The palace called Vila Amerika is home to a Masonic legend about a pierced heart
All of the movers and shakers in Prague used to belong to the Freemasons. The group, though, is quite secretive. Its members swear to face horrible deaths rather than betray any facets of its rituals or leave the brotherhood.
But the wife of one Mason did not like her husband having secrets. She often tried to pry information out of him with endless trick questions. When she didn’t get her way, she would go on strike, refusing to cooperate with anything.
No matter how many times her husband explained the rules of secrecy, the wife persisted. But to no avail. The husband kept the vows he had made to his fraternal order.
His wife then began giving him ultimatums, saying that he had to quit the group, as she couldn’t stand him having any aspect of a life of his own.
One night, she followed him to where the secret meetings took place. They were held in a tall house with a statue-filled garden. The house is now called Vila Amerika and is the Antonín Dvořák Museum, but originally it was called the Michna Summer Palace.
The next day the wife went there by herself and, even though women were not allowed in the rooms used for Masonic meetings, barged in and demanded to speak to someone in authority. She said she wanted her husband to be released from his vows and allowed to leave the group. The husband knew nothing of this, but she pretended it was his idea.
The chief clerk found the ledger that the man had signed when he joined. The clerk said that all she had to do was to pierce a little golden pin through a red ink heart that was under the signature, and her husband would leave the group on the terms that had been agreed.
She quickly took the pin and poked a hole in the ink heart, thinking she had finally gotten her way and this secret Masonic stuff would be behind them.
When she got home, she called out her husband’s name to tell him that he was no longer going to be welcome at his little clubhouse, so he may as well give in on all of her demands. She was waiting to see the expression on his face when she revealed how clever she had been.
But there was no answer. She searched the house, as usually he was home at this time. She finally found him, sitting in a chair in his study but with a golden knitting needle thrust firmly through his heart, exactly like the golden needle had done to the paper.
He left the brotherhood of Freemasons according to the terms he agreed.
What is now the Antonín Dvořák Museum, dedicated to the life and work of the 19th-century composer, was designed by the famous architect Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, and built between 1717 and 1720.
Although it has been home to the Antonín Dvořák Museum since 1932, the composer never lived there, despite the common assumption that he did. Many of his personal possessions are on display, though.
The summer palace, known since the mid-1800s as Vila Amerika, was made for Count Jan Václav Michna z Vacínova of the Imperial Court.
The inside of the stately red-and-yellow villa with a statue garden is notable for a lavishly decorated upstairs ballroom with a ceiling fresco depicting allegorical figures and fanciful animals.
The small palace was inspired by French Baroque architecture. The building was sold several times and even became a garden restaurant for a while before the City of Prague bought it in 1843. It then served as a girls academy and a museum of education before becoming a museum dedicated to the composer.
Many members of Bohemian nobility were known to be involved in Freemasonry, such as the Thun-Hohenstein and the Špork families. The Thun-Hohenstein family used its Masonic ties to bring Mozart to Prague, and also tried to lure Franz Anton Mesmer, the hypnotist.
When during the building’s history it served as a Masonic meeting place is not clear, if that part of the legend is true at all. From what is known of Masonry, its members do pledge to die painful deaths rather than reveal the esoteric secrets.
Masonry was popular in Bohemia up through the First Republic, which ended in 1938. It was banned by the occupying Nazis in World War II, and that ban continued under communism. While some esoteric groups have made a small comeback after 1989, little has been heard about Masons. But that may be because they are so secretive.