Don Bluth and Roald Dahl and creators like that, for whatever reason, really wanted to draw kids into these fantastic story and then be like, Listen, kid, between you and me, life is pain. And sometimes the best you can hope for is living a short, happy life as a fucking mouse.
Welcome to You're Wrong about the show where we learn the somewhat disappointing truths behind the magical stories of our childhood. Oh, does that make it sound fun? I intend to have fun.
I am Michael Hobbs. I'm a reporter for the Huffington Post.
I'm Sarah Marshall and working on a book about the satanic panic. We are on Patreon and PayPal and other places and other ways that you can support the show and you can not support the show in quarantine if you don't want to, which is fine.
And today, Dana Schwartz is back with us. Triumphant return. Hi. We're so happy to have you back, Dana.
I am so honored and so excited. Thank you so much for having me.
Yes. Dana, as well as being one of our returning guests, is also the host of a wonderful podcast called Noble Blood, which is about all the royal family drama.
And it's extremely good. Well, thank you. I.
I'm so excited to come back and talk about gruesome, gruesome deaths.
Well, OK, so if I can preface this today we are talking about something called anesthesia, which I literally I literally know nothing.
This makes it sound like it's a super drug developed by Mikael's RA or something like that. I have no information.
I don't know if this takes place in like the 1950s or the 40s and 50s. Fascinating. I think there may have been a Disney movie. I'm coming in like the freshest I've ever come in to one of these episodes.
So just to warn you, this is so exciting.
You've never seen the animated movie? Nothing.
I'm only vaguely aware of it. I'm really excited to do this episode because you have no idea what you're talking about.
And because I feel that little girls love Anastasia like they're somehow four little girls. Anastasia is like dinosaurs where it's just like out here a little girl. You're like Anastasia. I'm curious. I want to read books about it for a specific reason.
We're going to find out. There's a reason that it's sort of in that 80s, 90s strikes. Interesting.
I mean, yeah, I do think boys have like killer bees and quicksand and girls have Anastasiya.
Yeah, I remember killer bees being offered to me as an interest and I was like, hey, that what the story also say that I was getting coffee right before we started reporting and I told my mom what we're going to be recording.
And she was like, oh, anesthesia. That was a big childhood fix. And I was like, really? Because I don't remember being like super into that when I was a kid. And she was like, oh, yes, I loved that Ingrid Bergman movie. And I was like, oh, yeah. So your childhood.
So this phenomenon also has some roots. There's an amazing writer, Rachel Syme, and I feel like she's tweeted a lot about Bo girls like girls that when they were in elementary school, like wore big bows and like, loved the Secret Garden and Samantha, the American Girl. And I feel like liking Anastasia is also very much in that like.
Yes. And Samantha, such an appealing American girl because she gives a speech against child labor.
She had a factory that has just awarded her an essay prize. So like Samantha, imply that you could have it both ways in a way that I think really shaped millennials like you can organize against capitalist imperialism and you can also have nice soft things where I don't even know where to begin with this.
Where should we start? OK, what are well, what are your first questions like? What do you need? It's like so basic. Can I do one tiny.
You're wrong about early on that everyone makes. Please do. This is so basic and so boring. But I feel like Michael, we're starting from nowhere so we have to scratch.
Just scratch. Yes.
The 1997 animated film is actually it's not a Disney movie. It was directed by Don Bluth, who was like a former Disney animator that left in a huff and brought half of the animation team with.
It was a big to do the secret of NIMH guy even I know that.
Yeah, but she's not technically a Disney princess. It's the rats of NIMH guy.
So is there like a myth that we want to debunk about Anastasiya? Is there a cultural conception that, like, little girls get?
Yeah, Sarah, why don't why don't you actually start with just like the basic plot of the animated movie?
OK, so I have not seen the whole animated movie because I was an insufferable child and I was like, I am not watching this Anastasiya thing.
There is an animated bat in it that talks. This movie seems to be playing fast and loose with history. I don't want any part of it.
I was like nine, so I feel like we'll just start at the basic, totally fictional, by the way, animated story, because I feel like that is where most lay people come to Anastasiya, which is that after the Russian Revolution, the royal family, the Romanoff's, are killed, except mysteriously their youngest daughter, Anastasia, got away and no one knows what happens to her.
I have goosebumps right now.
Now, you know, 20 some odd years later, the grandmother survived and she's in Paris and.
She's offering a huge reward to anyone who can bring her granddaughter to her alive and a young street con man named Dimitri. He's like, we'll just find an actress and have her play the part. And they find this young orphan girl named Anya who is like, look, I just want to go to Paris. I don't know anything about this Anastasiya Check. But of course, over the course of their education on the can, the memories come back to her.
And she really is Anastasia. But in the end, she decides that she would rather not reclaim the title of Anastasia because she wants to live a life with Dmitri because they fell in love. And then at the end, they're like, what is your name?
And she's like Anya Skywalker.
And the villain, the villain in the Anastasia movie is not the Bolsheviks who murdered Anastasia's family, but Rasputin, a dangerous wizard sorcerer who Sarah also wants to do an episode on and who I have also never heard of.
Can I ask, like the dumbest of the dumbest of the dumbest question I've ever asked on the show?
Yes. Is Anastasia a real person or not? Yes.
Yes, absolutely. Should I get to I get to dive into the history now. Let's do it. Let's jump in. So real history.
This is the beginning of the 20th century, early 1980s. Its, you know, post-World War One just to sort of anchor us. This is a time when all of the great royal families of Europe are basically all related. So just like for context, the tsar of Russia, Nicholas the second, and his wife, Alexandra or Aliki, are both first cousins independently with George the Fifth, the king of England.
But imagine Europe being a family affair.
Yeah, but like for context, you know, World War One was between three cousins. I mean, it was Nicholas the second, Kaiser Wilhelm and George the Fifth, and they're all first cousins, the worst family feud ever.
But the thing about, you know, Europe at the time was royal families are in decline among the popular people, First World War One, you know, absolutely decimated the population and plunged people into poverty.
You know, throughout there's a depression around the world.
So, like people in gilded crowns are just far less appealing.
Is it anything like how we feel about Instagram influencers right now?
