the storycurator
stories about real life and creativity

a blog by jan doets

Notes:

The well-know terms ‘February Revolution’ and ‘October Revolution’according to the Julian calendar become “March Revolution’ and “November Revolution in our present-day Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar will be used throughout this article. My blog is not the proper place to go into detail on the Revolution of 1917 even if I were able to do so. Many books have been written on the subject from diverse conflicting points of view. Controversies continue.

Very briefly: the Russian Revolution of 1917 was in fact a series of revolutions which followed many years of unrest. At the start of 1917, general conditions in Russia and in the industrial area of Petrograd in particular were greatly influenced by the First World War. There had been a series of heavy setbacks for the Russian armies with massive numbers of casualties and disruption of the transport systems. Food supply to the major cities and in Petrograd in particular, had almost come to a halt and the working classes suffered a prolonged shortage of food. The March Revolution led to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and the installation of a Provisional Government in which Alexander Kerensky played important roles, eventually that of its leader. It was attacked  continuously by the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky who overthrew the Provisional Government in November 1917. This was followed by a civil war between the ‘Whites’ and the ‘Reds’ which was finally won by the ‘Reds’ in 1922.

16th July, 1917, the “July days”; the Russian army shoots at demonstrators on Nevsky Prospekt, Petrograd, on orders of the Kerensky government.

Moussia during her flight in 1917, travelling from Petrograd to Wladivostok by train (10,000 kms)

On 16th July, 1917, in Petrograd, Vladimir Baranovsky looked out of a window together with his father, Lt.Gen. (Rtd.) Vsevolod S. Baranovsky and watched in horror as a large demonstration of workers, incited by Lenin and Trotsky, was mowed down by the Provisional Government. In Petrograd and also in other cities, like Moscow, the government succeeded in suppressing the revolt. Lenin went into temporary hiding in Finland.

Decades later, Vladimir would tell his relatives in the United States how he had seen the spectacle. It may well be that the two men discussed there and then the possibility of a family escape from Russia, because in the months that followed they wasted no time in preparing and carrying out such a plan. In this family, as in so many others in Russia at the time, opinions and positions differed but they did not give up their loyalty to one another.

Vsevolod, Vladimir’s father, loyal to the Czar, had retired in Finland in 1916. In his luxurious appartment in Helsinki, his daughter Elena had nursed Alexander Kerensky, when he was suffering from recurrent attacks of kidney tuberculosis prior to March 1916 and they had become lovers. In July, as father and son were watching the demonstrations and the shooting, Elena and Alexander, already living together since March when Alexander had asked his wife for a divorce, had moved into the suite of the former Czar Alexander III on the third floor of the Winter Palace, and she was carrying his child.

Father Vsevolod saw no future for his family under a revolutionary government, neither Bolshevik nor a more moderate one. Moreover, the Finnish Assembly had just been dissolved, which the Finns saw as a first step to independence. He decided to leave Finland and go to relatives in the South of Russia.

General Wiktor Sila-Nowicki, the father of Moussia, had been killed in March 1917, reportedly by mutineers who refused to shoot at demonstrators. Moussia, as would emerge later in a press interview on arrival in San Francisco, was pro-Kerensky. This leads me to believe that her choice was influenced by the fact that  her father was executed by the Imperial military leadership (like were  many of his senior military colleagues during that particular revolt), not by army mutineers.

As will be seen later, Vladimir was in favour of a moderate revolution. He may have been influenced by compassion for the plight of the thousands of starving workers in his family’s munitions and gun factories in Vyborg, where he also was employed.

A decision to go or to stay must have been very difficult for Vladimir’s sister Vera. The actress, already very successful on the stage in Moscow, must have been torn between her loyalties to her family and to her Moscow Academic Arts Theatre and her career.

Vera Baranovskaya in 1916 in “He who gets slapped”, an anti-war theatrical play, written by the famous playwright Leonid Andreyev. Having supported the March 1917 Revolution, he was disgusted by the Bolshevik Revolution in the fall of 1917 and fled to Finland. Setting: a circus in Paris.

When Moussia and Vladimir fled, they hoped and even believed that they would be able to return to Russia in a few years, as will be seen later.

Vladimir went into action immediately. He obtained a passport already in August. It is virtually certain that Vladimir could get this passport in that turbulent month only by special permission of Kerensky. He knew Kerensky personally not only via Elena but also because Olga, who was still Kerensky’s lawful wife, was the daughter of his uncle Lev. She was the older sister of his cousin and namesake Vladimir Lvovich, who was Alexander Kerensky’s faithful Chef-de-Cabinet since April 1917, when Kerensky became the Minister of War and had promoted him to the rank of General.

