Thursday, November 24, 2022

HGB Ep. 462 - Haunted Saint Petersburg, Russia

Moment in Oddity - Insect Fairies 

Most people find butterflies and similar insects to be quite beautiful. Sadly, they don't typically have long lifespans. However, one artist in the Netherlands gives these creatures a second life by turning the carcasses into art. Let me introduce you to Cedric Laquieze. This artist creates fairies from ethically sourced insects' exoskeletons and wings. He gingerly dissects them and rearranges their parts to produce one of a kind sculptures. Some of his fairies use up to ten different insects. Cedric stated to Gloomth Magazine, “The aspect of the fairies that I like the most is that over the span of almost 20 years and hundreds of fairies, I’ve never made the same piece twice, and the shapes, colors and designs are extremely diverse. From dark and intimidating, to almost cartoon like or Victorian and classic, each one has found its counterpart”. His pieces of art are quite beautiful and delicate, but one thing is for sure, creating fairies out of dead insects, certainly is odd. 

This Month in History -  The First Female Medical School

In November, on the 1st, in 1848, the first medical school for women was opened in Boston Massachusetts. The school founder, Samuel Gregory, began with just twelve students and two faculty members. Initially graduates were referred to as "Doctresses of Medicine", which the female graduates did not care for. Twelve years after the school began, the college started graduating women as "Doctors of Medicine". This began the Boston Female Medical College, and in 1852, it changed its name to the New England Female Medical College. This was the first female medical school in the United States—and in the world. Prior to the college's opening, women could train to be a midwife or nurse, but not a doctor. The schools' graduation requirements consisted of previous medical study, two years of attendance at NEFMC, a final thesis, and passing a final exam. Despite the women earning their medical degree, the female physicians did have a difficult time being accepted like their male counterparts. Due to financial burdens on the school after being open 26 years, and having granted 98 medical degrees, the New England Female Medical College merged with Boston University to become the co-educational Boston University School of Medicine in 1874.

Haunted Saint Petersburg, Russia

Saint Petersburg is the former capital of Russia and has existed for over 300 years. This is the second largest city in Russia and was home to tsars. The city is replete with beautiful historic structures, many of which still hold spirits from the past. Join us as we share the history and haunted locations of Saint Petersburg in Russia!

Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703 and was named for the apostle Saint Peter. It was hard for some to believe that Peter would want this as a capital because it was a swamp and an unforgiving climate. His vision and unrelenting work ethic that he pushed on the soldiers and peasants that lived there, grew a big and powerful city. What that means is that Tsar Peter drove those workers hard to the point of even death for some of them. This city served as the capital of Tsardom and the Empire of Russia from 1713 to 1918, when the Bolsheviks moved their government to Moscow. The city has hundreds of years of history and is considered Russia's cultural center. One of the largest art museums in the world, the Hermitage, is located here. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote of Saint Petersburg, "There’s nothing you can’t find in Saint Petersburg." Living conditions in Saint Petersburg were very tough throughout its history as newly freed serfs flowed into the city and Bloody Sunday in the early 19th century lead to the Russian Duma. The city was even named Leningrad for a time after the death of Lenin who led Russia into Soviet control. During World War II, the city was besieged by German forces. In 1991, the city became Saint Petersburg again and millions of tourists visit the city every year. Many sites here are reputedly haunted.

The Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman stands on Senatskaia Ploshchad, which means Senate Square, facing the Neva River. It is surrounded by historic religious and political buildings, the Admiralty, St Isaac's Cathedral and the buildings of the former Senate and Synod. This statue was ordered built by Catherine the Great in 1782 and features Peter the Great sitting atop a horse that is reared up on its hind legs. The horse is stepping on a snake that symbolizes the enemies of Peter and his move to reform the country. His right hand reaches out as he leads the country forward. The pedestal is made from a single piece of red granite that is shaped like a cliff and an inscription on it reads, "Petro Primo Catharina Secunda - To Peter the First from Catherine the Second." This stone is called the Thunder Stone and is said to be the largest stone ever moved by humans. The sculpture was created by French sculptor Etienne Maurice Falconet. A 19th century legend claims that enemy forces will never take Saint Petersburg as long as the statue stands. And indeed, Leningrad didn't fall during the 900-day Siege.

