Moussia 12: From Petrograd to Yokohama in twenty-two days

Moussia during her escape, in the presence of a French officer. It being November, the picture was probably taken in Port Arthur or Nagasaki where, in November, the weather can still be mild.

Vladimir and Moussia took off on the 29th of October 1917.  This departure date, entered on Vladimir’s passport (see below) by the American consulate in Petrograd, must be according to the Gregorian (New Style) calendar, taking into account the dates of arrival in Vladivostok and Yokohama. In the Julian (Old Style) calendar, their departure date would have been 16 October. The history books show that at that moment in time, under pressure from the Bolsheviks, Kerensky had just begun preparations, if only mental,  to evacuate his government from Petrograd. Later, Moussia would describe to the US press in some detail what state he was in then, saying that she had been one of the very last to see him before he went into hiding.

The Russian stamp date on the left (top) reads: Seen
 Commissariat of the 1st Rozhdestvensky region,
 house # 118 
on Nevsky Avenue. 
Petrograd 18 August 1917, the Julian date of issue of the passport.

There is no account of their journey, but the dates on Vladimir’s passport are eloquent. It took the couple 13 days to reach Vladivostok by train. There are no details in the passport on how they traveled from Vladivostok to Yokohama. But November is too late to leave Vladivostok by ship, due to the ice. Moreover, time was of the essence. So they must have continued towards the South by train, first back to Harbin and from there to Port Arthur (now Lü-shun) and from there crossed the East China Sea by boat to Nagasaki in Southern Kyushu. The journey  from Vladivostok to Yokohama must have taken them the full nine days between the 11th and 20th of November. It must have been a grueling trip. When Moussia arrived in the United States, she had to go into a clinic,  where she was diagnosed with an illness, kidney tuberculosis,  which would plague her for decades to come. By a strange coincidence, Alexander Kerensky  suffered from the same illness in one kidney, which was removed in March 1917 in Finland, recovering from surgery in the good care of Vladimir’s sister, Elena. Moussia may well have contracted the disease en route by drinking polluted water on the train.

The picture with the French officer must have been taken in Port Arthur or Nagasaki after crossing the East China Sea. In those two southern places, November weather can still be lenient with temperatures in the order of 20 degrees centigrade in the sun. It is quite possible that in the ports of Port Arthur and/or Nagasaki consular officials wore military uniforms. The year noted in Moussia’s photo album leaves no doubt that the picture was taken during their journey.

Only a few days after their arrival in Yokohama, the international news wires were abuzz with extraordinary rumours. In newspapers all over the United States, two stories appeared on the same day, sometimes even  side by side, on the front page. This was not as coincidental as it would seem, as I’ll demonstrate later. Let us first savor the news as newspaper readers must have done in the fall of 1917.

Some of these items carried the dateline: “27 November, New York”, others: “A Pacific Port, 26 November”, some were short, some were long, but they bore the news that Miss Tatiana Nikolaevna Romanoff, second daughter of Nikolas Romanoff, deposed Emperor of Russia, had escaped from Russia through a fictitious marriage to a son of a former chamberlain of the Emperor and was on her way to the United States. The former Grand Duchess was supposed to have made her escape from Tobolsk, where the Imperial family was held captive, to Harbin in Manchuria and thence to Japan, where passage was found on a steamship heading for the Pacific Coast.  What was going on?

Princess Tatiana Nikolaevna Romanoff on a much publicized  picture, taken after an illness when she had to have her hair cut short.

One really wonders if Moussia, the actress trained by Meyerhold, had these pictures taken with a special purpose in mind – one in a studio (a dry stamp in the right bottom corner says “Doré Moscou”, so probably taken in Harbin where there was a very large Russian presence), the other one outside, on a sunny day in Port Arthur or Nagasaki.

It would not be surprising if some journalist mistook her for the Princess. But who was George Romanovsky and what could he possibly have to do with the story?

(to be continued)

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