Different pages of this passport will appear in various forthcoming articles because they provide information of the most diverse kind.

Let us first inspect the grounds on which the passport was issued.

The holder of this document, the hereditary nobleman (potomstvenniy dvoryanin), engineer in the field of traffic, Vladimir Vsevolodovich Baranovsky, born in 1889, of the Orthodox faith, Russian subject by birth, being sent to America to buy machines for a Baranovsky factory of mobile mechanical equipment, Department Mob., is permitted to go abroad for a period not exceeding six months in witness whereof, for free travelling, this passport is given, confirmed by a stamp. Issued in in Petrograd on August 18, 1917.

The stamp on the left: The prefect of Petrograd

The round stamp on the right (better readable on the next pages where it is repeated) and the horizontal stamp at the top:

“Commissar caretaker government over the former prefect of Petrograd”
Signed by: Colonel-Lieutenant Samson

Russia changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar on 31 January 1918 (followed by Thursday, 14 February 1918), so according to the Gregorian calendar the passport was issued on 31 August 1917.

Thestorycurator studying Vladimir’s passport with Anna Mosina, sworn Russian translator.

(to be continued)

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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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Before continuing my story, I wish to bring my readers up-to-date with one of the longer press reports of the story which broke on 27 November 1917, together with a few pictures for a full appreciation.

                                      Moussia                                                Tatiana

 

                                                Moussia                                 Tatiana

(to be continued)

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With reference to the previous articles 12 and 13, we see on the picture above a rather Imperial-looking Moussia, second from the left. In the album from which this photo came, only the date and one name are written under the photo: 1917, Mme. Nadine Vissotzky, who presumably is the lady on the right.

According to a September 1917 London newspaper article, she was the wife of a former Director in the Russian Ministry of Labor who left Russia earlier that year. On the far right a consular official in tails who seems to be taking the task of receiving Moussia very seriously, it looks as if he believes whole-heartedly that he is receiving Princess Tatiana.

He is certainly not the American Vice Consul in Yokohama who put his signature twice on Vladimir’s passport, on arrival and departure (see below), whose name  was  Paul E. Jenks, brother of a well-known American writer and a colorful figure (see Internet). So it has to be presumed that the man in tails was a Russian consular official, maybe the original source of the news ‘from a Pacific port”. His wife, in a rather Korean-looking headdress, stands on the left. Was it Vladimir who took the picture?

In an attempt to understand what had caused the flurry of news items in the United States, let us inspect some of the protagonists in the newspaper story in my previous article 13:

Daniel Frohman was a New York film producer, having been involved in more than 70 films.  Margaret Barry Carver was an actress, expressionist and dancer who had just lived in Petrograd with her husband, a banker and founder of the first American bank in that city. He must have known the Baranovsky family and their factories. According to later newspaper reports, Margaret was none too pleased having been asked by Narodny to go to San Francisco to meet  ‘Princess Tatiana’; she may well have known Moussia in St. Petersburg.

And then Ivan Narodny. This director of the Russian-American Asiatic Corporation said he heard the story straight from Frederick, an old friend, the Emperor’s former second chamberlain, “and that the young woman’s flight had been known to a close circle of friends.” Would he have received a telegram from Vladimir’s father? Had Vladimir announced his coming, prior to leaving Petrograd?

In a whole-page advertisement placed in a New York newspaper in 1915, the Russian Imperial Government had exposed Narodny as a self-proclaimed “Russian Chamber of Commerce” but that had not stopped him. He did business with Russia selling American munitions which, he told the press, were a ‘hit’ in Russia and which he imported there by way of Japan and Vladivostok. He must have known the Baranovsky munitions and gun manufacturers, called the “Krupp of Russia” in  some American newspapers.

It is intriguing that, calling himself a writer who had come to the United States in 1906  with Maxim Gorky, in 1914 he was accompanying a certain Russian Vladimir V. Agafonev. In a press interview, both men talked about business opportunities between Russia and America in general industry, railways, engines, automobiles, with Vladimir V., in an aside at the end of the interview, saying that it had struck him that in America, music, singing and playing instruments, were not as popular and widespread as in Russia. Vladimir’s American family of today tells me that he told them that  he had visited America once before, with his father. If that is so, I think it is likely that they met Mr. Narodny in New York.