The ghost of Peter the Great is seen in many places in the city. His favorite spot seems to be this statue. People claim that if you approach the statue at night that you should be careful as you may see the spirit of a very tall, dark figure walking near the statue. Even more bizarre are the stories that the statue itself comes to life and Peter steps down from the horse and patrols the streets of his city. And there are some 19th century police reports that claim that a couple of people were found during that era with their skulls crushed, not far from the Bronze Horseman. Alexander Pushkin, the founder of modern Russian literature, wrote a poem in 1833 entitled “The Bronze Horseman” that reads, "One night, while passing by the Bronze Horseman, Evgeny starts cursing Peter the Great for founding the city in such a dangerous location. Out of his mind over the loss of his fiancée, Evgeny fancies that the statue angrily glares at him. Rushing away, he keeps on hearing hooves clattering behind him, and later, the madman is found dead."

Griboedov Canal

The Griboedov Canal twists through the center of Saint Petersburg with more than 21 bridges crossing it. This was once known as the Catherine Canal. One of the highlights along the canal is a mansion that was built in 1759 for General Villebois. Millionaire Baron Vasily Engelhardt owned it during the 1820s and 1830s and hosted extravagant balls and masquerades. Today, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic plays there. Russia's first banknotes were printed along the canal and the Bank Bridge is near where this happened. The bridge features four griffin sculptures with gilded wings. And some of the grandest churches in Saint Petersburg lie along the canal. Something mysterious lurks on the embankments of the canal and its connected to the murder of Tsar Alexander II. 

Alexander II was Emporer of Russia from 1855 to 1881 and was known as Alexander the Liberator. In the late 19th century, a far-left revolutionary political organization known as Narodnaya Volya, which translates to People's Will, was growing in membership. This was a group that focused on assassinating government officials. On March 13, 1881, Tsar Alexander II was their crosshairs. This was a Sunday and the Tsar had just finished attending the Mikhailovsky Manège military roll call. He travelled along Catherine's Canal in a closed bullet-proof carriage followed by two sleighs carrying a security detail with both the chief of police and the chief of the emperor's guards. One of the members of People's Will, Nikolai Rysakov, threw a bomb at the carriage, but only damaged it. He was quickly apprehended and the Tsar stupidly got out of the carriage to survey the damage and confront the young man. Rysakov yelled out to another person in the crowd and this man threw another bomb that landed at the Tsar's feet and exploded. The Tsars legs were ripped away and his stomach was blown open. He was rushed to the Winter Palace where he died. The spot where the attack occurred is now marked by the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. 

All members of the People's Will were rounded up, brought to trial and executed by hanging. One of those members was Sophia Perovskaya. Her spirit has returned here to the canal and is said to be mischievous. She is seen wearing a long dress with a big red mark around her neck and a blue face and waving a white handkerchief, much like she did on the day the Tsar was murdered and this served as a signal to the bombers. Legend claims that if you happen to see this spirit, you will fall into the canal and possibly even die. She usually appears in early March on foggy and quiet nights. She has been seen for more than 100 years by many eyewitnesses. Also on the spot where the Tsar died, people claim to hear disembodied moans and sometimes even see the Tsar.

Mikhailovsky Castle/St. Michael's Castle

St. Michael's Castle was originally known as Mikhailovsky Castle and sits at the corner of the Fontanka and Moika Rivers. The castle is the only one in Saint Petersburg. It was built to replace the small wooden palace of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna. St. Michael's Castle is a very unique structure featuring four different architectural styles like baroque, classicist, Romantic and early Empire and drawbridges because the two rivers and two man-made canals, basically made the castle an island unto itself. The castle is in the shape of a square with an octagonal inner courtyard. This structure was designed over many years by Tsar Paul I, but was built in great haste, leading it to be thought of as one of the most uninhabitable places for a long time. The reason for the quick build was because the Tsar was a paranoid man and he wanted something that would protect him. The building was freezing in the winter with ice forming on the inner walls and in the summer, the castle was incredibly humid. Paintings were damaged and the walls began to peel. The Tsar would only live here for 40 nights.

Tsar Paul I was born Pavel Petro on October 1, 1754. He was the son of Catherine the Great and Peter III. Peter III was emperor of Russia for only six months in 1762 and was overthrown by his wife Catherine and her lover Grigory Orlov. He was later killed, but not before Catherine became empress of Russia. She reigned for thirty-four years and never allowed her son Paul to help with anything politically. She didn't want Paul to succeed her, but he did when she died in 1796. Tsar Paul reversed much of what his mother had done for Russia and he imposed limits on Russian nobility, which they were not happy with. On top of that, he provoked the anger of the military by ordering harsh disciplines and giving preference to his Gatchina troops, which were the Imperial guards. He also led Russia in war with France and Great Britain. 