Yes, it just it doesn't work.
It doesn't work when you when people are actually suffering or when people are suffering and such large numbers that it's like, I don't think I can counterfactual believe that drinking this juice will allow me to live in a mansion.
Yeah. So I feel like just for context, across Europe, there's a general swell of anti monarchist sentiment.
And in Russia this is especially prominent because since 1985, Nicholas the second has been known as the bloody tsar because there was no an uprising of protesters that the Kazak guards basically just murdered and like horribly well.
So this is like a very large scale, kind of a Kent State moment.
So there's that one protest that is a absolute disaster. And then World War One happens, and that sets people against the monarchy, especially Alexandra, the Tsarina, because she's a German princess.
I'm seeing a theme and your guest episodes.
Yeah, people I love. People love turning against foreign women. Yes. She is incredibly demonized from that point on. I mean, even when she arrived, she was demonized because she was German. She was very shy and wasn't very good at speaking Russian. Understandable.
So like a big like events, she would always like want to retreat back to her room to read.
And so people thought she was a snob and even the nobles really didn't like her.
No, she's just an introvert. She's in the kitchen at parties. And then to make it worse for her, she has a daughter.
First of all, OK, not to fuck up then she has another daughter. Oh, no. Then she has a third daughter, strike three. Then she has a fourth daughter.
And then finally, four years after her first after the last daughter, she has a son, Alexei, which like was the biggest, I'm sure, relief of her entire life that she finally had a son who could inherit, you know, the Russian throne, which was her only purpose.
No one has looked for a penis that hard since the cops responded to the delivery nabob Bobbit call anyway.
And then horror of horrors after trying desperately for a son that she needed so badly.
After all this time, Alexei is a hemophiliac, which was sort of a no no royal ailment.
It was in the royal blood. Most of the women were carriers.
That's the one where your blood doesn't clot, right? Yeah.
So it means your incredibly precious you're like a human Fabergé.
And so after all of this, Alexandra is like, oh, my God, my precious son.
And now he's even. More precious, that makes her even more withdrawn, and that's that's how Rasputin comes in and Rasputin isn't super relevant to the storyline, but she was desperate for any cure or help for her precious son.
And so he was, you know, a wandering religious mystic. And so she falls into believing that he could help her son.
I can see this all playing out an Instagram drama today. And it's just like a Silicon Valley family. And there's like a wandering guy who spouts mysticism but actually has kind of a weird, unsavory past.
Yeah, like a creepy, like Yogi. I mean, there is a weird thing between rich people getting sucked into these weird pseudo science, health and wellness worlds.
Yes, this seems to happen among dictators a lot. It seems to happen among celebrities.
A lot goup is sort of the most the most high profile example of this.
But the idea that, like your wealth insulates you from critical thought to the point where you start getting into these weird cures and this weird obsession with youth and sort of keeping your own world clean.
I mean, it seems like this cuts across societies in history. And you know what?
I also feel like there's a sense of powerlessness that comes with health and ageing, where it's like your money and your power can protect you and provide so much for you.
But it's like all the money in the world wasn't going to keep Alexei from being haemophiliac. Right.
When you are someone who's accustomed to having all the power in the world, feeling helpless is a very bad sensation that you'll you'll look for whatever answer you can, whether it's like jade eggs in your vagina or creepy mystic who says that he can help your son.
That's like it's a little bit like Oprah and Dr. Phil.. Yes, she started working with him when she was sued because she said some stuff about mad cow disease and he joined her legal team in an official capacity.
And then she was like, I like him.
I'm putting him on TV once a week, and he's going to tell teenagers what to do and was powerful enough to be like, I like this guy. Yeah, I like his style. Yeah, he was. I mean, Rasputin was very charismatic by all accounts, although in any photos of, like the family, he just looks like the creepiest ghost in the world.
Yeah. I mean, I look these pictures up. I'm very curious for other reasons that will get to later, like with the Anastasia myth, the Tsarina like dressed them up in matching outfits most of the time.
And so I think probably because it's like, oh, I had all these daughters and then a son, she sort of thought of the daughters as one unit.
So he does look like a ghost. Yeah. Mike, I'm going to send you this picture. Yeah.
Oh, look at his fucking eyes. Oh, haunted family. Yeah. Oh, my God. You look badly. Photoshop.
His eyes have like the lids removed or something. He eyes like wide, super bright eyes. Yeah.
So there's this this lovely family of five girls and one boy and they're all wearing white and the boy has a little sailor outfit and then there's just this boba dude standing in the middle. That's very creepy.
And his weird bulc he must've been really charismatic, dude. I know.
Well, that's what they say. They say people who who really hated the Tsarina, which again, I feel like is very Marie Antoinette, they're like he has given you that charisma, doesn't he? Is one of these girls.
Anastasia, indeed. One of the girls is the smallest one.
Is she making, like, the cringe emoji face or is that just a low resolution? She sort of is, but I think it's low resolution.
OK, hard to smile when Rasputin is there. The thing that would happen with the Rasputin is like Alexi would have a hemorrhage. Alexandra would be like, please, Rasputin, pray on him. And then he would pray and it wouldn't work. But you'd be like, oh, thank goodness you prayed. He didn't die.
OK, so she's doing faith healing and she's got this confirmation bias. Yeah, yeah.
And the thing is, respin actually dies. He's murdered a year before our story with Anastasia really begins. He's murdered by a group of sort of right wing political nobles who think that this creepy mystic has too much influence.
Maybe Reilley over the Tsarina.
I thought it was going to be someone from the Better Business Bureau, but OK. But he's a casualty of like this cultural tide that's turning, it seems like, and like the attempts to push it back that are going to be futile ultimately. Yes.
And what sort of turns Rasputin into sort of a famous figure other than the fact that he looks like a creepy Victorian ghost?
They tried to poison him and it doesn't work.
And then they have to shoot him three times at close range. Oh, well. And so it's like, oh, my God, he can't die.
So, yeah, maybe he was onto something with all this health stuff. Yeah. He ate so much wheat germ that he was impervious to bullets.
Well this is also the myth busting is that there's some museum that says they they claim they have a recipe at. Love machine, if you know what I mean, and that it's it's very, very large.
