Friday, January 23, 2015

HGB Podcast 23 - The Haunted Kremlin

Moment in Oddity - Blue Exoplanet Rains Glass

Way out in the middle of interstellar space sits a planet with a very familiar blue.  At first glance, one may think that this may be an Earth-like planet, possibly able to sustain life.  There is carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor in its atmosphere.  The planet has been named HD 189733b and it was discovered in 2005.  This exoplanet is approximately 63 light years from Earth.  Unlike Earth, it orbits far closer to its sun than we do.  A year on this planet lasts only 2.2 days.  Boy, does one age fast there!  And you might want some major sunblock on this planet where surface temperatures reach 1551 degrees.  The Hubble Space Telescope was used to study the planet and they found that the blue of the planet is a deep azure due to many elements in its atmosphere that are similar to Jupiter's elements creating solid cloud particles.  Sodium atoms in those clouds absorb red and green wavelengths and then give off the deep blue.  The sodium atoms are created by silica, which basically means that the clouds are made up of grains of glass.  These grains of glass then most likely fall from the clouds resulting in a planet that rains glass.  Now that certainly is odd.

This Day in History - Roots Mini-series Premieres

On this day, January 23rd, in 1977, the Roots mini-series premieres on ABC-TV based on the novel "Roots: The Saga of an American Family" written by Alex Haley.  ABC was apprehensive about how audiences would receive the series and so they ran it on a unique schedule and made sure to advertise it using more of the white actors.  Their fears were unfounded as Roots broke viewership records and won several awards.  An estimated 140 million Americans watched.  The mini-series' finale holds the record as the second most watched series finale in television history.  Roots was nominated for 37 Emmys and won nine of them and it won a Peabody Award and Golden Globe.  The plot of the series follows a black family's history from Africa to America and through the 18th and 19th century past the Civil War.  Stars of the series include LeVar Burton, Cicely Tyson, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ben Vereen, Ed Asner, Loren Greene, Sandy Duncan, Llyod Bridges, Burl Ives, Maya Angelou and O.J. Simpson.  The series was not without controversy as it came to light that Alex Haley had plagiarized several parts of his novel, stealing from Harold Courlander's book "The African."  Courlander sued and Haley settled out of court.  Two sequels were made later and the History Channel is currently working on a remake of the mini-series. 

The Haunted Kremlin

Kremlin is a Russian word meaning a fortified complex found inside a city.  There are many kremlins in Russia, some of which that are in use and others that are just ruins.  Our focus is on the Moscow Kremlin, which is simply known today as The Kremlin.  The area upon which the Kremlin is built has thousands of years of history behind it and the Kremlin itself does as well.  As the seat of government, the Kremlin has seen many leaders come and go.  Some of those leaders never left.  Not only does the spirit with which they lead the country remain, but in some cases, their actual spirits still roam the halls of this magnificent building.

Archaeological digs have revealed that humans lived in the area where the Kremlin now stands as far back as 500 BC.  The area was a prime spot for living because two rivers, the Moskva and the Neglinnaya, come together there.  Yuri Dolgorukiy, the founder of Moscow, was born sometime in the 1090s - no one has ever been able to pinpoint his year of birth - during the Rurik Dynasty to Vladimir II Monomakh, the Grand Prince of Kievan Rus'.  Kievan Rus' was a federation of East Slavic tribes and modern day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all come down from these tribes.  The capital of Kievan Rus' was Kiev and Vladimir ruled there from 1113-1125.  In 1108, Vladimir sent Yuri to govern the Rostov-Suzdal Province, which was in the northeast.  Yuri founded many cities while he was in this territory and he allied himself with Sviatoslav Olgovich, who was a prince himself.  The two met in Moscow in 1147 and Yuri stayed there and fortified the walls of Moscow, earning him the moniker, "Founder of Moscow."  A wooden fort was built on the spot where the Moskva and Neglinnaya Rivers converged by Yuri and the city of Moscow grew.  A monument and a coin were made in Yuri's honor and a Russian submarine was named for him as well.

The Mongols came in the early 13th century and they razed the wooden fortress.  A hundred years passed before the Kremlin was rebuilt in 1339 by Prince Ivan Kalita.  He enclosed the Kremlin within fortified oak walls.  It was at this same time that the Kremlin was first mentioned in Russian Chronicles.  In 1366, Dmitry Donskoy who was the Prince of Moscow at the time, replaced the wooden oak walls with white limestone.  Ivan III Vasilyevich, famously known as Ivan the Great, became Grand Prince of Moscow in 1462 and things really began to grow for the Kremlin.

Under Ivan the Great, the Kremlin became the seat of power as the Russian territories were unified.  Ivan commenced a rebuilding of the Kremlin, inviting Italian Renaissance architects to help with the design.  New walls, a new tower and a new palace were all built as well as three extant cathedrals, the Palace of Facets and the Deposition Church.  The Palace of Facets was built as the throne room where state receptions were held and today is the official representative hall of the Russian government.  The Deposition Church is known today as the Church of the Deposition of the Robe and the robe part of the name is for the robe of the Virgin Mary.  The church was a private chapel for the Patriarch of Moscow, who was the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, but was later taken over by the Russian royal family.  The walls of the Kremlin were finished in 1495 and they are the same walls that can be seen today.  Ivan the Great decreed that nothing could be built near the Kremlin and a 30 foot moat was placed around the Kremlin.