Tsar Paul had a target on his back and it was only a matter of time before someone was going to end him. He was incredibly paranoid for good reason. His own father had been overthrown and murdered. Tsar Paul himself had premonitions that he would be assassinated. He hoped his castle would protect him, but he had very few guards who could stand to live there. Counts Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen, Nikita Petrovich Panin, and Admiral de Ribas and British ambassador in Saint Petersburg, Charles Whitworth, all conspired to assassinate Paul. Generals Bennigsen and Yashvil led a group of dismissed officers to the castle and they first tried to get Paul to abdicate the thrown so his son Alexander I could reign. He refused. He was stabbed, strangled and trampled to death. His son had given his consent for the overthrow, but he didn't support an assassination. He was made emperor and never punished the officers. The court physician declared that Paul died of apoplexy, which is basically a stroke. The Tsar had ruled for exactly four years, four months and four days, and he lived in his castle for only 40 days. He was buried in the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

The castle was left abandoned for 18 years. There were drawings that revealed the castle's secret vaults, but these were destroyed by Brenna who was an architect of the castle. Supposedly, a hidden treasure box is in a vault and holds mystical relics. The castle became Engineer's Castle in 1823 when the army's Main Engineering School moved in. Today, it is a branch of the Russian Museum. Weird stuff started happening at the castle. Disembodied footsteps were heard and moaning. A weak dim light was seen moving about the corridors. A group of soldiers who were staying there had been walking the castle when they all came running out of a room, crossing themselves and yelling that they had just seen Tsar Paul I holding a candle in there. The Tsar loved the violin and he himself played. Legends claim that he can sometimes be seen playing his favorite instrument at one of the windows. There is a metal figure outside the castle guarding it near one of the drawbridges and if you throw a coin at its head, it will predict your future.

Peter and Paul Fortress

The Peter and Paul Fortress was established in May of 1703 by Peter the Great and has 24 buildings or other structures to see. This original citadel of Saint Petersburg sits on Hare Island by the north bank of the Neva River. Being that this was the first structure built in the new city, it is considered the birthplace of the city. The fortress was mainly used to hold political prisoners of high-ranking and to house the city garrison. In 1712, the Peter and Paul Cathedral was started and took 21 years to complete. This has a 404 foot bell tower that makes this the tallest in the city center and it is actually the tallest Orthodox bell tower in the world. There is a gilded angel-topped cupola as well. The Russian Orthodox cathedral was designed by Domenico Trezzini and has a unique iconostasis. The Flemish city of Mechelen, Flanders gifted a Flemish carillon to the cathedral. The cathedral became a museum in 1924, but religious services started again in 2000. This is also a mausoleum with nearly all of the Russian emperors and empresses from Peter the Great to Nicholas II buried here.

In 1724, one of the world's largest mints was founded here at the fortress by Peter the Great. This is the Saint Petersburg Mint. It started out as just a coinage workshop that made money and medals, but in 1800, the main building of the mint was started. It was completed in 1805 and was designed by A. Porto in the classical architectural style. The building was expanded in the 1830s and then again in the 1840s. A stone wall completed the complex. The Capital Funds Building is also part of the Mint and was completed in 1843. In the 1870s, the prison block was rebuilt and is known as the Trubetskoy Bastion, named after Count Yuri Trubetskoy. The disgraced son of Peter the Great was tortured and died here. He had worked with others to attempt to overthrow his father. This is a museum sharing the history of the prison and its inmates. The Alexeevskiy Ravelin was built in 1733 and housed many prominent inmates, including Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Zotov Bastion was named for Count Nikita Zotov, a tutor and close friend of Peter the Great. This once housed the offices of the Secret Chancellery, the Tsar's feared secret police force.

The Golovkin Bastion was completed in 1730 and named after Count Gavriil Golovkin, the first Chancellor of Russia. A small building in the fortress serves as the ticket office and is known as The Boathouse. The structure was finished in 1765 and had housed Peter the Great's small sailboat that he used to learn naval principles as a youth from 1767 to 1931. This boat was known as the Grandfather of the Russian Navy. The Ioannovskiy Ravelin is the main visitor entrance to the Peter and Paul Fortress and was named for Tsar Ivan V. This was built in 1731 and housed a guardhouse and barracks. Today, tourists can see the Museum of Cosmonautics and Rocket Technology here. There is a daily firing of the cannon from the Naryshkin Bastion at noon. This structure was built in 1725 and named for Kirill Naryshkin, one of the leading military commanders and administrators of Peter the Great's reign. The Flagstaff Tower was added in the 1730s and features the fortress's own flag, or the Imperial standard on holidays back in the day. The Menshikov Bastion was built in 1729 and named for Peter the Great's closest confidant and the first governor of Saint Petersburg, Alexander Menshikov. This held the torture chambers of the Secret Chancellery, which was the Imperial regime's secret police. This became a barracks later.