Well, and again, I feel like that's simplistic. It's like do we really think that Rasputin was able to do everything he did just because he had a large penis? Because a lot of people have large penises and they don't infiltrate royal families all the time? Completely correct.
And I'm also pretty sure that they DNA tested the museum where they said they had like this foot long penis and it was actually like a sea cucumber.
It's not even a penis, much less his penis. That's pretty great. Yeah, it's it seems implausible to me that the people who murdered Rasputin, what seems to be a significant effort, would then be like, let's cut off his penis and carefully preserve it.
Also, by all accounts, I mean, like this is now so boring. But like, by all accounts, his genitalia was intact when they you know, there's no there's no firsthand account of them being like and then we cut off his penis.
Right. It's important to give a detailed debunking of these myths. It's the little things that really cling. Yeah.
This is becoming a CBS procedural where Dana Schwartz investigates the genitalia of historical figure.
I would call it crown jewels. Oh, my God.
It's a medium.
But yes, it's reductive because maybe he was a great lover, not because of his genitalia, but just because he, like, listen to women and ask them about their day.
Or maybe he was just a very charismatic con man who wasn't having sex with anyone and so was able to exert great influence over them.
You know, I have no proof, obviously, but by all evidence that my understanding is that he was just a charismatic charlatan that Alexander had never slept with, but just wanted and trusted and wanted to kill her son.
I feel like it's classic German princess propaganda to allege that she's having an affair with like any male who enters the castle.
Yeah, we've heard the story quite recently, of course, the slutty German princesses. But none of this is sounding very Disney movie so far. I love Don Blue. He's like, let's do a kid's movie.
It'll be about climate change and dinosaur parents dying and immigration and this old Russian wizard who's Christopher Lloyd, and he pulls his hat off. Kids love that.
And we're like we do. We do love that. I feel like the reason that we have to talk about Rasputin in the Anastasiya episode is twofold.
One, because he is a major figure in the animated movie, even though that isn't relevant, really. OK, he's only sort of relevant to this part of the story and that he really turned public tide against Alexandra and the royal family.
Well, and also I think there's this interesting Twyning of Rasputin and Anastasia. We're like these are the two figures who from this royal family and from this period of Russian history have become household names. And the United States, which is a very weird and you're like, why are these two people, these two very different people? Like, what are the dynamics at play here that have turned them into mythic versions of themselves and kept them relevant? Oh, that's like a good little Segway.
Bang's is implanting that four minutes.
Let's talk about the real Anastasia, who is a real person who was not a name in my household. So I'm excited for this.
So like I said, Alex of Hesse married the future Tsar Nicholas the second. So, yeah. So she moves there. She has four daughters, has four daughters.
Olga is the sensitive one, the oldest Tatiana, who's considered like the most beautiful one.
It's like a boy band. Yeah. Maria, who's sort of like I sort of always read it like she's sort of the kitty in Pride and Prejudice.
She's always sort of dominated by her little sister and her little sister is Anastasia.
Or as I feel like we've come to be known, Anastasia. I mean, I'm saying Anastasia, because some like real history people might get mad and be like a tennis. Yes.
And Anastasia was the youngest and she was really like the most playful and mischievous one. She was the one who, like, stuck her tongue out at people behind their backs and, like, pulled pranks and tried to escape. And she was the life of the palace. So that's also why people love her. And I sort of gravitated towards her as a character. She's sort of this fun figure, you know, in her her older sister, Maria, sort of fell into lockstep and that the two of them, as a as a pair were always causing mischief around the palace.
I mentioned earlier that Alexandra, their mother, sort of viewed the four of them as one unit. I feel like part of the reason the Anastasia mythos still persists in popular culture so much is, you know, it's sort of the beautiful dead girl phenomenon where all the photos we have of these for girls, these four princesses who, you know, died really spoiler alert, died really tragically in their youth.
They're always in like that beautiful matching white dresses, like really virginal.
They have really great shiny, thick, long hair. They're sort of like a child childishness about even how they're dressed like, you know, both hats are Sasha.
You know, like Victoria and like and it's these four princesses, grand duchesses, I mean, the more literal translation, but there are all these sweet stories about how they always wanted to, like, interact with people or would escape, you know, to try to go to a shop and realize, like, they didn't know how to buy things that a shop.
Oh, so it's like Princess Jasmine. Yes. Where you're just like you do not know how the real world works, but you're you're curious.
Exactly. They have no idea. They would sometimes like you know, there's little stories of them like, you know, flirting with the men on ships, you know, if they're like on a ship somewhere.
And then during World War One, the older two, Olga and Tatiana, were volunteered for the Red Cross.
And like they charmed all the soldiers and all the officers.
And like, it's that sweet story that we have of, like, the good old days. It's definitely when when people tell the tragic story of Anastasia, I feel like it does romanticize the monarchy in a way that little girls do.
You know, when they dream of being a princess or a grand duchess, you're not imagining being married off to your second cousin when you're 40 near imagining, like, grand balls in the palace.
Yeah. And flirting with the handsome officers. Right.
You're taking it out of all the political and historical context that makes it kind of like, oh, it's very interesting. But like at least in the United States, it's like very normal for little girls to have, like, you know, princess dresses and princess parties and and just like princess is kind of this almost generic term expressing like fancy and special. And like we don't do that with Prince, I think, because we recognize that that's a functional role.
That's like preparing you for like something. And the word princess doesn't signify, you know, that you're being prepared for anything taxing, which like you are, of course, because in reality, you would have to be married off to like somebody to manage a household.
Of course. Yeah. And maybe be killed by a revolution or something. Right. Like if history goes in a positive direction, like it's going to be bad for you, which is a weird position to be. So like it's interesting.
It's really interesting that, like, it is this classic little girl thing, like, yeah, a princess, I'm a princess. And it's like, what an incredibly stressful job.
And I think that wealth and beauty are always are just two fundamentally appealing things. Also like they're in elegant clothing. It's like the trappings of their lifestyle are incredibly appealing. Yeah.
OK, so I'm going to send you a photo first of the girls when they were little.
Oh, God, they look great. Yeah, the girls have this really great hair. Look at this hair. Wow. It's like drag wigs.
