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The Things of Warsaw / Room of Warsaw Mermaids

MHW 20959

Handle and escutcheon plate with the depiction of the Mermaid from the Town Hall

The year is 1944. The entire city centre is on fire and so is the Town Hall. Bombs are exploding all around, windows are breaking, a blast rips doors out of their frames; they fall down on the ground. The long-time magistrate janitor is in the building. Surrounded by fire, he attempts to save even the tiniest bit of the Town Hall. He hurriedly rips the handle, together with the escutcheon plate decorated with the image of the Mermaid, off one of the doors. The plate is damaged – maybe it had been the explosion or maybe the janitor used excessive force when ripping it out.

The handle is far from ordinary, it is not made of cheap tin as in many other buildings of the time; it is a well-made, brass handle, like those found in palaces, eclectic in style, produced in the 19th century. It is one of the few elements of the pre-war Town Hall that have been preserved. It can be compared to a bone of a dinosaur that went extinct a long time ago. For many years, the fragment had been kept by the Warsaw janitor, an intermediary between the authority and the townsmen, until it was eventually brought to the museum by his son. Thanks to him, the precious artefact will be a part of the Things of Warsaw exhibition.

The handle was cast in brass in one of Warsaw-based workshops, most probably in late 1860s, for the purposes of the Town Hall, freshly reconstructed after the 1863 fire. The building had been set on fire by the participants of the uprising, who wanted to destroy the tax registers kept inside. The reconstruction works, taking place in the years 1864–1869 in line with the design of Józef Orłowski, also encompassed the modernisation of the Town Hall. Apart from erecting new pavilions, covering the building with tall mansard roof, and giving the façade a new, neo-Renaissance look, two plenary chambers for the Town Council were built inside. The palace was once again destroyed during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and was not reconstructed until 1997.

Handle and escutcheon plate with the Mermaid
unknown author; after 1866
polished brass, cast
MHW 20959/a–c