Connecting Grigori Rasputin, an early 20th century mystic in pre-Revolution Russia, and Indiana isn’t hard to do. But accurately condensing the life of a man who spent his entire life fabricating and cultivating an aura of ambiguity is nearly impossible. So I won’t try. Instead, I’ll explain him as I would to a high school classroom…
Grigori “the Mad Monk” Rasputin clawed his way into becoming the most trusted advisor of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandria, before their murder and the beginning of the Soviet Union. His reputation as a mystic is largely based on his keen ability to look, act and sound like…a mystic.
He earned the absolute trust of the last Russian royalty-the Romanovs-in a single incident. Considering him a trusted advisor and familiar with his “mystic acts”, the gullible Tsar Nicholas II called upon Rasputin when Alexei, the hemophiliac son of Nicholas and Alexandria, fell ill.
Rasputin’s instant reply, sent by telegram, put their minds at ease, but was probably the most influential “cold reading” performed in history. His words? The Little One will not die.
It was calculating. The frequently sick Alexei would either live or die. 50/50. Rasputin picked a side and waited. When the son survived, Rasputin received the “miraculous” credit. Had Alexei died…well, I doubt his grieving parents would spend much time or attention blaming a single Siberian holy man for a mistake. As charlatans have levered long before and long after Rasputin, people will almost always ignore the misses and count the hits (consider fake psychic and real charlatan Sylvia Brown).
Rasputin’s power grew and grew, until Tsar Nicholas II unofficially named him as second-in-command of…well, the entirety of Russia. With World War I going poorly and Rasputin’s motives questioned by everyone BUT the Romanoffs, several Russian nobles decided to take action.
Ironically, the single famous act of Rasputin’s lifewas his death. Over a century has passed since assassins, paid by Russian nobility, killed the “Mad Monk” in a palace basement, and every decade puts another layer of mystery on his mythology. It could be wholly true, partially true or completely false, but that could be said about anything. With that in mind, I will summarize the most popular account of Grigori Rasputin’s death.
After a late night of champagne and socializing at the Yusopov Palace in St. Petersburg, Rasputin was lured into the basement to enjoy some snacks and drinks. Rasputin, always a man of appetite, happily chowed down, unaware that the food and wine all contained lethal doses of cyanide.
After two hours of eating poisoned food and drinking poisoned wine, Rasputin stood on his feet, seemingly unaffected by the poison. Tired of waiting, an assassin produced a revolver, told Rasputin to “say a quick prayer”, then shot him point-blank in his chest. The group of assassins congratulated themselves for a job well done and left the body of Rasputin in the basement, returning a few hours later to dispose of it.
Only Rasputin wasn’t dead. As the men approached, the monk threw himself at them, grappling ferociously and chasing an assassin upstairs from the basement into the courtyard, where he was again shot.
The assassins approached the body slowly now and, to make sure, shot him yet again in the forehead. Rasputin was dead. HAD to be dead. Quickly they slid his body into a canvas sack, tied it shut, then took it over a bridge into a nearby river, plunging it into the freezing, frothy water.
They watched the bagged corpse float, sinking slowly into the rushing water and downstream. The task was accomplished.
One assassin cursed and stabbed his finger at the water. Just before the edge of a long, sharp shelf of ice covering the river, an arm jutted out of the water and held tightly onto the ice, preventing Rasputin from washing downriver. The arm trembled and dug its fingers into the snowy ice, stronger than the onslaught of the river.
But the arm appeared only for a moment. Exhausted from strain and, likely, being poisoned, shot, beaten, shot, shot again, and then tossed into an icy river, the arm disappeared and the “Mad Monk” was gone. Three days later, authorities pulled his frozen, mangled body from the river.
Like any good movie, though, that wasn’t the end. You see, Rasputin had a daughter.
Although she stayed in the favor of the Romanovs, who grieved over the loss of their trusted friend and advisor, not all was right with Russia and in a few short years ANY connection to the Romanov family could be fatal. Maria Rasputin left Russia, traveling and rambling east into Europe.
Married and with two daughters of her own, the little money she had traveled with ran out, so Maria Rasputin traded on her name instead, writing several memoirs about her father and then accepting a job as a cabaret dancer in Paris. She joined a circus act where her most popular performance required reenacting her father’s legendary death. She abhorred it, but couldn’t refuse the money.
Her time and reputation with the circus increased, and she became an international attraction. One of the largest circuses in the United States, the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, based in PERU, INDIANA (!!!), hired her, and the daughter of Grigori Rasputin traveled to the US to briefly stay in the Hoosier state and quickly become an animal tamer.
In 1935, after a short time with the circus, she was practicing routines with several bears in Peru, Indiana, when one attacked, mauling Maria Rasputin viciously before it could be fended off. Her time as a circus performer did not last much longer.
She spent the rest of her life in the United States, not hiding her identity or shying away from people or the occasional journalist. She died in Los Angeles in 1977, at the age of 79. After her death, her daughters said all the she had told them of their infamous grandfather was that he was a “simply man with a big heart…”