The Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York is full of superlatives: Landscape, History, Warfare and Indian Massacres. Close to the Catskill Mountains and the home of Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, it lures tourists, sports aficionados, and those just wanting to “get away.” Indeed, the mineral springs of Sharon Springs and Richfield Springs are renowned for their supposed health benefits for which New Yorkers, many of them Eastern European Jewish immigrants and their families, who made their way northward to escape the stifling New York City heat in the age before air conditioning. It is a tranquil oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, and the turmoil of 20th century Bolshevism albeit East Bloc Communism.
The monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR), situated aptly in the hamlet called Jordanville, NY, was founded by Russian Orthodox monks from Russia and the Carpatho-Russian area of what is today northeastern Slovakia including the village of Ladimirovna where, ironically, this author has paternal relatives.
With the assassination of the Tsar and his family members came a prohibition in the then Soviet Union to commemorate them in the prayers of the dead during Divine Liturgy. They had been reduced to historical and officially deprecated relics of an “imperialist” past. The emigrated Russian Orthodox Church outside of the Soviet Union could carry on in freedom and were free to revere the Tsar, the New Martyrs of the Communist Yoke, and other family members such as Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna (née von Hessen-Darmstadt und bei Rhein) the sister of the Tsaritza.
Whereas the Church under Soviet control had been denuded of monarchist allusions, references, and reverence, Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Monastery and Seminary was and is proudly fond and reverent of the Imperial Family.
This brings us to the topic of legendary lore: Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov. There is no longer any doubt that she is, indeed, dead. However, controversy still brews and at this writing is again percolating as to whether she actually died on 17 July 1918 with her parents and siblings.
The lady known simultaneously as Evgenia Smetisko, Eugenia Smetisko, Eugenie Smetisko, Eugenia Smith and Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov of Russia defies all attempts to dismiss her as a deluded old lady, sweet but misguided, a lover of fantasy in whose world only she in her chaotic but non-threatening mind could live.
She arrived in 1922 claiming to be an Eastern European immigrant, married yet without her husband at the tender age of 23 as she purported to have been born 1899. She claimed that she was German, but was also known to state to U.S. immigration authorities that she was Ukrainian. She had light brown hair, grey blue eyes and was rather short as is attested to by one border crossing document from Canada to the USA: 5’1.”
There are no coincidences; these are same physical characteristics of the historical Anastasia Romanov.
Her life is explained in two publications by this author: The Art of the Authoress of Anastasia (2015: Authorhouse) and Anastasia Again: The Hidden Secret of the Romanovs (2018: IceBox Publishing), but the topic of this narrative has more to do with her death, burial, legacy and unresolved details of all three.
Newport, Rhode Island, that venerable enclave of the Yachting Set and American industrial nobility as well as the descendants of the Winthrop Fleet albeit early colonial English settlers was the genteel locale for the last years of aka “Evgenia/Anastasia’s” life. It was not an idle life by any stretch of the imagination. She had always planned to found a museum of Russian History in which to honor her parents and to set the record straight on Imperialist Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution from her point of view.
As director of the St. Nicholas House Foundation, with its headquarters at 25 Bowery Street, “Smetisko/Romanov” collected and added to Romanov objects as well as those associated with the era which seemed to have been hers to administer as she bequeathed them to the Museum of Russian History at the monastery. On one tour, a guide was overheard saying, “She was told not to bid so high for the icon scarf (which had its origin in the Feodorovsky Cathedral in Tsarskoe Selo) but she bought it anyway.”
Clearly, she was a force to be reckoned with and a woman intent on doing what she wanted, headstrong, just as Anastasia of lore.
Her death brought other philanthropic benefits to the monastery. How a seemingly penniless Eastern European, Post World War I, married yet unaccompanied immigrant could die and be so altruistic in her death has one good explanation. In any case, she arranged for the museum to be endowed with a sizeable annuity reaching into the various tens of thousands of dollars which will continue in perpetuity.
Yet, she was evidently shown indifference for her imperial claims while alive, and de facto by the church after her death: the canonization of the entire Imperial family was accomplished in the Church Outside of Russia already in 1981. The assumption was that all had died on 17 July 1918. Bones had not yet been found, while one urban legend even placed the skull of the tsar among Freemasons in Moscow. Icons appeared as befitting newly glorified saints. “Smetisko/Romanov,” however, did not die until 1997 in a nursing home near Newport in the town of North Kingstown.
Conundrums began to germinate like the spring flowers in the fields of the Mohawk Valley in Upstate New York.
Knowing that she was buried in the cemetery of the monastery, I supposed her to be fully intact and probably embalmed having crossed state lines; it was already obvious that this enigmatic grand dame was already in a different category of Anastasia claimants from perhaps the most well-known: Anna Anderson. The latter had been cremated upon death. This was an immediate tip-off that she had not been Orthodox in which tradition cremation is anathema.
It might be difficult if nigh on impossible to find an Orthodox priest, at least Russian Orthodox, who would serve a “panikhida” (requiem) for cremains. Even before DNA put the final nail in the coffin Anderson’s narrative, it was evident culturally that she could not have been truly Orthodox as she had failed to abide by a cultural fact which is de rigeur in Russian Orthodoxy.