According to Vladimir’s passport he was carrying in 1917, he was going to America to study railways. On a document he completed in the United States many years later, he declared that in 1917/18 he was actually to see people in New York. I suspect that Vladimir was in touch with Ivan Narodny from Japan telling him he was on the way with Moussia. Then, Mr. Narodny went into action.

What was the purpose of this hoax? I think that Messrs. Frohman and Narodny saw a opportunity in their respective fields, showbiz and the export of munitions and locomotives, and were gladly joined by  Mrs. Barry Carver and George Romanovsky  who may have known Moussia in St.Petersburg and both may also have  known that she was a spitting image of Tatiana.

They had not reckoned with Moussia. Moussia had not come to pose for pictures although, with her flair for the theatrical, it had amused her for a moment to do so. She had come to make political declarations. Declarations which were clearly pro-Kerensky, just as she would make them subsequently, in her first year in the United States.

With the smile of the twenty-year-old Princess Tatiana, daughter of the Czar, she declared from Yokohama, “the Pacific port”, that “she did not care whether the deposed emperor or the Romanovs would regain the throne, but that she was very concerned about a stable democratic Russian government or rather a “United States of Russia” and would explain to the American people that they should not desert Russia and leave her to the Socialist adventurers (i.e. the Bolsheviks) and to the Germans.”

I think she had been given a propaganda mission by her friend and relative by marriage, Alexander Kerensky, who at that moment thought he would be soon back in power. However, from his hiding place in Finland he must have worried about the negative effect of the Tatiana association.

In a matter of days, on 3 December, George Romanovsky was re-instated as Consul, on transfer from Chicago to San Francisco,  at the behest of the Russian Ambassador Bakhmeteff, who represented the Kerensky government-in-hiding. He arrived in San Francisco just in time to receive them and take matters in hand, before going back to Chicago for his wedding in January. At least, that was the idea.

I think that also the American government was in on the act. They would not give Moussia and Vladimir an entry visa until she could convince them that she was not Tatiana, hence their three week delay in leaving. On 14th December 1917, twenty-four days after arrival in Yokohama, Vladimir and Moussia sailed from there to San Francisco on the SS Ecuador, travelling First Class, as we shall see in the following article.

The good Mr. Paul E. Jenks, a fluent Japanese speaker who was to die a few years later in the big Kanto Earthquake which destroyed Yokohama, whose instincts had not failed him, had given them his approval on the 4th. They had made good use of their time, buying elegant clothes as we will see.

 

For the newspaper people, the story was not quite dead yet:


George Romanovsky will return in our story in future articles. It would have been better for Moussia and Vladimir if they had never met him, after their arrival. But they did.


(to be continued)

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Moussia and Vladimir left Yokohama on the 14th of December 1917 on the SS Ecuador, a new ship just built in 1915 at a Dutch shipyard (picture at the end of this article). There would only be one stopover, in Honolulu.

I quote from the Honolulu Star Bulletin of 26 December 1917, the date the ship left Honolulu for San Francisco:

“The Pacific Mail steamer has nearly a hundred cabin passengers in all. A number of these are prominent or wealthy Russians seeking peace in the United States. T. Bosse is a rear-admiral of the Russian Navy and V. Baranovsky, a very rich Russian who, with Mrs. Baranovsky and a number of servants, is en route to the States for an indefinite stay. All of these Russians said they are not familiar with the English language to comment on the chaotic state of affairs in their native country.”

I have been unable to find out anything about Rear-Admiral Theodore Bosse. We see him on the photo above with  Vladimir on the left, dressed in a brand-new elegant English tweed suit, and a cheerful Moussia in the middle. It is my impression that she wears one of Vladimir’s shirts and wants to look like a sailor. I could not identify the cap badge of Mr. Bosse and for a while I thought that he was the captain of the ship. However, press photos taken on their arrival in San Francisco leave no doubt that he is the man who called himself Admiral Bosse.

The ship’s manifest is shown below, visibly double-checked in minute detail which, we may assume, involved a look at official proof of all identities including proof of marriage. We see First Class passengers Mr.Vladimir Baranovsky, 28, and Mrs. Mary Baranovsky, 22 (she became 23 years old on 25 January 1918) and Rear-Admiral Theodore Bosse, 55. Under “Names and adresses of nearest relatives”, both Vladimir and Moussia have entered: “Parents: Vsevolod and Lydia Baranovsky”, living at the Petrograd address we saw on Vladimir’s business card in article 9:  Grand Puskarshkaya Street 59, apartment 10. So it may have been in that apartment that they last saw Alexander Kerensky and Vladimir’s sister by the end of October 1917, if it was not in Vsevolod’s other apartment, in Helsinki. In the same column, Bosse has entered the name and address of a friend, Nikolay Bogdanov, a well known Russian portrait painter of the day. I intend to do a little more research on Rear-Admiral Bosse and to look for the names of Vladimir’s ‘servants’ on the ship’s manifest.

