From the Archives: Our Victor Polant Was No Fool


by Paul Ganson

Of all the days of the year when one might recall this particular story, April Fool’s Day is probably the most appropriate because it was on April 1, 1921 that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Ossip Gabrilowitsch, concluded its Spring Tour with a concert in St. Louis. Tours, as you might guess, can be exhausting and nerve-wracking affairs for all concerned; and this one was no exception.

To celebrate the successful conclusion of this particular tour, Victor Polant of the violin section, invited a few of his colleagues to his room. Even though this was during the maddening era of Prohibition, someone–or some few–by some means unknown managed to secure some alcoholic beverages to hasten the progress of the festivities–undoubtedly so that they could thereby retire earlier in preparation for the homeward train journey the next morning to Detroit. But, as has been said, haste makes waste. Whoever it was, by whatever means for whatever reason remains to this day a mystery; but someone set the revelers on a perilous course. Their celebration moved from boisterous to raucous and their physical interactions became a bit too rough. The resulting commotion was disturbing enough that the assistant manager of the hotel was aroused by complaints from adjoining rooms and floors. What he saw when he arrived caused him to summon the manager of the hotel who summoned the manager of the Orchestra. Unsummoned but always alert and aware, even Gabrilowitsch appeared, elegant in his regal, burgundy dressing gown.

Victor Polant fell to his knees before the Maestro and apologized humbly and profusely. He insisted upon his taking full responsibility for any damage to the decor and furnishings because it was, after all, his room. The manager of the hotel delegated to his assistant the task of determining the costs and then withdrew with the manager of the Orchestra, both of them following closely in Gabrilowitsch’s wake.

Upon the assistant manager’s presentation of an itemized bill, Victor Polant, with a requisite flourish of his fountain pen, wrote and signed his cheque for the full amount. Then, almost as an afterthought, he confided to the assistant manager that he felt strangely attached to the ruined furniture and would like to take it with him when he returned with the Orchestra to Detroit. The young man, believing the customer to be always right and wishing to accommodate, but only in so far as possible, any and every guest of the hotel assured him: “Consider it done, Sir!”

The next morning the Orchestra, accompanied by Victor Polant’s crate, made its way to the railway station. Upon presenting an itemized invoice marked PAID IN FULL, there was just enough time before the train departed for Victor Polant to arrange and pay for its shipping–and insurance.

When the Orchestra arrived in Detroit and Victor Polant took possession of his crate, he confessed to an odd feeling that all did not seem to in order. He asked the railroad officials to open the crate. Imagine their surprise when they saw that every piece of furniture within had been broken, splintered and was beyond repair. Imagine, too, Victor Polant’s disappointment when he realized that he would lose forever his furniture, consoled only by a cheque from the insurance company for the full amount of its cost.

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2 Responses to “From the Archives: Our Victor Polant Was No Fool”

  1. avatar Anita Walters on April 8th, 2010 at 7:14 am

    I enjoyed this anecdote from the archives and a glimpse into a bygone era when maestros wore burgundy dressing gowns and orchestras traveled by train .

  2. My name is Martha Jee (nee Polant). Victor Polant was my grandfather and I was so glad that I found this blog. I have searched for information on my grandfather for some time and have picked up some bits here and there but this article was the most comprehensive and interesting I have run across. Victor Polant died in 1938?, I am not sure of the date but my father who was also Victor Polant and was born in 1926 was approx 11 years old. My father passed away in 1983 and I never had much of a chance to ask about his father. Thank you for publishing this and if you have any more information could you please email me. I would greatly appreciate the chance to give my children some family history.


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