Tuesday 26 June 2012

Rededication of Johannes Zukertort's Grave, 26 June 2012

On 26 June the grave of Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) was rededicated in London's Brompton Cemetery. Polish-born Johannes Zukertort was one of the world's leading players in the 1870s and 1880s. His most significant success was his victory at the 1883 London tournament, well ahead of the world's best players of the time, including Wilhelm Steinitz. He later contested what has become accepted as the first official world chess championship match in 1886 against Steinitz which he finally lost after an early lead.

GM Stuart Conquest delivers a few words on Zukertort at the newly-restored grave.

Zukertort settled in London in the early 1870s and died there aged 46 in 1888. Brompton Cemetery is one of London's most elegant Victorian graveyards and the horizontal stone placed over Zukertort's grave would have been quite a distinguished one for its time. However, over the course of time it had sunken lower and lower, and been covered by grass, although (as Stuart Conquest explained in his speech) it had been periodically rediscovered by people from the chess world and tidied up. The exact location of the grave was known to the cemetery administrators and it had also been identified some years ago by the Polish Heritage Society, who were understandably proud of their high-achieving fellow countryman who had been laid to rest in London and they had started planning for the grave's restoration.

Quite independently, former British Chess Champion and GM Stuart Conquest came to know about the grave about a year ago when spending some time in London and seeing Zukertort's name in a list of notable people buried in the cemetery. He was shown the grassy plot in the graveyard under which Zukertort lay and took it upon himself, with the blessing of the cemetery authorities, to uncover the original gravestone which lay a few centimetres below the grass.

Thus, after a few sessions of grandmasterly digging, the stone showing Zukertort's birth and death details was once more above ground and visible. In due course Stuart and Dr Marek Stella-Sawicki, Chairman of the Polish Heritage Society, became known to each other and they collaborated on a scheme to put up a more suitable upright stone to honour the memory of a chess legend. Today, 26 June 2012, saw the culmination of their splendid efforts with the rededication of the grave, now resplendent with a beautiful new headstone. 31 people from the world of chess and from the Polish community in Britain gathered at the newly-restored grave to pay homage to one of the 19th century's greatest players with a moving religious ceremony and excellent speeches from Marek and Stuart. The religious rites were conducted by the Rt. Rev. Walter Jagucki, Bishop Emeritus of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, and Father Wladyslaw Wyszowacki, Rector of the Polish Catholic parish of Balham in south-west London.

It was heart-warming occasion and blessed by probably the best weather of the English summer so far. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Stuart Conquest, the Polish Heritage Society, the staff of Brompton Cemetery and everybody who helped fund and support this fitting memorial to a great chessplayer.

The new gravestone

Johannes Zukertort (1842-88)

Photos by Ray Morris-Hill
Article written by GM Stuart Conquest for Chess Magazine in 2011 (ChessBase Website)
Video of GM Stuart Conquest interviewed by GM Daniel King re Zukertort project
Report of Zukertort Grave Rededication (ChessVibes)
Graves of Notable Chessplayers (Ken Whyld Association Website)
Video of Zukertort Grave, Pre-Restoration (MrChessClassics, YouTube)
Article on the Zukertort grave restoration project (Steve Giddins)
Johannes Zukertort on Wikipedia
Polish Heritage Society