Ivan the Terrible was the next czar to hold court at the Kremlin and he became the first czar over all the Russias.  He was crowned the Prince of Moscow at the age of three and his mother served as regent for him until she died when he was eight.  At just sixteen, he was crowned Czar of Russia.  Ivan was a wise and powerful ruler bringing the printing press to Russia for the first time, but he also established serfdom and was terrifying at times.  He found it hard to control his temper and he was given to bouts of mental illness.  This mental illness was on display during the Massacre of Novgorod and also when Ivan killed his hand picked successor who also happened to be his son Ivan Ivanovich by hitting him in the head with his staff.  The first strains of paranoia came when his first wife died by poisoning and he blamed his advisers, but his mental instability showed as a child and the narrative is similar to that of any garden variety serial killer.  He enjoyed torturing and killing animals as a child and he ran with mobs as a teenager beating women and children.  Ivan would never trust his advisers and would kill many of them through the years.  But he was also a man of art and letters that he wrote have been described as Shakespearean in content.  Ivan continued the building that had been ongoing at the Kremlin.  He had Saint Basil's Cathedral built over the moat and renovated the palace.  He also had a palace and a cathedral built for his sons.

The Time of Troubles followed this period and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied Russia from 1610-1612.  Famine in the area killed two million people.  The volunteer army of Prince Dmitry Pozharsky liberated the Kremlin and a new czar was elected.  Czar Romanov added the eleven-domed Upper Saviour Cathedral, Armorial Gate, Terem Palace, Amusement Palace and the palace of Patriarch Nikon to the Kremlin and their construction was completed during the reign of his son.

In the year 1682, the reigning czar died and an uprising resulted known as the Moscow Uprising of 1682.  It was at this time that a ten year old Peter the Great became the new Russian czar.  He would rule until his death in 1725 and he was so traumatized by the uprising that he moved the seat of Russian power to St. Petersburg.  The Kremlin was still used for certain events and it continued to be improved with tiled tent-shaped tops added to all its towers.  According to the famous historian I.F. Zabelin, the addition of the tent tops to the towers "did not strengthen the Kremlin’s defense but gave it some other, eternal, strength and expressed the poetry and spirit of the old pre-petrin Rus."  Peter the Great had the Kremlin Arsenal built.  The building was commissioned in 1702, but due to the Russo-Swedish War, it took until 1736 for it to be completed.  It was built in the shape of an elongated trapezium with a large central courtyard and was used as a museum and then later as a barracks.  The Arsenal has endured much destruction.  In 1737, it was heavily damaged by fire.  The reconstruction took until 1796 and then in 1812, Napoleon blew the building up.  That reconstruction took until 1828.

In the late 18th century, the Kremlin Senate was built and its architecture is done in the Moscow Classical style.  The Senate has a circular hall that has been dubbed the Russian Pantheon.  Colonnades run around the outside of the circle and rise to over 88 feet and the hall is topped by a dome that has twenty-four windows.  This building held the private studies for both Lenin and Stalin and has wonderful bas-relief sculptures.  A secret tunnel beneath the area was probably used for spying.  Since 1991, the Senate has been the home for the President of the Russian Federation.

The Great Kremlin Palace was built in 1849 over the area where Ivan III's Palace once stood.  The building has wide-bayed brick arches and while the outside is not considered to be anything special, the inside of the Palace is extraordinary featuring styles from the Renaissance to the Byzantine.  There are five halls inside, each dedicated to an order of the Russian Empire.  The Georgievsky Hall has marble plaques that are engraved with the names of more than ten thousand Russian officers who have received the highest honor of the Russian Army, the Order of St. George.  The Andreevsky Hall is the throne room and built from pink marble with a spherical dome.  Vladimirskiy Hall is in the form of an octahedron and is domed as well.  When the Soviet Union existed, the Andreevsky and Aleksandrovsky Halls were combined to form the seat of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.

World War I had broken out in 1914 and Russia's participation proved to be the initial undoing of the Czars.  Two separate revolutions took place in 1917, known as the Russian Revolution, and Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks overthrew Czar Nicholas II.  Civil war ensued and the Communist Era began.  The Kremlin again became the seat of power at this time and large red stars were placed around the towers.  Lenin became the architect of the Soviet State and its first leader.  His last name is not his birth name.  It is a name he chose for himself while working in the political underground.  During the Civil War, Lenin launched the Red Terror that killed any opposition in the civilian population.  Lenin's dreams of a perfect society never came to fruition.  The same lower classes he had used to rise to power turned on him and strife was a part of the new USSR.

Joseph Stalin became the leader of the USSR in 1924 and he rules for two decades until 1953.  His was a reign of terror that sent the peasants back into serfdom and millions of people starved to death under his leadership.  Continuing what his predecessor Lenin had begun, Stalin removed all reminders of the czars from the Kremlin.  Statues were destroyed and the Golden Eagles on the towers were removed and replaced by Kremlin stars.  Stalin also pulled down some of the cathedrals and replaced them with a military school.  The Kremlin was closed to foreign visitors at this time as well.

