But, the Queen and her entourage passed our pianos without even a glance. No look, no questions—absolutely nothing. Rather, what I observed, which is forever etched in my memory, was her arrogance. There was a deafening air of superiority. She walked coolly past us with her nose in the air. Her patronizing, proud eyes wouldn’t even spare us a glance.
Even more devastating was what we heard. One of the Queen’s advisors announced my father’s first ever single-piece, cast-iron frame piano in all of Europe. At this, Her Majesty and her advisors scoffed. One of them even made a crude remark, “What do the Danish know about pianos?” At this comment, arrogant chuckles could be heard among the entourage.
In a split second, the fire in Father’s eyes suddenly went dark. He was devastated. The pride of his country, the pride of his work for the past year went out like a flame. We were all in disbelief. What just happened!
It felt as though time had come to a full stop. We couldn’t move. Almost as if time had frozen, we stood in a daze for hours, long after the Queen and her entourage left the exhibition hallway. How could this happen? Did we do something wrong? Was the piano not good enough? A sense of defeat enveloped us.
Then something unexpected happened. Mr. Frederick Collier Bakewell, a famed English physicist who showcased a working prototype of a facsimile machine at the Great Exhibition, came up to my dad and said, “My dear Mr. Conrad Hornung, as one pioneer to another, you must please excuse us. The monarchy and the aristocrats are of the opinion that the British empire is superior to all the other nations. Though I am a proud Brit, I know a great thing when I see one and what you have created, Mr. Hornung, is an engineering and artistic masterpiece. Congratulations!” This broke Father’s trance. My father graciously thanked Mr. Bakewell for his kind words.
Though the Queen wouldn’t give my father a moment, throughout the Great Exhibition, from May to October, we were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and the kindest of words of congratulations from the attendees. Father’s creation was indeed a one-of-a-kind accomplishment.
As the Great Exhibition came to an end, on our final walk back to the hotel, Father said something I will never forget. “My dear son, I want you to remember something. Life has its setbacks, but we have to bounce back and never give up. Even if we are slighted by the Queen, we cannot lose faith. It’s unfortunate that the British look down upon the other countries, but we must believe that we have something to contribute to humankind. Remember that Son. Moreover, we should accept people of different backgrounds. We must not think that we are superior to anybody or any culture.”
The Great Exhibition changed my life forever, but most importantly, it taught me an important lesson. For the rest of my life, I treated others with kindness and respect, irrespective of their background, nationality, religion, or views.