After visiting Lenin's tomb, Khrushchev's grave, Stalin's headstone, Yeltsin's ugly red-white-and-blue memorial, Anastasia's burial site and St. Cyril's final resting place on the Volga, I was beginning to feel a little bit morbid already -- but wait, there's more. I just visited the actual exact spot where Grigori Rasputin was killed.
Rasputin was assassinated in the basement of the Yusopov Palace in St. Petersburg. Young Felix Yusopov was the golden boy of his family, a playboy and a gambler. And somehow he got it into his head that it was his civic duty to bump off the notorious "Mad Monk" Rasputin, who allegedly was controlling Tzar Nicholas's family. "In Russia, we called him the Gray Eminence, the man standing behind the throne," said the docent of the Yusopov palace museum. "Five men decided to get rid of Rasputin and Felix provided his palace for the attempt."
Several years ago, I had visited the television set of CSI Las Vegas, which consisted of three or four small rooms located out in the San Fernando Valley. Does that make me an expert on investigating crime scenes too? Sure.
"Felix had a beautiful wife named Irina and the couple was called 'Fire and Ice,' because Felix was impetuous and had a bad temper while Irena was beautiful and calm. Rasputin was fascinated by Irina and so Felix lured Rasputin to the basement of his palace with promises of introducing the monk to his lovely young wife." Like that was ever going to happen. It was the conspirators' version of bait-and-switch. You don't have to be Katherine Willows to figure that one out.
Meanwhile, back at the palace, I walked down some dark spooky stairs and into Felix's secret basement apartment. This was the actual basement where Rasputin was killed! And, OMG, who is that sitting at the table, eating cyanide-laced cupcakes? It was Rasputin himself! Wow. So I whipped out my forensics kit and started examining the body. "Hey, Dr. Langston," I called out, "this body is made out of wax!" See, I gots skills. Rasputin suffered death by wax!
"Down in the basement," the docent continued, "Rasputin kept eating more and more of those cakes but still showed no effects from the poison," said the docent. But any good CSI can tell you that cyanide is susceptible to heat, so the poison had been baked out of the cakes and thus didn't do him in. They should have put the cyanide in his vodka. "And so Felix pulled out his revolver and shot him." Cause of death? Gunshot wounds. Totally obvious. That's a wrap.
But no, apparently Rasputin was still alive. "Then Felix and his co-conspirators beat and stabbed Rasputin to death." Okay. Now we know. Beaten and stabbed to death. Felix would have loved Las Vegas! End of show.
But then, as all us students of weird events in history already know, Rasputin was not even dead YET. If CSI's chief medical examiner, Doc Robbins, had been able to look at Rasputin's body after it had been fished out of the Neva, he might or might not have declared that Rasputin's cause of death was from drowning. As for me, I'd go with that. A bullet hole through his brain wasn't fatal? Apparently not. But what would Gil Grissom have said?
Bottom line? I was actually standing on the very exact spot where Grigori Rasputin died (or didn't die). How historical is that! And I have the video-tape to prove it. Click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFTMcPaRAEQ
Then I went off to a cafe down the street and ate a lot of piroshkis. Travel broadens.
PS: Speaking of secrets, I just managed to worm the secret of how to make a moist cupcake out of my friend Chef John. Shhh. Here it is: "After the cupcakes come out of the oven, you boil some sugar, orange juice and water together and then brush the mixture over the cupcakes." Please note that Chef John didn't say anything about using cyanide.
PPS: While in St Petersburg, I also ended up listening to some Russian school children playing band music. This was a most welcome change after visiting the dismal and gruesome site of Grigori Rasputin's murder. Here's a video of the band: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmX6DmQrLp4