours later as the moment of victory came for Jimmy Bryan. His sketch appeared in the Indianapolis News the next day (see below). I'm pretty sure Russians didn't influence the outcome of the race, though.

The convention of the AAEC came to a close on Sunday, May 31. Goriaev, Semeonov, and their translator, Lev Petrov, were supposed to have continued westward, to Hannibal, Missouri, then to Disneyland, before making a return trip east to Boston. Instead the Russians went on the lam, escaping back to New York City, where they made a study of art and cartooning before being found again on June 6. There didn't seem to be any harm done,  though, and the men stayed in the city until June 13.

Life noticed that Vitalii Goriaev and Ivan Semeonov had come to America. In its issue of June 16, 1958, the magazine featured a two-page spread of the artists' drawings. Back home again, Goriaev had his work, done in fiber-tipped pen and watercolor, exhibited at Tret'iakov Gallery in Moscow in 1958. He called it "Americans at Home." For twenty days in the late spring of 1958, he had had a chance to observe us in our natural environment and to taste in the Circle City what the Indianapolis News called "Hoosier freedom." I wonder if he also questioned, as the News suggested he might, his role as a cartoonist in the Soviet Union.

Happy Election Day, America!

From the Indianapolis News, May 31, 1958.

From Life, June 16, 1958.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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