It's like you. Yeah. It's like a very voluminous and shiny and long. And then they're always in like these white dresses.
So I guess then Anastasia would be the second from the right. She's extremely pretty.
They all these families where they're like this one's the pretty one. And you're like, who decided that.
Yeah, they here here's here's a photo of them a little older and you'll see the one that is quote, the pretty one is Tatiana who's seen it.
Yeah, she looks amazing. The short hair is dope. Yeah, she looks great.
So I think that that's also why their mythology. Yeah. Is so pervasive culturally. Yeah.
The clothes are incredible though because they're so ornate. They look like doilies or like really ornate napkins that you would get at a really fancy party. They're all white and they're like draped and like lacy and layered.
They're wearing pearls head to head coronets. This is reminding me that when Titanic came out in the 90s, it sparked this wave of sort of like nostalgic team fashions that were sort of inspired by Gilded Age in World War One era clothing. And looking at this, I'm like, yeah, yeah, we've got these, like, high waists. There don't appear to be corsets because, like, comfortable, breathable, drapey summery dresses. Yeah, yeah, it looks fabulous.
But this photograph, this one is closer to the age where our story, you know, really dives headfirst. The Russian Revolution, which I feel like could be its own. Yes. Multipart episode series.
But I mean, what happens obviously is the monarchy is abolished and it begins with the family being in prison in Alexander Palace, you know, where they were living.
OK, there's this wave of anti monarchist sentiment. And so people are like, yeah, power to the people, you know, throw down the monarchy.
The family is sort of isolated and imprisoned. And then the idea is that everyone sort of understands is, OK, you know what? The Tsar is probably going to go on trial. The Tsar is probably going to be executed.
Probably Alexander is going to be executed.
Not great. But that's just maybe how it's going to go. It happens. And oh, my God, wouldn't it be a tragedy if also they have to kill Alexei, the heir? That would be a tragedy. But like, oh, God, that's the worst case scenario.
Which reminds me of what we talked about, Marie Antoinette. I mean, I'm sure this was discussed at some. Point by someone, but in history, as we know it, like the revolutionaries apparently were like and their children are fine and we'll re-educate them and teach them to denounce their parents and will abuse them and stuff. But like, we're not going to kill them.
Yeah, they're not going to publicly execute the children. That looks bad.
And also, remember, these are a royal family with a million connections to every other European power.
All right. So it's not like these are random nobles. These are the cousins of the king of England. You would not want to just murder these daughters, right? I mean, World War One started over Markkula.
Yeah. Yeah. And how old is Anastasiya at this point? So the oldest, Olga, is about 21. Tatiana is 20. Maria is 18. Anastasia is 16. And Alexei is 12.
But the because the royal family is such a vulnerability to the rebels, they need to move them out of the centralized palace because they're just a valuable resource to to have or not have in the country.
And so they move them far east to Siberia, to Tobolsk. Oh. And the idea is that they're just sort of kept there. It's an incredibly isolated region where you have to get to on boats and when it freezes over, you can't even get there. So it's like, great, we'll just keep them isolated. You know, the Bolsheviks are fighting against other forces for control of Russia and they just want to sort of keep the Romanoff's off the board.
It's like the post revolution free for all that happens after most revolutions where it's like, well, what happens next?
Yes. And for context, back when they were at Alexander Palace, this is when ministers of the provisional government started writing to George the Fifth in England, being like, hey, can you take the Romanoff's in England?
Can you just do that? Can you take them away? We don't want them here. The extremists wanted, you know, to kill Alexander immediately and have him stand trial.
But also there was a faction that's like just get them out as quick as possible so we don't have to deal with them.
Is the fear is there a fear of it like they remain these charismatic megafauna?
One hundred percent. That's the biggest fear where it's like we just want them to get out and shut up because they can bolster power or sympathy.
It's like breaking up with someone and then having to stay living with them. You're like, I don't trust myself, not you start having sex with you again. Yeah, like your place in my life was real for so long. How do I trust you to not just, like, slide back into it?
Yeah. So that's, that's sort of what's going on is even the provisional government, there's not a clear consensus of what to do with them.
OK, I'm going to do a double meth bust.
The people there's sort of like a fun, like fun fact I feel like about European history. Well, people are like George the Fifth could have saved their Romanoff's, but he didn't.
I just want you to know, like, this is where in that story, that tidbit will come in.
OK, so the White Army, sort of the anti Bolsheviks are moving in and they decide that they're going to move the Romanoff's to an even more isolated and distant place.
Give me a little natural explanation, because I am someone whose understanding of the Russian Revolution like really primarily is Animal Farm.
So, yes, the Bolsheviks like the classic revolutionaries.
Yes, they they become the Communist Party.
They're Lenin's. They're Lenin's whole gig. Yes. Yes, exactly.
OK, and Lenin is a snowball. Right.
And then the White Army was sort of the anti Bolsheviks who weren't necessarily monarchists. They were trying to fill in that power vacuum in terms of like a law and order.
So they're like, let's not have a monarchy, but like, let's not be communists either. Yes.
And so but the Bolsheviks, for their revolution to happen, they don't want the White Army to get the Romanoff's just because for for multiple reasons. I mean, one, they could use them to bolster power. They could sort to use them as puppets. Right.
Or they could use them to negotiate with other European powers for support. Because, you know, as far as other European powers are concerned, they haven't recognized this communist government as as an official government yet.
So the Romanovs are moved even further away to a house in a place called Ekaterinburg. And the house is given the name. And this is so ominous and creepy, the house of special purposes.
Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, I know.
They should have named it like a rehab facility. And it's been like this. Is there some people just blandly nice.
So this is really when like I mean, they're imprisoned for six months total between all these moving houses.
So this is, you know, over a year of being under under heavy guard. The windows first are covered with newspaper and then whitewashed and drawn. So there's no air coming in or out. You have a tiny like one ventilation area, but they're not allowed to look out the window. And because the whole idea is like no one can know you're here, I don't want anyone to know that this is where the Romanovs are, but the effect is an incredibly isolating and scary.
How did we manage to pick a story that involves people being trapped inside for long periods of time?
