I like to take staged disappearances with a grain of salt. I mean really, every time someone noteworthy disappears, imaginations go wild. Questions are asked about what really happened and before long you have Elvis faking his death, Emilia Earhart spending time in a Japanese prison camp, and most recently Steve Fossett living abroad in anonymity until someone inconveniently found his remains and derailed god knows how many investigative authors formulating books about him.
I’ve always found this sort of thing a little insensitive to the families of those people, and after all, the chances are always better that these people died as reported rather than as conjectured. But in one specific case I think it might be alright to cross that treacherous line. Mainly because it happened nearly two centuries ago, and while the family does still exist, anything close to next of kin are long dead, or were themselves killed under mysterious circumstances. But also because the person involved didn’t die violently or any more tragically than anyone else in the 19th century, rather, he died of natural causes.
I speak of a Romanov Emperor of Russia. Now, before you think I’m barking up the Anastasia and Alexei tree, ready to launch yet another critique of Anna Anderson, remember that this was a family that was already no stranger to strangeness long before Lenin was a glint in his parent’s eyes. This emperor was Alexander I, Czar of all the Russias from 1801 until his supposed death at age 47 in 1825. It was he, along with the Russian winter, that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte so soundly that he would march into Paris itself.
But after that, things went a little wrong for Alexander. While he remained popular until his “death”, he had a growing regret regarding the use of force against pre-revolutionary movements in Russia. The exploitation of Russia’s peasants haunted him, and ultimately in 1824 his daughter died of tuberculosis and his wife became gravely ill. He became more religious, delving into mysticism, consulting with mediums, and shunned opulent court life.
A great flood hit St. Petersburg, affecting thousands, and when asked by a man if God were punishing Russians for their sins, the Czar replied “Not for our sins, but for mine”. To make things worse, Alexander had become Czar through a coup that ended in the murder of his father. While Alexander knew of the plot, he was led to believe that his father would not be killed, but the whole thing had went horribly wrong. Clearly, Alexander was a man of regrets and introverted contemplation.
Alexander’s death started out as a simple cold. The symptoms would come and go, but eventually were said to have developed into typhus, taking his life. No autopsy was performed until over a day later, and after significant decomposition. Further, the new Czar, Nicholas I, had many of the documents relating to Alexander’s death destroyed for reasons unknown. Usually that’s good enough for history, if not for a conspiracy theorist, but the story may not end here.
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Eleven years after the death of Alexander a hermit by the name of Feodor Kuzmich enters history. Feodor was a strange man, he appeared seemingly from nowhere in the Siberian city of Krasnoufimsk without any documentation or proof of who he was. He simply refused to say. The authorities suspected him to be a man of some social status by his manner, but his refusal to identify himself resulted in his exile to the depths of frozen Siberia for five years. After, he settled in the town of Krasnaya Rechka, where he built a reputation as a very pious religious man, known as a starets. He spoke several languages, and told stories of St. Petersburg court life to guests who would visit his small spartan hovel. It was said that important people would visit him late at night, and even the British Ambassador to Moscow claimed to have seen the Czar boarding a ship after his death, perhaps beginning his long trek to becoming Feodor Kuzmich. Feodor died in 1864, and had gained such notoriety that the Russian Orthodox church created him a saint in 1984. But was Kuzmich really Emperor Alexander?
I’d like to say he wasn’t, but this case seems to be a little different than Elvis, who’s grave will not be opened, or Earhart, who’s body lies in places unknown, regardless of what happened to her. The Russian Royal family always maintained that Alexander was dead in his grave at St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress with the rest of the Czars of Russia, though there is some evidence that privately the family maintained a keen interest in the rumors about Alexander, and the existence of Feodor Kuzmich. The last chapter of the story came in the 1920’s when the Soviets opened his tomb. They were the last people who would have wanted to create a stir, and draw the population’s eye toward a previous form of government. In fact, they were really looting the tombs and while accounts vary as to what they found, ranging from the tomb being completely empty, to a coffin with a lead bar in it, they all agree on one thing….There was no body.
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Here are some facts: 1) Alexander I “Died” of a simple cold with delayed autopsy and destroyed death documents. 2) 11 years later Feodor Kuzmich enters with refusal of identity and no documentation of proof. 3) Feodor built a positive reputation and became a saint in 1984. 4) Alexanders tomb was opened in the 1920’s with a completely empty coffin