The Man Who Knew Rasputin

In 1916, an American reporter named Lucian Swift Kirtland was in St. Petersburg. He had crossed the ocean on a mission to meet Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, the most fascinating man in Russia.

Rasputin was perhaps best known for his unkempt appearance. He had long light-brown hair and a long beard. One article described him like this: “Rasputin holds attention at first sight by his remarkable nose and eyes. His gait and dress are those of the devout, humble lay brother and Scripture reader.

“But his large, strong, well-set nose is that of a man of commanding will and authority, and he has the large, blue-gray eyes of the seer who will not be drawn into discourse on the plane of ordinary mundane affairs…. He has a quiet, well-modulated, warm voice, and uses at all times the archaic ‘thee’, ‘thou’ phraseology of the Bible.”

Another article, which called the monk “Russia’s real ruler” described Rasputin’s “strange, quiet personality, unobtrusive and yet conspicuous.” But all of this paled in comparison to the way he appeared to direct the czar and alter history.

It took a long time and a lot of effort but Mr. Kirtland managed to arrange a dinner with the mad monk. However, despite all of his coordination, the planned meeting fell through.

Kirtland instead dined with Rasputin’s friend–his only friend, perhaps. The reporter refused to name his source, sensing it would place the man in danger. But he wrote in detail about what Rasputin’s friend said about him. The article was published on December 3, 1916 in the Evening Star.

“Where the trail of Rasputin reaches there is always clandestine slyness,” Kirtland’s story began. “The man himself came to the door. He… led us through some rooms until we came to an inside office, a musty place crowded with heavy, rich furnishings. Above the desk hung a picture of Rasputin. Our host reached up his hands to each side of the frame and looked into the eyes.

“The eyes are of fire,” he said, “living fire! Look at those lips–the thin lips of a master. No; you see, they are not thick, stupid, sensual lips. And now look at his eyes. Look deeply, and maybe you will understand something of the man.”

Rasputin’s friend replaced the picture and sat down across from Kirtland. “How could an ignorant peasant born in the heart of Siberia rise in proud Russia to be a power greater even than the throne? I tell you again: it was his fire, his sensuous bursting passion of life…His presence rekindles dead ashes.

Everyone knew Rasputin was a peasant, the man said, but all of the speculation was wrong. “They think he is young. He is not. He was born fifty-two years ago. He was born in  a little village in the province of Tobolsk. He lived in a house of one room, where they all slept in reeking sheepskins on the stove in winter, and in new-cut hay above the cattle in the summer.”

“Rasputin was big and strong, but he didn’t like to work. He liked to talk and quarrel, and he stirred up his inspiration for talking and quarreling at the vodka shop.” The man described Rasputin’s vain quest for intellectual stimulation, which led him to rebel and make trouble. “He amused these vokel aristocrats by his boisterous revelries and strange moods, but they couldn’t manage him.” Rasputin wasn’t going to be anyone’s buffoon. “He made a mockery of his superiors, and victims of the women,” the man claimed.

When he left the village, Rasputin was ill-equipped for the larger world. He had never been to school. “He had the direst ignorance of anything that he might find in the outside world.”

This changed a little in St. Petersburg, where Rasputin shed some of his awkwardness and learned to read and write. Despite this, the monk found the city to be a disappointment. “Rasputin told his friends that the church lacked passion.”

The church was eager to rid themselves of Rasputin. They told him the St. Petersburg church had been crushed beneath the weight of materialism and commercialism. If he wanted religious purity, he ought to go to Kief.

“At Kief he found another great city; but the atmosphere was narrow and bigoted,” the host told Kirtland. “But a man of Rasputin’s keen senses can not long be fooled… Possibly this hot-blooded, intemperate, riotous, desirous wanderer was honestly seeking some unfaltering purity of religion as a salvation outside himself against the raging fires within, the very fires which later were to carry him to the pinnacle of power and might.”

Rasputin hand

The man was proud of his friend, but Kirtland’s instinct to protect his source’s identity proved to be correct. Twenty-seven days after the article ran, Rasputin was murdered.

6 Comments

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  1. Rasputin was a very dangerous man in so many ways. He was one of those oddly charismatic and compelling people that seem to cast a spell over others who were powerless against it. This often leads to disaster. When you are controlled by the ravaging charisms of other people and lose your own sense of self-will, no good can come from it. These people seem to dot history and have done forever, but they rarely leave any good behind.

    They are in direct opposition to those charismatic and compelling people who, on the other hand, drive people to follow behind them doing good, having courage, and persisting in routing out some evil or another. I think of people like Churchill, Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Goodall, or Mother Teresa, who inspire people for good, whose very act of acting upon some cause will compel and inspire others to go and do likewise. Be careful who you follow!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wise comment! I do find Rasputin to be darkly fascinating and would have probably been just as much under his spell as every one else who knew him. He did save the tsarevich more than once from his hemophilia when the best doctors in Russia were baffled.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is an interesting theory about him “saving the tsarevich”. Aspirin was well-known back then as a pain killer and Alexei’s condition was a painful one with the swelling due to the continuous internal bleeding. If the doctors insisted on giving him aspirin for pain, it may well have worsened and prolonged the bleeding. Rasputin always told the boy’s mother to keep the doctor’s away from him, so the lack of aspirin prescribed could well have allowed the bleeding to eventually stop on its own although with hemophilia, and depending upon the severity of it, that was still a longer time than normal. The anti-clotting mechanism in aspirin was not discovered until the mid-twentieth century. It’s an interesting theory.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Both comments make a lot of sense. I can honestly say I have never met someone who “put me under his spell,” except maybe one past bf. But even then, I was fully aware that my attraction didn’t mean I should follow his commands/crazy demands. I think he, like Rasputin, is/was crazy!

    Liked by 1 person

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