I picked it because this is the moment, the strike when the empathy is hot.
So throughout all of this, the girls have been told by their I'm sure their mother or just whatever officials were around like. So all of their jewels and private belongings, like in the hands of their dresses and in their pillowcases.
So they have like jewels hidden.
They're out there among their person drug dealer vibes. But it's incredibly I mean, restrictive and scary.
They're not allowed to look out the window on pain of being shot.
If they need to use the bathroom to ring, to leave their room, they have to ring a bell and they get, you know, isolated time in the garden for half an hour, twice a day in a morning and afternoon.
And they're just they're in prison. But the girls are writing in diaries. So we know sort of first hand that they're reading to their mother, their mom. I mean, Alexandra has a complete nervous breakdown.
I can't imagine why. Right. Yeah. You know, not leaving her chair. One of the daughters would read to her during the day while the others, you know, are sort of out playing.
And really what keeps them together is sort of the sense of family. Like the girls were always extremely close. Nicholas is very close to them. I mean, the thing about Nicholas is he was a very good father and a very bad tsar.
Yeah. Can we talk about him just a little bit like what are maybe his some of his more egregious, bizarre choices and what are of his good father choices?
I mean, I think that the Bloody Sunday was the big one, but I mean, as a father, like he was he doted on his kids and played with them and give them nicknames and like was a cute dad, but like, hey, being a cute dad doesn't qualify you to be a good leader. And that's the problem with monarchy that I feel like I keep coming back to through noble blood as the as the sort of the theme of the podcast is like why I find it so darkly funny is like, yeah, having a monarchy means you're choosing a leader almost based on random words.
Least in a democracy, it's not necessarily the smartest. But you have to have some quality, whether it's like, you know, you're captivating, you're charismatic, like you're good at winning elections.
But then there's also mechanisms of accountability where if you suck, you get replaced. One of the biggest forms of monarchies, no matter how bad someone is, the only way to replace a king is through this like massive upheaval process where you're basically having a revolution.
Essentially, there's no other way of saying like every 10 years or whatever, and we have to tear out the entire system of governance to that point to get someone who's not their kid or their cousin.
Oh, yeah. We're just really hope that their kid is less shitty. Yeah. Yeah. So this is when the story gets sad.
Oh, we're getting to the dark part. OK, yeah. So the Romanoff's sort of because they had already been moved twice, they sort of always they have the assumption that they were probably going to be moved again to another secret location or a more distant location.
That's some point as the white anti Bolsheviks were closed in the night of July 16th, the morning of July 17th, 1918. They're woken up in the middle of the night. It's implied that they're moving to another place because the White Army is closing in. So all the girls and everyone, they could get dressed and they pack all their jewels into their like pillowcases and dresses. And the guards even are sort of like, yeah, move, move, move.
They're like angry that they're taking too long to get ready. They're brought across the courtyard into like a underground basement, I think, with the implication that it's going to be like, OK, well, the army is coming. We just want you look out of the way. And then the the leader of the the guards, it was a man named Ya'akov Urofsky who is leading this thing by now, reads a statement saying that the new Russian government has sentenced the Tsar to death.
And Nicholas is so genuinely taken aback, like this was literally like just the last thing they expected to happen that he asks them to read it again.
He's like, it's literally like a Double-take moment. He's like, what? They thought they were just being moved to a new place. And at that moment, after he asked them to be read again, a group of soldiers come out of the adjoining room and just massacre the family, the whole family, the entire family.
And what's really scary and tragic is, you know, the night before each of the guards had been assigned to kill one person, to shoot one person, and then a group of the guards were like, we don't want to kill the girls.
They haven't done anything wrong. We've been, you know, living with them for the past year.
They seem like fine, nice people.
And so a handful of guards are. Used to kill the daughters and then they were just replaced and another few guards were brought in to do that part. Oh, wow. But even worse, in this dim basement, when push came to shove, everyone wanted to be they were also loyal Bolsheviks.
They all wanted to be the one who killed the Tsar or Alexander okayed it.
And so they all shot at Nicholas, which ironically meant that he died the fastest and easiest where the girls weren't shot.
This is so gross and so horrible.
But at close range, these Russian military issue guns were far less effective than he might think.
And now at close range with like smoke and screaming and chaos and everyone's running. They completely miss some of the rest of the family or, you know, grace them or don't land killing shots.
So it ends with the girls, like, cowering in corners and then they're bayoneted to death.
Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Yeah, that sucks. It's really just impossible to describe if you imagine just being, you know, shoved into this basement in the middle of the night, being surprised with a death sentence and then seeing half of your family shot, bullets flying, smoke, screaming, blood, brains on the floor and then being bayoneted.
I don't know how much of these details are true, but they, you know, had jewels in their clothes and pillowcases that, you know, blocked some of the killing bullets so far. This sounds like a perfect candidate for an animated children's film.
So and to be clear, a bayonet is like a stabbing stick, basically a rifle. Right.
It isn't like terribly long either, isn't it? Only like three to six inches long. So just like getting stabbed to death like a million times by, like, a little tiny knife.
Yeah, it is.
I think one of the scariest deaths, I guess, is being in a basement watching your parents shot and then being stabbed to death in a corner.
Yeah, maybe we're not ready for this yet. And there's more you want to say about this. But what's interesting to me is that, like, the Anastasia story doesn't actually sound like all that great of a story. It's basically it's like she's born and then she's like rich. And then she goes into quarantine and then she dies. Yeah, she's a teenager who's murdered.
It's a classic dead white girl story about where the point of the life is, the lack of a life.
I guess because it's interesting to me, just like of all of the, you know, princesses and all of the rich people and all of the whatever throughout history, that it's like this is the one that has become this larger cultural shibboleth, especially for girls.
I feel like I want to live my life in the logical world that you would have us live in, where there's a darn blue movie about Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Although, you know, Michael, I mean, there is an actual historical reason.
I feel like the the reason that Anastasia kept on as a myth and it's sort of several reasons in a row, because the story that I told you about, you know, the family being shepherded to the basement in Siberia and being executed, people didn't know that that happened very secretly.
So what happens is in the rest of Europe, no one knows where the Romanovs are or what has happened.