It is also clear that our protagonists were determined to keep their mouths shut where the press was concerned, on the pretext of being unable to speak English – until their arrival in San Francisco.


(to be continued)

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When on 3 January 1918 the SS Ecuador moored in San Francisco, a group of curious journalists were waiting, in eager anticipation, for Mr. and Mrs. Vladimir Baranovsky. They had not come in vain. The couple gave a lengthy interview which was carried by most newspapers across the United States. They took the initiative with a long statement and at the start of questioning laughingly dismissed the story of a  Tatiana escape, saying that the Princess was alive and well in Tobolsk with the rest of the Imperial family.

Vladimir Baranovsky stated that Alexander Kerensky, the deposed leader of Russia, was safe in Finland and would emerge from his hiding place to take up the reins of the Russian Government once again. Baranovsky and his wife Mary knew the leader very well, having been among the last to see him, in the apartment of his parents. Kerensky was now married to Vladimir’s sister after divorcing his previous wife, Olga, Vladimir’s  cousin. “At the psychological moment Kerensky will re-appear”, said Baranovsky.”He is a strong man, the strongest in all Russia. It is known in Russia that Lenin and Trotsky are paid German agents and their fall is certain. He said that he had come to the United States to study government operation of railroads with the intention of applying this knowledge to the reconstruction of Russia’s ‘demoralized’ transportation system. His wife would assist him in his investigations throughout the country.

Mrs. Baranovsky, according to the press articles “one of Petrograd’s acknowledged beauties who speaks with equal ease English, French and Russian”, spoke at length about Alexander Kerensky, laying to rest the rumors of his imprisonment. “He has been recuperating in Finland”, she said, “and he will come back when the hour strikes”. She claimed to be in constant touch with him. “It was in my sister in-law’s home that he took refuge when the Bolsheviks ordered his arrest,” she said. “He was sick, shattered with the strain. He flung himself upon the couch and covered his face with his hands. He poured out his hopes and fears to me. ‘If only I could get some rest,’ he lamented to me.”

Throughout this press conference, Rear-Admiral Bosse was at their side but did not speak. After the press conference, they checked into the Palace Hotel. As noted in the San Francisco Chronicle of 4 January 1918: “Vladimir Baranovsky, Russian railway engineer who is a brother (sic) of the deposed Russian leader, is a guest at the Palace, with Mrs. Baranovsky. Other guests at the Palace include Rear-Admiral T. Bosse of the Russian Navy, retired…”

During the five months thereafter, the two continued on their campaign trail, closely followed by the press. But first Moussia had to be admitted to a clinic because of the kidney illness she had picked up during the long journey from St. Petersburg. On 28th April 1918, the San Francisco Examiner reported:

“Mme. Baranovsky, who was a patient at one of the sanatoriums for the past several weeks, has been taken to her home and is fast recuperating. Mr. Baranovsky is the brother-in-law of the former leader, Kerensky. Mme. Baranovsky is a particularly handsome young woman and from her striking resemblance to one of the daughters of the former czar of Russia, was mistaken for the Grand Duchess Tatiana. Mr. and Mrs. Baranovsky were frequently seen about town with admiral Bosse, with whom they crossed the Pacific. This officer was at the head of the Russian Navy and was the friend and advisor of the czar for years, and this fact exaggerated the rumour of the attractive young woman’s identity. She, however, merely smiles at the idea and says very complimentary things about the young daughter of the czar whom she knows very well.”

They were regularly mentioned in the society columns, often together with Mr. and Mrs. George Romanovsky, the Acting Russian Consul in San Francisco. In May, Moussia was in the news again. There were strong rumours that Kerensky was about to arrive in New York, on a steamer from Sweden. She said she was going to New York for a month to be there when he arrived. 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.”

 


(to be continued)

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The caption on this picture, dated 1918, reads: “With love – remember – Moussenka”. In 1919, Moussia would use duplicates of this original for publicity in the world of the theatre.