The Kremlin would not open for visitors until 1955 and the Kremlin Museums were opened in 1961.  Nikita Khrushchev had the Kremlin Palace of Congresses built in the 1960s and it clashes horribly with the rest of the Kremlin's architecture.  Current leader Vladimir Putin added a unique feature to the Kremlin, a helipad, which was finished in 2013.  The Kremlin is open every day of the week for tours except Thursdays and tours begin at 10am.  There are individuals tickets for different areas, the museum tickets run under $10.

Based on this history, one can see that the Kremlin is the heart of Moscow and contains some of the oldest structures in Russia.  A place with such a rich history and veiled in mystery is the perfect setting for hauntings and the Kremlin is notoriously haunted.  The main hauntings are attributed to three of Russia's leaders:  Ivan the Terrible, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.  The interesting point to keep in mind when talking about ghosts and Russia is that Communism forced a type of atheism on the people.  Telling ghost stories was almost a forbidden act.  So image the irony of Communist leaders haunting their people.

Ivan the Terrible is thought to mainly haunt the Ivan the Great Bell Tower.  His heavy booted footsteps have been heard and a shadow figure resembling the crazy leader has been seen on multiple occasions.  Several times, Ivan's ghost has appeared engulfed in flames.  Nikolay II was the last czar in Russia before the Soviet State was installed and he and his wife claimed that they had a visitation from a full bodied apparition of Ivan the Terrible on the evening before Nikolay's coronation.  Many look back on this event as a bad omen for the Romanov royal dynasty, which was going to collapse. 

In 1923, a security chief reported seeing the ghostly apparition of Lenin.  The weird thing about this sighting is that Lenin was still alive at the time.  The chief had thought it was odd that Lenin was wondering about without a security detail.  Perhaps he was preparing to chew some people out for this lack of protection, but instead of finding the lazy security detail, the chief found out that Lenin was not even at the Kremlin.  He was away in Gorky.  Was this Lenin's doppelganger?  A doppelganger is a look-a-like of a living person and is read about mostly in folklore.  Seeing a doppelganger is generally considered a sign of bad luck.  Lenin would die three months after this incident.  Even more bizarre is that there were other witnesses who saw Lenin that same evening and claim that the leader who was ill and needed a cane was walking about just fine and seemed very healthy.  Lenin's body is still around and on display in the Lenin Mausoleum.  The macabre display features Lenin in a suit that is washed and ironed regularly and changed out every three years, lying in a glass coffin that is kept at a constant temperature and humidity.  His skin is regularly treated with a bleach solution to prevent mold.  Lenin can be viewed in small groups for up to five minutes under the watchful eye of several guards.  Lenin's spirit might still be hanging out since his body was never buried like he had requested before his death.  The apartment he had lived in is locked and sealed, but people say they hear papers rustling, furniture creaking and pacing footsteps as if someone were inside.

A woman by the name of Fanny Kaplan was accused of trying to assassinate Lenin and although no proof was ever given and no trial was held, Kaplan was executed by being shot and then stuffed in a barrel and set on fire at the Kremlin.  She is said to haunt the Komendantskaya Tower where her apparition is seen with unkempt hair, holding a gun and trembling.

Joseph Stalin's ghost is the most seen specter.  If a room in the Kremlin suddenly gets cold, people believe that Stalin is there particularly if the country is facing some kind of crisis.  The scent of urine occasionally accompanies the cold spots because Stalin was found lying in his own urine after he was poisoned with rat poison, most likely by one of his generals.  Stalin's special service chief Ezhov has been seen wandering the halls, particularly where Stalin's private residence, the Patriarch Chambers, once was located. The ghost of Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria, has been seen within the Kremlin.  He and his men tortured and killed hundreds of people who opposed Stalin.  The haunting sounds of screams and footsteps can still be heard in the dungeons below the residence.

False Dimitriy claimed to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, although those claims were never proven.  He overthrew the czar at the time and ruled for a short time.  He fell out of favor with the people and they revolted.  Several assassins climbed the walls and False Dimitriy jumped from a window breaking his leg.  He was then shot to death.  His ghost has been seen wandering among the battlements of the Kremlin.  He was last seen in 1991 by a group of employees.  They claimed he was waving his arms as if warning them of something.  The next day a Communist coup d'etat was staged that Boris Yeltsin defeated.

Workers at the State Archives of the Russian Federation claim to see a woman in a white robe who wanders the aisles there as if protecting the historical accounts.  Some claim she is a member of the Romanov family, the last czar line.  Figures dressed in shrouds are witnessed in the corridors of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses.

The Kremlin was built as a fortress of protection.  It appears to be no match for the restless spirits of those long dead.  Are Russia and the USSR's former leaders still holding court in their former residence?  Are the spirits of those tortured and killed still trapped within the walls of their former prison?  That is for you to decide!

Additional show notes

Tour tickets for the Kremlin:
Sound effects courtesy of:
Russian song can be found here:

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