OK, so it becomes a mystery. Yes. That then people can fill in with whatever weird speculation they have and that gives rise to all these stories.
And it becomes a mystery on purpose because the Bolsheviks are pretty. They're like that. I mean, this doesn't look good.
We did what we thought we had to do, but we know that it's bad.
So they say they killed Nicholas. The second they say that Alexandra and Alexei, the Sun are, you know, off somewhere. And they say that they put the girls on a train and they lost touch with them. That's so vague.
It's like a fanfic premise. Like you can imagine all the stories. People can start writing about this immediately.
So what happened is, you know, the revolution continues. The Bolsheviks, I mean, really wanted the rest of Europe to think that they didn't murder a bunch of teenage girls because that doesn't look good, doesn't look great.
And what's really tragic is sort of that summer where the Bolsheviks are saying that they're still alive.
European powers are kind of trying to galvanize to rescue them, to say, well, get them out and they're negotiating with the Bolsheviks.
God, how awkward to be a Bolshevik in those negotiations here, because, I mean, this is like dark, dark comedy in that to me being be like Anton, the Bolshevik militia.
Yeah. We'll be able to get them to you by mid-July.
OK, so does this indicate to you that this was kind of a strategic error for them to kill the kids because they were actually a useful bargaining chip?
Yeah, like, I imagine if I was the leader of the Bolsheviks, I would have sent the daughters to England and like, I don't think. They would have caused a big fuss. Yeah, well, building off of our Marie Antoinette episode, I mean, what do you think about having royals to execute what I think about as like, you know, OK, so you want to run a revolution and you don't want to position yourself as the villain and you're pretty clearly the villain if you murder a bunch of children in a basement by stabbing them to death.
Yes. And it seems like, you know, the kind of public execution that we saw of Marie Antoinette is useful to bring into the public sphere because people really hate her.
She's a very visible symbol of the monarchy.
Yeah, no one I mean, no one hated the four grand duchesses. Right.
There's no potential political value in their deaths. Yeah, but it feels like a miscalculation because it's like what they did is not useful to their position at all and can only kind of it feels like can only affect people like neutrally to negatively in terms of how they view the Bolsheviks.
I think it was a panic decision because like the White Army, the anti Bolsheviks were closing in on Ekaterinburg. You need to kill them so they can't get them.
So it was like a Jonestown to say, yeah, they were like enemy forces are closing in and if they take my hostages as their hostages, they will have no hostages. Yeah.
Then you lose power. I mean, it's just it's a tragedy all around. But what happens next is an incredibly bungled burial. You know, they strip the bodies and mutilate them and they molest the Tsarina. Oh, God. Yeah. You know, they bring them on a truck to a forest, you know, try to dump them down a mine shaft. The mine shaft is too shallow.
So they try to deepen it with hand grenades. It doesn't work like I'm picturing like teenagers.
It seems like he doing this. I guess it's so bungled then they like they pull the bodies back onto a truck.
They're trying to go to a deeper mine shaft somewhere, but they get caught in the mud, the truck, and they're like, fuck it, we'll do it live and try to and then just bury them there where that truck was caught in the mud just in just in this muddy just make a little muddy hole.
And so here's the second part of the Anastasiya mythology. They decide to bury some of the bodies separately so that if the White Army finds them, they're more confused by the body count.
So they tried to disfigure the faces with rifle butts and cover them in like quicklime and sulfuric acid and bury them. And then they bury one of the daughters and Aleksei 50 feet away, you know, they burn them first in a bonfire. And this is like the bones left.
This is like the A.. Dexter, it's like, yeah, this like serial killer bullshit. But it's just like they're doing it frantically and haphazardly.
Middle of the night, frantically. Sun is coming up. We got it this now. So they really, really bungle this burial.
It's it's it's this very weird combination of like the brutality being so much worse because the assassins don't know what they're doing. Yeah, it's bad project management, like everything else.
All of these are factors that then feed into this general sense of confusion, which then is purposefully bolstered by the Soviet leadership for like the next eight years where they're like, oh, all the daughters were killed by left wing extremists, or maybe not.
Maybe they got away or maybe accidentally murdered.
But like, I just got a postcard from Olga and she's on the beach.
And Ukraine, they finally acknowledged the murders in nineteen twenty six, eight, nine years later. But I mean, everyone sort of knew they were dead because these girls on the train haven't appeared.
I feel like I finally get why this is such an appealing story, because the idea of like a bunch of princesses that are in hiding and they're like dope and pretty and they're like running around Europe, it's like a cross between little women and gone girl.
Yeah. And they're like mischievous and fun. Yeah. That's a good movie. Like Princesses on the Run. And they're like they're kind of sheltered and like they don't know how the world works, but they have to like make it and they get allies and stuff like.
That's a great show. You got it. Now that's the movie.
I get it.
So these deaths aren't formally announced until the nineteen twenty six by the Soviets, but even then people are like was maybe that's a cover up of something else.
Like no one really knows for sure what happened until after the fall of communism, eight years where people can just make up whatever wild story they want.
And even then, like the bodies aren't exhumed until 1991. Oh wow.
OK, I'm suddenly seeing why this was a 90s finale. There we go.
So for eight years, everyone kind of knows they're dead, but they could they could be elsewhere. And then even after that, it's like. But made. But they the Soviets are they lie all the time. Maybe they just say they're all dead. But, you know, if one got away, they wouldn't say that.
Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. Because they might have bungled the executions. The princess has escaped, but they're saying that they killed. Them all right, then one escaped. Yeah, and like they did bungle the execution, would only have to believe that they bungled them more than they did. Yeah, yeah.
I mean, if you are a slight conspiracy or hopeful minded person or romantic person, you're like, look, we don't know what happened to these princesses.
Yeah, like like little girls are. Yeah. Yeah. Little girls aren't going to be like, no, they were probably murdered in a basement in Siberia. Strategically, they weren't going to let them go.
But you can just imagine that if this was the modern day, there would be like long Reddit posts with all of the evidence that they're still alive and like photos of people. Yeah.
And they would find some girl on like Facebook. Yeah. Yeah. Some girl who lives in like Yorkshire and be like they have the same nose to lip ratio.