Until now, being in the position of having access to many personal archives and Internet sources, I have been able to tell the the story of Moussia and Vladimir without recourse to invention or supposition. My story simply follows the facts and the chronology and that is what it should do. This should also apply to the three-year period we are about to enter, 1918-1920. However, the personal archives are almost silent about this particular period, apart from a number of intriguing pictures. Apparently, this period was too painful for the two to leave notes or tell others about it.

Many photographs I show belonged to Moussia. I found them on my research path, as if they were  autumn leaves, scattered by the wind in different directions, into  different archives.

Vladimir and Moussia also emerge as characters in books that have been written in the period 1920-2005, but most of those books are inventions and it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction in them. On my part, I am finding new snippets of surprising evidence every day, by patiently consulting many sources on the Internet, including some in Russia.

Against this confusing background, I shall first present a series of  facts, many of which seem, at first sight, to be  in conflict with each other but of course they are not. Facts are facts. Moussia and Vladimir are not there anymore to help us, so we will have to make do with what we have. Hereafter, we are going to try to find a coherent pattern in what we know. Yes, we, because I hope that you, my readers, will put on your thinking caps.

As I continue my research, I have my thinking cap on all the time and I have come to the conclusion that:

We can only make sense of what happened to our protagonists if we see them against the entire historical backcloth: The two Revolutions of 1917,  the flight of Kerensky from Russia in May/June 1918 and his political and personal behaviour  during his first few years in Paris and London; the murder of the Czar and his family on 17 July 1918; and the Civil War between the Reds and the Whites, 1918-1921. All these developments played a role in the decisions and movements of Vladimir and Moussia. It has become clear to me that at the beginning of  that period, both saw their absence from Russia as a temporary one.  In 1918 and still in 1919, they hoped and believed they would be back in their home country very soon.

During the First World War, the United States Government  held various draft registrations. The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. The second was held was held from 5 June 1918 onwards, to register those who attained the age of 21 after 5 June 1917 and those who had entered the country since then. Supplemental registrations were held  in August and September, when the age range was widened to 18-45 years. Vladimir was registered on 11 June, 1918 and his draft card offers some very interesting facts ( I have not been able to get a clearer image):

 

What do we learn? On 11 June 1918, Vladimir and his wife lived at the posh Stanford Court Apartments in San Francisco. His profession is ‘Engineer’ and his work address is 160, Spear Street. He gets exemption from the draft, no doubt because he is an “Alien”.

The Stanford Court Apartments House as it was in 1918 (the picture taken in the 1960s?). In recent years, the building has been refurbished and converted into a hotel.

In the period 27 August – 29 November 1918, the Acting Consul George Romanovsky, often seen in the company of Moussia and Vladimir earlier that year, is frequently visited by an FBI agent, E.B. Oulashin. I have found eight of his visiting reports, now declassified. It is clear from these reports that at that time, Romanovsky was an informant of the FBI, keeping an eye on Bolshevik infiltrators in the San Francisco scene, including trade unions (I shall return to these reports in future articles). The FBI agent does not trust him and suspects he will change allegiance very easily if and when required.

In his report on a visit to Romanovsky on 16 November 1918, he writes: “Subject is quite like a barometer, showing when his chances as Consul are rising and falling. For instance, after a visit of of Prince Lvov here, he locked himself in a private room and became very exclusive towards visitors.” To my utter amazement and, I am sure, yours also, he continues in the very next paragraph with:

“I have found that Romanovsky was a partner in business with a Russian engineer, Baranovsky, 160 Spear Street. One Aivajogula was another partner in that business, which is a garage and taxicab business. I went to this place, but found out that Baranovsky had sold it out and gone East about two weeks ago. Now the attitude of the Russian Consul is clearer than before. He is telling everybody that there is no use trying to do any business with Russia now, as all economical aid will be a matter for the action of the United States Government. It is altogether probable that when Baranovsky went East he had gotten information through Romanovsky and is trying to get into some Russian American Commission.”

Garage and taxicab business? Already in June 1918, at the time of the draft card? What was the need for that, at that early stage when Vladimir lived in luxury? Maybe this firm was a front? Would he have created it to employ the men who accompanied him on his trip to the United States, supposing that there is truth in the Honolulu Star-Tribune’s report of 26 December 1917 (see Article 15) that he had servants with him? Gone East? Russian-American Commission?