One of the spirits that wanders the grounds here is thought to be Princess Tarakanova who was born in 1745 and went by the name Knyazhna Yelizaveta Vladimirskaya, Princess of Vladimir. The name she is known by today, Tarakanova, means cockroach in Russian and she got that name because she was apparently a fraud. She claimed to be the daughter of Alexei Razumovsky and Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Empress Catherine II ordered her arrested and that happened in February of 1775. She was here at the Peter and Paul Fortress and died from tuberculosis. She was buried in the graveyard of the fortress, although there are legends that her death was faked and she became a nun named Dosifea who lived in the Ivanovsky Convent from 1785 until her death in 1810.

The Rotunda

The Rotunda is located at the corner of Gorokhovaya Ulitsa and the Fontanka River Embankment, inside the Evmentev House, which was built in the 18th century. The Rotunda has a mystical reputation. The Rotunda is formed from six free-standing columns and a cast iron staircase that looks to almost rise endlessly upwards along the curves of the walls. Legends claim that Freemasons gathered here and also Satanists. During the 1970s and 1980s, members of subcultures made this their hangout. They started the idea that dreams and wishes written on the walls of the Rotunda would come true. Another legend claims that a young man who went down into the basement of the house ended up in a parallel universe for about 15 minutes. When he came back up, he was a white-haired 70 year-old-man. And then there's this, at midnight one can meet Satan here. Grigory Rasputin enjoyed the Rotunda, so perhaps that is true.

Obvodny Canal

The Obvodny Canal is the longest artificial canal in Saint Petersburg and was once the southern boundary of the city. Unfortunately, the canal is a favorite spot for people seeking to end their lives and many have been successful. But those might not all be by choice. Some who have been rescued have claimed that they didn't mean to jump into the canal, but that they were overwhelmed by a compulsion to jump. Could it be that the restless spirits in the canal are compelling people to join them.

Rasputin’s Apartment

And our final location was once home to one of the most infamous and mysterious people in history, Grigori Rasputin. Rasputin has been called the "Mad Monk" by many and his connection with the family of the final tsar of Russia is legendary. Some believed he was a charlatan, while others thought of him as a mystic and a prophet with amazing powers of persuasion. Rasputin was born in 1869 in the village of Pokrovskoye, on the Tura river in Siberia. Nothing about his early life seemed remarkable. He got into a bit of trouble with authorities when he was young, but when he reached adulthood, he worked on his family farm, married a local girl and they had seven children, three of which survived to adulthood. Everything shifted for Rasputin at the age of twenty-eight when he had a spiritual conversion of some sort and decided to go find himself. He left his wife, who was pregnant at the time, and his children. In 1897, he ended up at the St. Nicholas Monastery at Verkhoturye and he spent many months there learning to read and write and studying. When he returned to his wife, he looked disheveled and started behaving strangely.

The next few years were spent wandering away from home on pilgrimages, visiting holy sites, and then returning home and leaving again. He gathered a small group of followers with whom he prayed and that's when the rumors about him started. It sounds very much like he was forming a cult. The group met in secret to avoid the anger of local priests and the women in the group were said to ritually wash Rasputin before he would deliver messages. There were tales of self-flogging, sexual orgies and the singing of strange songs. While Rasputin avoided his local clergy, some other Russian Orthodox clergy were impressed with his charisma and they introduced him around. He began to climb the ranks of Russian society until he was finally introduced to the family of Tsar Nicholas II Romanov. The Tsar wrote of this first meeting in October of 1906, "A few days ago I received a peasant from the Tobolsk district, Grigori Rasputin, who brought me an icon of St. Simon Verkhoturie. He made a remarkably strong impression both on Her Majesty and on myself, so that instead of five minutes our conversation went on for more than an hour."

Rasputin had a way of reading people and he gained the trust of the Imperial family. They were open to his mysticism as they had consulted other spiritual advisors that were similar to Rasputin. Spiritualism and Theosophy were becoming very popular. Rasputin was great at telling them what they wanted to hear and he claimed to be able to heal people. Nicholas and his wife Alexandra were so impressed with Rasputin that they decided to ask for his help in healing their son Alexei. Alexei had hemophilia and although there is no historical proof, there are those who say that Rasputin did help alleviate the symptoms. Alexandra’s lady-in-waiting said that she believed that Rasputin used peasant folk medicine from Siberia that helped with internal bleeding. Modern historians think that Rasputin protecting the boy from doctors who were giving him aspirin was probably the real cure. This success garnered him more favor with the family and during World War I, Rasputin was giving Nicholas political advice. 