Yeah. Yeah. So that is exactly then what happens. I mean that's that's why I feel like the fixation on the Romanoff's is so exciting. It becomes such an exciting conspiracy because it's, it's a plausible and romantic conspiracy. Yeah. It's just such a better story.
It's like the perfect amount of information. It's like that Goldilocks say. Right. It's like enough to be like intriguingly specific and give you a lot of mental images, but then vague enough that almost whatever you want. Yeah. Have happened. Yeah.
And then isn't there something about like the best lie is one that you want to believe. Yeah.
Wouldn't, don't you want to believe that like one of the girls got away or all of that you know.
Oh yeah. Yeah. As a child I remember very fervently wanting that.
Is this the version of the story that you guys heard as kids? So I will tell you my very vivid memory of a piece of Anastacia media, which I think was like a PBS or a History Channel type thing. And I remember it had, I believe, a picture of Anastasiya doing like a fake levitation thing because she was interested in, like magic and illusions and stuff. OK, and the narrator of this was like, but did Anastasiya perform the ultimate trick and disappear?
And it was like, you know, guess like a very cheesy hourlong TV thing where like at the end they're going to be like, well, probably not.
Yeah, but we're not sure. But yes, we are.
And I remember as a kid being really torn between, like the documentary knowledge that like, no, she didn't make it right. It's like you're in space between two planets and one is Planet Fact and one is planet Earth. And you're like, it's interesting that planet fact is bigger and yet it's gravitational pull is weaker. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Pulled into Planet Myth and I like it here. Yeah.
I mean that's really at my I feel like my child understanding is that I watched the animated movie and loved it and was obsessed with it.
But also in the back of my mind as like the little shit I was the little history podcast Makarova I guess I was like yeah but we all know she actually died, right?
It was it was bayonets. Also, as a little kid, the truth is a powerful thing.
And when you find out a fact, you recognize the power of that also. So maybe for you, for a child of the 90s specifically. Yeah. You're like, I know what the truth is or the truth is available to me. And yet there's this whole cultural structure that has been being built on for decades that is about the myth. And I also like the myth.
But Michael, as you so cogently pointed out, like then for eight, nine years, it is a free for all of of speculation.
Right. You know, the most famous imposter, which then led to a court case was in 1920 in Berlin. And it was, you know, a woman named Anna Anderson who is revealed to be a woman actually named Francesca Shan Joska.
She's a Polish factory worker with like a history of mental illness. She is in a suicide attempt. She jumps off a bridge and, you know, she survives.
Then all the people around her are like, oh, but she's actually Anastasia. And it becomes a court case because some Russian emigre in Germany is like, oh, I recognize her.
She is Anastasia. And then but everyone else is like, no, she's not. And then, you know, at some point she's like, yes, I am.
And it becomes a court case which is dismissed because she has no proof that she is Anastasia. And then DNA evidence has revealed conclusively that she is not.
DNA evidence has ruined everything. I know. Right. Like a bummer. I think nothing came of this.
But there is something about like we might be able to DNA test something to find out who Jack the Ripper was.
And I'm like, I don't I want to know that. Yeah, it's the truth is going to be so disappointing to you.
It's just going to be some guy. Yeah.
No one has heard of and who there's very little historical record of, I'm sure. And then we'll be like we have just a guy who while up women, kind of a dime a dozen.
So yeah, the DNA evidence, I mean, this is sort of like weird and. Ironic they get DNA from Prince Philip, yes, Queen Elizabeth's consort, because he's also a grandchild of Victoria and also a German like his lineage is actually very close to to the Romanoff's.
Wow. It's sort of funny that that world of royalty sort of still exists in the weird way. Prec a random royal. Yeah.
So those sort of stories captivate throughout the 1920s because, you know, after the fall of the monarchy, you sort of are like, oh, but wouldn't it be wonderful, a hidden jewel, you know, like I think they sort of romanticize it a little bit.
Oh, yeah. So I think that glamour and nostalgia feeds into it.
The burial site is discovered in 1979 by just like an amateur, but he keeps it a secret until the fall of communism.
Interesting. Who is this person? What's his deal? It's a geologist named Alexander Avdonin who, you know, hears the rumors about the gravesite and goes and finds it. So he was just so scared about the Soviet government getting mad at him because you were forbidden to talk about the Romanoff's, that he just reburied the bodies and and doesn't do anything until the Soviet government, you know, starts to sort of loosen its stance. And like finally, after the Soviet Union collapses in 1991, they find the bones and they do some DNA testing and they realize that it is, in fact, the Romanoff's.
But if you remember, they separated Alexei and one of the girls.
So even in 1991, two of the bodies they don't find everyone else is accounted for. So I feel like then that's in the news. But then there's sort of a re-emergence of the myth that one of the daughters got away and who.
But the most beautiful, mysterious youngest daughter, Anastasia, who even though the memoirs of Like You Koskie and all the guards are all like, no, none.
The girls got away. We just buried two of the bodies separately, you know, intellectually, everyone and think that.
But again, you want to believe what you want to believe. And then in 2007, that's when they actually found the other two bodies and, you know, confirm that the sulfuric acid and nails and it was Aleksi and one of the two daughters, whether it was Maria or Anastasia, I think like most contemporary, I don't know what they based it on, but I think they think it might have actually been Maria who was separated.
So there's no like a scrap of fantasy left. Like, every single thing in the official account is good for know every everybody is accounted for. They found the bodies, but you know what I mean.
Every scrap of fantasy wasn't confirmed until 2007 to 90 years, basically, and it took so long and it fell apart so slowly.
The Soviets, I mean, were infamous for subterfuge and information. We're like, yeah, it is a possibility that they were lying or doing a cover up of that.
Something else happened.
But did they find the DNA of the talking bat still at large?
No. What happened?
I think Rasputin survived because he's a tune that's my theory.
The tiny like myth of the myth that I want to dispute is the myth that George the Fifth could have saved them and didn't. Oh, OK.
And I really I go into this I have a Noble Blood episode all about the relationship between George and and Nicolas, the second because they were cousins who looked basically like they were twins. They had like identical beards and mustaches and looked a lot like and there's a weird cultural fixation on how close the two of them were. I've seen porn based on that.