At that time, the Russian Ambassador in Washington was Boris Bakhmeteff, appointed by Kerensky and still recognized  as such by the American Government. Boris was  nine years older than Vladimir, both were civil engineers from the prestigious St. Petersburg School of Civil Engineering and Transportatation. He had been in the United States before, studying hydraulics, becoming a professor at his alma mater thereafter,  and must have been Vladimir’s teacher in the subjects of theoretical mechanics and general and advanced hydraulics. In 1915-1916, Boris had served as Chief Plenipotentiary of the Central War Industrial Committee to the United States. After the March 1917 Revolution, he became Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of the Provisional Government. In April 1917, he was appointed head of the Extraordinary Russian Commission and  Russian Ambassador to the United States, representing Kerensky’s Government. He had arrived in the United States in June 1917. After 1922, when the United States no longer recognised his position, he became a professor at Columbia University and a very famous one indeed in his field. I remember that I saw his name in my text books on Advanced Hydraulics when I was a civil engineering student. What an extraordinary coincidence between three civil engineers! For further information I refer you to my source on http://library.columbia.edu/indiv/rbml/units/bakhmeteff/biography.html .

In the near future, I will certainly contact the Columbia Archives  which he initiated.

Vladimir may have made a business trip going East in November 1918, but he did not leave San Francisco for good. Before the end of that year, he and Moussia had moved into a two-storey appartment house at 2600, Vallejo Street, on Russian Hill in San Francisco. At the same time, at the same address but on the other floor, another couple moved in, Michal and Ariadna Roumanov. They had arrived in San Francisco in June 1918,  from  Russia via Tokyo. In the meantime, Moussia had started to spend time in her former profession, that of  actress, see the picture above.

Thus, the scene is now set for going into 1919.

2600 Vallejo Street, Russian Hill, San Francisco

From the 1918/19 Crocker-Langley Address Directory of San Francisco

(to be continued)

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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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Moussia at the age of 24, picture taken in Los Angeles in 1919

For Vladimir and Moussia, 1919 was a year full of bad news. The year before, they had still thought that Kerensky would make a political come back. In the Civil War, the Whites under General Kolchak and the Czechoslovak Legion had made large gains in Siberia. General  Kolchak, who considered himself in charge of a government which had succeeded  the Kerensky Government, had installed himself in Omsk. The White armies had also advanced, from the South, under General Deniken. Estonia and Latvia were clearing their territories of the Red Army.

But, in the course of 1919, the Red Army regained the upper hand. Vladimir must have known that his parents and his sister Elena and her baby were fleeing further to the South through territories where the civil war was raging. There was no news from Olga and her two sons. In London and Paris, Kerensky was not getting anywhere in obtaining help from Britain and France to support the White armies. It must have been clear to Vladimir and Moussia that they could not continue their rather lavish lifestyle of 1918 and that they must reckon with the possibility that they would have to support themselves without any more cheques coming from Baranovsky bank accounts.

In the course of the year, Moussia succeeded in making contact with theatre circles in Los Angeles and made her debut there in November 1919, in the Majestic theatre. This theatre had just been taken over by the Wilkes brothers: Ernest (the playwright) and Tom (the producer). Moussia got a small part, that of a “bad little, bold little siren”, which attracted much attention, see the article below.

The couple decided to go their separate ways, for the time being. Vladimir helped to move Moussia and the Rumanov couple, Michal and his wife Ariadna who was becoming known as a concert pianist, from Vallejo Street in San Francisco, where they had lived for just over a year, to a bungalow at 1655 West Adams Street in Los Angeles. The final move was on 31December 1919, see the photograph below. The 1920 United States Census was taken on 5 January, 1920. The Rumanov couple is listed as living at the new address, with Mary Baranovsky as their “roomer”. Vladimir stayed in San Francisco but he also moved house. In the 1920 census he is listed as ‘lodger, civil engineer’ at 120, Ellis Street.

Moussia makes her debut in the Majestic theatre in Los Angeles in November 1919 (dictionnary: Darb is an Americanism probably nearly obsolete today, a slang word from the 1920s meaning “something or someone very handsome, valuable, attractive, or otherwise excellent.”)

Typed caption glued on the back: “The second journey to L. Angeles 31 december 1919”.On the left : Vladimir Baranovsky. In the car: Moussia, on the right: probably Michal Rumanov

 

(to be continued)

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‘the peacherino from the Metropole’    ‘the dark-eyed Circe with the Greek nose’

In article 19, I have described the circumstances under which Moussia moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 1919 and shown how she made her stage debut in the Majestic theatre. With the help of Vladimir, she moved into a bungalow together with the Rumanov couple, Michal and his wife Ariadna, an accomplished concert pianist. The fact that  Moussia was moving in with the Rumanovs gave rise to occasional rumors that there might be a relationship between the two women and that they would live in a ‘ménage à trois’ with Michal. This rumor was still heard by Serge Prokofiev upon his first meeting with the two women in Los Angeles on December 29, 1920 (I shall come back to this meeting in a later article, see also article 3). He found out quickly that the rumor was untrue. Vladimir, upon his return in San Francisco, rented a room at 120, Ellis Street at San Francisco and, later that year, disappeared. It has become clear to me that his disappearance  had to do with the publication in July of that year of a book entitled “Rescuing the Czar”.