Rasputin appeared as a holy man to the Imperial family, but on the side, he was anything but that. He was frolicking with women in the city and was seen drunk in public many times. Rumors about Rasputin having relations with the Tsarina and her four daughters started circulating and got so bad that Nicholas asked Rasputin to leave for a time, so he went on a pilgrimage to Palestine. He returned after awhile and the Imperial family was happy to have him back. But the officials around the family were not happy and they knew they needed to do something as Nicholas continued to value Rasputin's advice over all others. Rasputin continued to brag about his relationship with the Tsar's family as he showed off embroidered shirts Alexandra made for him.

Rasputin was murdered on December 29, 1916 at Moika Palace. This was the residence of Felix Yussupov, the richest man in Russia at the time, and Rasputin was told that Felix's wife wanted to meet with the mystic. She was the only niece of the Tsar. This was a ruse planned by a group of conspirators that wanted to protect the Tsar and his family. Rasputin accepted the invitation and was served almond cakes. These were laced with potassium cyanide, but the mystic remained unscathed. The conspirators were dumbfounded. They decided to shoot the guy, so they sprayed him with dozens of bullets. Rasputin bolted from the Palace, ran across the yard and climbed over the fence. The conspirators took off after him and finally caught up with him at the Malaya Nevka River near Kamenny Island. There, they drowned him in the icy waters. Yussupov wrote in his memoirs, "This devil who was dying of poison, who had a bullet in his heart, must have been raised from the dead by the powers of evil. There was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die."

The body was retrieved shortly thereafter when authorities followed the blood trail, so Rasputin clearly was hit by at least one bullet. The corpse was embalmed and buried at Aleksandrovsky Park at Tsarkoe Selo, on the site of the Seraphim Sarovsky Cathedral, which was being built at the time. A little over a year later, the body was exhumed by soldiers and they burned the body in a furnace and scattered the ashes to the wind. The displeasure of certain segments of society with tsarism was only more inflamed by the relationship that Rasputin had with the Romanov family. Provisional Government leader Alexander Kerensky went so far as to say, "Without Rasputin there would have been no Lenin." The Romanov family was eventually executed.

This wasn't the end of Rasputin. His spirit still seems to be in Saint Petersburg. Rasputin had a flat on the second floor of a building located at 64 Gorokhovaya Street. People who have lived here claim to see the apparition of Rasputin wandering the halls. They hear his disembodied quiet muttering. And there is the clunky footsteps that cause the floorboards to squeak. His ghost doesn't seem to be threatening.

And then there is this weird story from the website Russia Beyond, "In St. Petersburg there are many famous cemeteries, and even more stories and legends about them. They say that in the 1970s the monk Prokopiy lived near Nikolskoye Cemetery. He was known for practicing witchcraft and black magic. One day, supposedly the devil appeared before him and offered him a deal: His soul in exchange for immortality. Fulfilling the terms of their agreement, on the night of Easter, the monk lured a young, promiscuous girl to the cemetery. He tied her to a cross, gouged her eyes out, cut out her tongue, and filled a church’s cup with her blood. Then, he had to curse God 666 times and drink the cup of blood before dawn. But the monk ran out of time, and when the first rays of sun shone, he fell dead upon the ground. Witnesses swear that the right leg of the man became a cat, and that since then, visitors to the cemetery started witnessing a huge black cat with grey fur on its chin."

Fun Fact on Peter the Great: He liked to collect oddities and had a cabinet of curiosities. He sent a decree out to Russia to send "monsters", "ugly ones", and other marvels to the Museum. He wrote that these items were "to instruct and teach about Nature - living and dead - and about the artistry that flows from the hands of men." Much of these items were put into Russian's first museum opened for the public, the Kunstkammer. There is a collection of artistically prepared specimens of human fetuses fabricated by Frederik Ruysch. The most interesting specimen is Nicholas Bourgeous, or at least his skeleton. Nicholas was from France and he was considered a giant at 7 feet, 2 inches. Peter the Great made him his bodyguard and his main job was to stand on the footboard at the back of Peter's carriage. He died at the age of 42 and the Tsar preserved his skeleton. Peter's death mask is also at the museum.

Saint Petersburg is a city full of grand historical structures representing centuries of Russian history. Are some of these structures haunted by the spirits of that historic past? Is Saint Petersburg haunted? That is for you to decide!

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