Rasputin: “There was a cat that really was gone”

Grigori Effimovich Rasputin was a dichotomy. On one hand, he was a revered holy man who made many pilgrimages in Russia and had religious powers that made him capable of healing.   On the other, he was a perverted sorcerer, capable of evil and the destruction of the Russian Empire. No matter what you thought of Rasputin, there was no denying his tremendous influence on the Russian monarchy and the importance of his place in the Bolshevik Revolution.  His existence is shrouded in myth and tales of witchcraft and magic (anyone remember the movie Anastasia?). b34c4e69f13a8352cec4d2b03bb6bcb3 Over his life time, Rasputin worked his way into the monarchical family, gaining their trust as a faithful adviser to the chagrin of many Russian citizens. Many began to see Rasputin as a threat to Russia-capable of manipulating the Tsar and Tsarista. It was rumored that he was sleeping with the Tsarista and his excessive drinking, German sympathy and claims to have healing abilities worried many. But this story is not about Rasputin’s lifetime. It is about his death.

Rasputin was killed the night of December 16/17. It was a planned conspiracy to get him out of the monarchy by Prince Felix Yusopov (heir to the throne, married to the Tsar’s niece), Grand Duke Dmitry Palovich (the Tsar’s cousin), Vladimir Purishkevich (member of parliament), Lieutenant Sukhotin and Dr. Lazavert.[1] As a group, they devised a plan to invite Rasputin to Yusopov’s house and poison him with cyanide-laced pastry. This plan was to go much differently than expected. The rest is what we gather of his death although there is a shroud of myth. This is no surprise given the number of Russian and Soviet records that have been destroyed over the years.

At the first instance, Rasputin refused the pastries. He was full and had drank a lot.   However, when Yusupov went back upstairs to discuss this with the other conspirators, Rasputin changed his mind and helped himself. Nothing happened. Weird right? They had poisoned him and he was showing no effects! Yusupov went upstairs, got a gun and shot Rasputin. He fell to the floor and eventually was presumed dead. A couple of hours later, Yusupov went to check on the body. It was still warm. When Yusupov went up to tell the others, Rasputin got up and ran away outside! 867 Once again he was shot (two more times, once in the head). The murderers brought him back and Yusupov beat him in the head with a dumbbell, but still he remained alive. This is the point in the story where one begins to wonder if Rasputin really did have some magical healing powers! They wrapped him up, did not weigh him down, and threw him into the river in the middle of Petrograd winter. When found, his body showed signs that he had struggled against the rope even when thrown in the water. According to history1900s.about, Rasputin’s autopsy revealed: no poison, three bullet wounds and a small amount of water.[2]

So really we can’t say how Rasputin managed to avoid death so many times before heading into eternal sleep. Some scientists believe he was not served the dose at all. Others think he had “alcoholic gastritis”, which would stop the absorption of the drug.[3] Let’s be honest…we really will never know. Doesn’t that make for a way better story anyways?

P.S. If you want the quick version just look up the lyrics to Boney M’s Ra Ra Rasputin (yes I realize that’s not something a historian should really condone)!

[1] http://history1900s.about.com/od/famouscrimesscandals/a/rasputin_2.htm [2] http://history1900s.about.com/od/famouscrimesscandals/a/rasputin_5.htm [3] “Rasputin’s Death,” Frederick Dillon . The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 3836 (Jul. 14, 1934), p. 88.

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