In July 1920, the California Printing Company (Director Henry Haskin), printed, bound and shipped to its authors, who called themselves ‘translators’,  a book titled Rescuing the Czar. This book, by James P. Smythe, Ph.D., presented separate on-the-spot accounts by two men, in a confusing manner, of how they had managed to rescue the Czar and his family in 1918, through an underground tunnel. They were: a British intelligence operator Charles James Fox and a Russian nobleman posing as a Bolshevik, by the name of Alexei Syvorotka. Towards the end of the operation, Alexei Syvorotka suffered from typhus, leaving the reader in some uncertainty as to whether he had survived or not.

Throughout the book, in the accounts of both Fox and Syvorotka, there is recurrent mention of a ‘femme fatale,’  “the Baroness B.”, alias “The girl  from the Metropole”, alias Lucie de Cleve, vaudeville actress.  My faithful readers, please read this book, you will have no problem in recognizing Moussia in this femme fatale. The Metropole is obviously inspired by the Majestic theatre in Los Angeles where she performed in November 1919. Syvorotka resembles Vladimir Baranovsky, with a touch of George Romanovsky. The “energetic dark-eyed Circe with the Greek nose” must be inspired by Ariadna Rumanov. “I wonder what is the connection between the two … there is certainly some sympathetic tie between the two girls… who is Syvorotka? Her lover? I wonder what the game is… Come to think about it, the titled performer at the Metropole looks like a twin sister of Marie Amelia, Countess of Chechany, a perfect composite of Juno and Venus and Hebe all rolled into one.” This resemblance makes us think immediately of the newspaper hoaxes of November 1918, see articles 12 and 13, when Moussia was thought to be Princess Tatiana in disguise.

An arbitrary choice of further quotes from this book, which had the purpose of ‘setting at rest the fable of the Romanoff Execution’: “All I ask is: if you find out whether that fellow ‘Fox’ grabs the peacherino from the Metropole or the one called ‘Maria’, you’ll send me an invitation.” (I suspect that the name Fox was chosen because it was the name of Fox Film Corporation). There are epithets of the Metropole girl which remind us of  “bad little, bold little siren” in the newspaper article shown in article 19: ‘veiled minx’, ‘that hissing vixen’. We learn that Syvorotka was married before to a certain Maroussia, who was regrettably shot. Which name does that remind us of? In Syvorotka’s more serious discussions with the Baroness B. there are details which make us think immediately of Moussia and Vladimir’s history and of the moment of their separation. There are a lot of details which we recognize, the most obvious one being the detailed address of Vladimir and his parents in Petrograd: “I was greatly surprised when I heard that Mr. Kerensky is living in the Rossia Insurance Company Apartments, Puskarskaya 59, Flat 10.” (see article 9 and following)

I believe that there is a good chance that this book was written by Michal Rumanov, the husband of Ariadna. He was a writer and journalist, probably still out of work. He must have been the ‘mystery man’ whom Henry Haskin saw correcting proofs in George Romanovsky’s office.The text was no doubt based on input by Vladimir Baranovsky and the two ‘translators.’

I am infinitely grateful to Shay McNeal, who in her meticulously researched book of 2001, The secret plot to save the Tsar (latest edition 2003, by Perennial, Harper Collins), has gone a long way to unravel the background of Rescuing the Tsar (1920). In her book, which I highly recommend to all my readers, she first deals with the general question if the Czar and his family were saved and dismisses in a well-reasoned manner the official notion that DNA would have proved that the remains found in 1991 near Ekaterinburg were those of the Imperial family. She then goes into the details of various rescue plans which have existed.  The book Rescuing the Czar is covered in the last Part of her book,  IV, chapters 14-16. She proves convincingly that this book, which has often been dismissed as a bizarre invention, should be taken more seriously because it contains an amazing number of facts, incidents and persons that no one except an insider, someone who was on the spot, could have known. So, her book leaves the possibility open that the Czar and his family were saved.