Yes. What really? No, I believe you, though. I mean like that. I mean, if there is a nanny, I bet there will be in a few months. Yeah.
Basically, it's like, yes, the provisional government, you know, the year before they were actually executed and moved out to Siberia. We're like, hey, England, can you can you take the royal family? And George was like, do we have to? And his minister was like, no, do not you know, your crown is hanging by a thread. You are incredibly unpopular. The Tsar is incredibly unpopular. Most of England, which is, you know, having a massive socialist movement, was on the side of the revolutionaries.
And everyone knows that you are very close with this Russian tsar where if you bring him here and are very cosy, that's going to make you look really bad.
And again, at this time, no one knows the extent of like a gruesome murder. This is too early. No one in their wildest fantasies would pitch that the girls are going to be bayoneted to death. But like the excuses that his minister makes are so easily that it's a little funny in retrospect.
They're like, oh, where would where would we keep them? Right. We're famously short on real estate. Yes.
The royal family, the ambassadors like one. Of your palaces, what about Balmoral in Scotland and the minister is like, no, no, that's a summer palace, we would like them. I you wouldn't want to keep them in a summer palace when it's like they're about to go to motherfucking Siberia.
Yeah, but you can't put them in a summer palace. It would be like sleeping on a throw pillow. It's just not done. Yeah, but again, like this is still when it was a very political decision, it wasn't like a rescue rescue operation.
It's very interesting that people seem to have such faith. And the idea of like, yes, I'm sure they're going to probably execute Tsar Nicholas and his wife, that makes sense. But like, they wouldn't kill kids. The kids are blameless. It's interesting, right? It's like a gentleman's code.
Yeah, it's sort of. And I think that feeds into the nostalgia of Anastasia.
It's like a better time before chaos when it's like, no, I mean, it was just as chaotic. Right.
And it's like, well, not a better time, but maybe a more predictable one. Yes, exactly. Not a better time. Just one that we're the evils were understood by a certain social order. Right.
Because because that except the myth of kings as like benign rulers. Right.
Because I feel like the logic there is like, why would you kill the blameless children of people in power if there is blameless collateral? And it's like, well, people in power have held blameless collateral. Yeah, exactly. One of their main functions. So like, of course, that happened. Right. You can spin it as like a loss of a gentler age. And it's like in a way, but also like the loss of a world where people could plausibly be like, but why would anyone have that that kind of enmity toward the blameless family of the Tsar?
And it's like, well, and then also a meth bust.
It's like even if King George was like, yes, we're taking them out. We're taking them to say safety, my reputation be damned. I mean, it was winter at this time. You know, the courts might have been frozen. Like it is very difficult to get a ship from England into the ports of Russia in winter through a bunch of Bolshevik extremists who wanted the right Romanoff's hostage. And also at this time, like the danger still wasn't known.
So it's like hypothetically, even if they have gotten all the way through, it's possible that the Tsarina, the kids, a few of the kids that had measles. Oh, and it's possible that they would have been like, well, we don't want to go to England while they're still sick. So we'll just wait.
Like, that's how threatened they were at the time when escape was still possible.
So it's like this idea that they could have been rescued is sort of like in a stage of this very romantic idea.
But in the cold light of facts, you're like, right. It just wasn't feasible for a lot of reasons at that time, although as fan fiction, it's pretty good.
Like you have rescue of these little Sarina's in like deepest, darkest Russia, like these royal assassin dudes, like creeping around in the snow to rescue them from the house. Again, great screenplay.
Not real. Do you know how my fanfiction works in my head? How that like when the girls had been Red Cross during World War One, that they like, befriend or have a romance with like a soldier?
Oh, that's good.
Oh, and then they escape with the help of the soldier and they come to England and yeah.
See we don't need real historical facts. Let's just stick to fan fiction.
It's so much better. I think that it's really nice to be like these are the facts. I know what the facts are. And now here is my fan fiction. Yes. And just be like here are my emotional needs and here is how I'm going to beat them, not by tricking myself into the belief that, you know, history is what I want it to be.
But by being like, here is history and here's what I want to be like my right fantasy that Clarence Darrow and Helen Keller, some kind of a thing on the side, they definitely corresponded similar ideals.
I'm just saying I wish other, I guess, conspiracy theorists or other people that write fan fiction without realizing that's what they're doing could also be clear about their emotional needs. Yes, they could just say, like, look, I know vaccines are real, but like I like believing that Bill Gates is doing all of this so that he can control all of our brains.
That if one sci fi story.
Right, a sci fi story about a billionaire secretly trying to track people and also like I think there are people who are like, I don't like superhero movies, they're for kids. I like facts. And it's like, that's nice. But your need for story is not going to go away. Like, yeah, you can be aware of your needs or your needs can be aware of you. Look, I need a talking bat in this story.
Yeah, I know, but yeah. So you look at these photos of these like beautiful, vivacious teenage girls who, like you read in their diaries, were so playful and love teasing each other and like, you know, were of marrying age. I feel like our culture thinks like, yes, a young, virginal princess is like the highest for achievement of a young woman.
Like that is who our culture values the most. She met with a bloody end, which just makes her more enthralling.
Or did she write, I am so sorry that there it is beyond a shred of of historical evidence or genetic evidence.
It's ruined. I feel like you're like you're like the Marcia Clark of the Anastasiya, the case for Anastacia is that that's just like it would be so nice to find a way out of believing this. Yeah, yeah.
I really, really would be nice, but nope. All the all the bodies are accounted for.
But, you know, write your own Anastasiya fanfic. It's maybe all the time I spent fixated on killer bees as a kid is actually kind of nutritious.
I mean, it's good that I didn't dive into the Anastasiya Rabbit hole because it would be too emotionally taxing. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on this podcast again. We're having you on tomorrow. Mean the next day you just keep coming on. We're just until we cannibalize every single episode of your show.
It's like killer bees. No, not really. That's a bad metaphor.
So, yeah, if you're going to be obsessed with fan fiction, that's totally fine. But just call it fan fiction.
Don't call it real. So the lesson is that DNA ruins everything, ruins stories by creating truth.
Don't tell that to Marcia Clark.