Moussia 18: The first year in San Francisco, facts and riddles

Alexander Kerensky, just before the Revolution of 1917

Recapping from the two previous articles: Moussia and Vladimir were regularly mentioned in the society columns in the first half of 1918, often seen together with Mr. and Mrs. George Romanovsky, the Acting Russian Consul. In May, Moussia was in the headlines again. Kerensky was about to arrive in the United States on a steamer from Sweden. She said she was going to New York for a month, to wait for him. When asked how she knew that he was on his way, she said: “I have no direct word from him, I merely have – well, information.”

It was true that Kerensky had left Russia but he was not on his way to America.

Since the beginning of January, having come back from Finland,  he had managed to reside incognito in Petrograd, where he saw Elena and their baby daughter and also his wife Olga with the two sons by their marriage. From there he went to Moscow, where got help to leave his country. Disguised as a Serbian officer going on leave, he reached Murmansk after a ten-day train journey. In May, a British Secret Service trawler took him on board  and he arrived in London in the course of June. A few weeks later he was in Paris.

After his departure, his wife Olga and their two sons were captured in Northern Russia by the Bolsheviks and briefly held. Elena, her daughter, and her and Vladimir’s parents had gone south. En route they stayed for a while in Kazan where sister Vera happened to be performing in the theatre. I assume that, during that period, Vladimir and Moussia were occasionally informed, in some  way or another, of the movements of these relatives.

The Tsar and his family were murdered on July 17th 1918. While the death of the Tsar was announced by the Bolsheviks, the fate of his family was not immediately known although there were rumors that they too had died.

It was in that turbulent Russian summer that Moussia and Vladimir moved into the apartment at 2600  Vallejo Street, together with another Russian couple: Michal Rumanov (29, journalist, listing as nearest relative his father Arkadius Rumanov in Petrograd) and Ariadna  Nikolskaya (21, pianist and composer, nearest relative Mrs. Marie Nikolsky, Kiev) who had both arrived in Seattle by the Japanese ship ss Suwa Maru on June 12th.

In San Francisco, there was fear that Bolshevik agitators would gain influence in the trade unions and that was the main reason that the Acting Russian Consul George Serge Romanovsky was visited frequently by the FBI Agent E.B. Oulashin, see previous article. One topic of discussion was the issuance of passports to Russians and, on 10 September, it was agreed that, I quote, “in order to avoid fraudulent escape of Russians from the United States, all the Russian documents of applicants should be sealed with the seal of the Russian Consul in San Francisco. In this way it will be impossible for a man upon obtaining passport to leave the United States, to hand his documents to some other individual and thereby afford him the possibility of going to Seattle and obtaining another passport under the same name on the force of Russian documents.

It is clear from Agent Oulashin’s reports that he distrusted Romanovsky. He doubted that the man, who ostensibly had been appointed Acting Consul by Kerensky’s Ambassador Boris Bakhmeteff, was a  Russian consul at all. Oulashin believed Romanovsky had only been the secretary of the Russian Consul in Chicago before and that he was simply a clerk. He stated in his reports that Romanovsky had been dismissed from a similar function in Persia on account of commercial activities unbecoming a diplomat and that he was known in San Francisco for buying and selling Russian war bonds and Russian roubles. He even employed a special clerk for that purpose, “one Rabotajenko, who seems to always have his pockets full of bonds and paper roubles.”

It is against this background that we are now going to examine some particulars in Vladimir Baranovsky’s passport. The passport had been issued in Petrograd on 18 August 1917, as we have seen in Article 11, for  a period of 6 months only in order to go and buy machines in the United States. Below, we see his official Russian passport photograph, on the appropriate page. Below it, you see on page 5 of the passport the official French translation of  the Russian text which we have seen before, giving the grounds for and the duration of the passport, this text also signed by Col. Lt. Samson in Petrograd on 18 August 1917. However, in French, the passport has been issued for a period of five years instead of the six months we see in the Russian original. A puzzling case of “Gained in translation”.


Stranger still is a change made on page one of the passport , which should formally only be the cover page with name and signature of holder.

A different and more recent photograph of Vladimir has been affixed, sealed with both a red wax seal and a paper stamp and legalised “visé” by George S. Romanovsky. Against the background of what Mr. Oulashin discussed with the Acting Consul, one has to conclude that on those two days, Vladimir really planned to travel and had the seals affixed in order to avoid difficulties on his return. The dates, 19 and 20 November 1918, are only 3, respectively 4 days after the date of Oulashin’s visit during which he discussed Baranovsky having sold out a business and having “gone East” (previous article, 17), which is rather intriguing.

This is an interesting detail by itself. But, in the back of the passport there is a loose leaf with even more amazing particulars. These are as follows:

The notes read as follows:

Vertically, next to the drawing of the seal stamp: “As far as I know, the seal stamp has been made in Siberia”. Bottom left, under the red wax seal: “The coat of arms side of the seal stamp”. On the right: “Top of the stamp”.

Why would Vladimir want to travel, why has the wax seal on the first page been willfully damaged and a paper stamp affixed one day later? Was that broken wax seal the same as the one shown on the loose leaf? What does this piece of paper mean, anyhow?

What was going on? Does this ‘visa’ have anything to do with an apocryphal story handed down in the family, according to which Vladimir would have gone back to Russia “to recover his family fortune”, from which he would have returned virtually empty handed, having suffered of typhus and hair loss, his life having been saved by a simple Siberian peasant woman, a story which was never confirmed? I leave my readers with these questions for a while, I shall come back to them when I discuss the year 1920. Let us first see what  what I have found out about 1919.

(to be continued)

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