In her book, Vladimir and Maria Baranovsky are only briefly mentioned, as acquaintances of the Russian Acting Consul George Romanovsky who were close to Kerensky.  But, through lack of information, Shay McNeal fails to establish a further connection between them and the book Rescuing the Czar and she tries to associate the book’s protagonists with others.  I quote in summary the essence of Shay McNeals magnificent research work on what happened in 1920 with the book, which is an adventure by itself:

  • 10 March 1920: William Rutledge McGarry, a narrator of British war films, and the Russian Acting Consul in San Francisco George Romanovsky agreed to ‘arrange and prepare for the publication of a book called “The Prisoners of Tobolsk”’. The book, retitled Rescuing the Czar, after printing and binding by the California Printing Company, was delivered to its “translators” on 21 July 1920.
  • Complicated links between the Americans, British, Czechs, French, Germans, Japanese and Bolsheviks included events and people in San Francisco in 1920, who themselves had been involved in the Russian situation in 1918. For example, George Romanovsky was involved in moving large arms shipments and in attempts to bring a substantial portion of the Tsarist gold reserve to America, a subject about which he corresponded with McGarry already in 1919.
  • Rescuing the Czar immediately attracted a lot of attention. A second and third edition followed rapidly. The possibility of a film deal came up already in August 1920 when McGarry requested Major Samuel White, Office of the Judge Advocate, War Department in San Francisco, to contact for him Willam G. McAdoo, the former Secretary of the Treasury to which reported the US Secret Service in 1918. McGarry visited McAdoo in Washington in September, but the result of the meeting was very different from what he had in mind. After the meeting, the book was taken off the market and all offers for sale of the book’s rights for serialisation and film were withdrawn. The book died an instant death. Today, the book in its original first edition costs about 900 dollars, a second or third edition a few hundred less. However, the book was reprinted a few years ago and is now available at low cost.
  • Shay McNeal concludes that the book must have been constructed by someone with so much detailed inside knowledge of the events surrounding the Imperial family, that Governments forced its disappearance and she even goes as far as adding: “Down through the decades, rumours have floated among members of various intelligence communities that the brief life of Rescuing the Czar may have cost the lives of some British, American and other Allied nations’ agents. That assertion has never been confirmed.”
  • Only around 1926 did it become public knowledge that McGarry and Romanovsky were the ‘translators’ of the book.

Against this background, it is very clear why Vladimir Baranovsky disappeared in 1920. He feared for his life. He continued to live in the United States under an assumed name, as I will  elucidate in the following paragraphs and articles. But not before I have added one more very interesting quote from Shay McNeal’s book:

  • “President Roosevelt piqued my interest, when I learned that in the 1930s he had told to an aide that he had a mystery story whose ending he could not solve and that he had wanted to write for years but had never had time to undertake the task. His aide responded that if the President would share his storyline with him he would engage six writers to work out the ending for the President./…/ Roosevelt provided them with the beginnings of a tale about a Russian man who was wealthy, well-known and wanted to disappear with enough of his fortune to live on, but be perceived as dead.” Shay McNeal continues: “His story’s character seemed to mirror that of the Tsar.”

I think that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s story was not about the Tsar but about Vladimir Baranovsky, who in 1920 went to Chicago and later to New York, under the name of Vladimir Barstow. He became a successful bridge designer and a very proud citizen of the United States.

This is by no means the end of this story. In the following article I am going to discuss the well-written thriller by Gretchen Haskin, the daughter-in-law of the printer of Rescuing the Czar: An Imperial Affair (The Dial Press, New York, 1980) in which Moussia and Vladimir also appear. She uses Rescuing the Czar as a basis but with George Romanovsky in the role of Syvorotka. Little did she know… Or did she know?

And, of course, I owe you an account of what really happened to Vladimir. Only this very morning I received definite proof that indeed he did go back to Siberia during the Russian Civil War, with a mission. I am in contact with the Hoover Institute in Stanford University, California, in search of the exact timing. I owe, again, to Shay Mc Neal the knowledge that Pavel Bulygin, appointed by the Russian Dowager Empress to investigate the death or or otherwise of the Russian Imperial family, was forced to abandon his plans to publish a book on the subject in the early 1920s. When finally, in 1935, he published “The murder of the Romanovs”, there was no mention anymore of Vladimir Baranovsky which he had planned to do, as is known from his original outline of the book.  That outline and his notes on Baranovsky are still in the Shinkarenko Collection in the Hoover Institute.

(to be continued)

 

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