Although embalming is not encouraged in Orthodoxy, perhaps as it interferes with natural processes of creation and corruption, state laws are understood to take precedence when bodies must be shipped some distance to the cemetery of choice, especially crossing state lines. It was a safe bet that THIS Anastasia claimant had not committed Anderson’s mistake.
This fact was just recently confirmed at the monastery with the cemetery office confirming that she had arrived intact in a coffin.
Genealogy has been a life-long passion of this author, perhaps inherited from my maternal grandmother of old English, Scandinavian and Dutch/Northern German descent. Upon her death there were boxes of hand written notes usually taken when relatives had come to visit over the years when she had had the opportunity to pick their collective and individual memories.
These memories of long conversations about who had married whom, who had died and how, including where the living descendants were are indelibly etched in my heart. The metacognitive lesson, beyond the actual data, was that these relationships were important, because the people had been important in their earthly lives. Their deaths did not mark their end. On the contrary, their deaths had been the commencement of an eternal existence in oral tradition. This propagation of oral memory was an added blessing of growing up in a household with four generations together day in and day out.
It was a strong and constant desire, then, to see the resting spot of this particular claimant who seemed to fill the many prerequisites of physical attributes, burial tradition and post mortem altruism of a missing Grand Duchess, characteristics which were totally lacking with Anderson and others.
“Father, where is Evgenia buried?”
Such an easy question! I could answer it for any of my kin in the Parker Street Cemetery in Lapeer, Cortland County, NY. I would be able to direct someone even on the cell phone, “next to the maple tree on the left side,” or “two stones in front of the obelisk on the left side when you enter,” etc.
“Somewhere up there,” came the reply.
Oh, well. The dead are going nowhere, so I would try again the next time. Always lovely in all seasons, the mere trip is an enjoyable day drive.
Another time, perhaps the next year, the question was raised anew.
“I am not sure. The grave is in the new section somewhere.”
This was definitely going to have to be an adventure starting earlier another day, so the time was again not opportune.
Some months later a group had decided to help look for the grave after a tour of the church and grounds. Gathered in the vestibule and ready for history sleuthing, a sudden storm, a torrential rainstorm even, seemed to blow in out of nowhere. Disappointment abounded, but there was a general consensus that there was yet a future day, a future time, a future way in which God wanted this discovery to occur, and with that we left.
At least we knew it was the “New Section” whatever that would be.
The next year a small group travelled out scenic Route 20 East, through Cherry Valley known for an infamous Indian massacre, past Sharon Springs a relic of its former golden age of spas and springs. It was the Orthodox Feast of Pentecost, the patronal feast day of the monastery named Holy Trinity.
The Triune God of Christianity is prefigured in the Old Testament with the visit of three strangers to Abraham who reveal themselves as angelic beings after he has gone out of his way to show them hospitality. A fresco of the three heavenly beings is painted over the main door of the cathedral.
Booths full of crafts, honey made by the monastery beekeeper, soaps and oils made by the nearby sisterhood, Russian food in plenty; it was an event which transported the visitor back to traditional Russia, one the Tsar and his entire family would have recognized. This day had been granted a divine imprimatur as the day to find “Smetisko/Romanov’s” tomb.
Knowing that Cyrillic script is used on most of the crosses, I had familiarized myself suitably to at least be able to decipher names. One by one, cross by cross: Vladimir, Georgy, Tanya. No “Evgenia” seemed to be appearing. “Ivan, Maria, Ilya….” Suddenly an E..V..G..E..N..I..A! Voila! There she was! EVGENIA SMETISKO!
This woman had come to America with immigration papers and died surely with a death certificate stating that she had been born in 1899. She had attained a ripe old age if the date of death was correct-1997. Impostress or not; she had exceeded expectations for the life cycle of most people. But something was odd! The date of birth said clearly 18 June 1901! That was the day that Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov had been born in St. Petersburg. How on earth would the cemetery director bypass the given date of birth on official papers to purposely impose that of the noblewoman she was not supposed to be, the woman everyone was denying she was?
Returned now to the office, the question quivered, “Why?”
“Someday probably made a mistake!”
There were no further explanations that day, nor have there been since.
A number of years have passed with new 2D/3D visual face recognition analyses to study. The face of the woman known as Evgenia Smetisko and also Anastasia Romanov is a match to the historical Anastasia Romanov. Using those same approaches, one is struck by the similitude of “aka Evgenia” to Empress Alexandra, mother of Anastasia, and, apparently to the Anastasia who seemingly survived the massacre by Cheka Forces in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, dubbed by the Bolsheviks as “the House of Special Purpose.”
“How could she possible have survived?,” the reader asks?
Read the memoirs and annotations in ANASTASIA AGAIN: The Hidden Secret of the Romanovs and prepare for a riveting, nail-biting, albeit otherwise incredulous roller coaster ride of bravery, sadness, courage and luck, albeit divine intervention.
That date on the tomb?
Ostensibly, at the time of this writing, Anastasia has been technically a “saint” for just short of four decades. Before she can be proclaimed as having survived, theologians must think of how to deal with the ensuing questions and ecclesiastic kerfuffle sure to follow.
One thought expressed by a fellow searcher, Catherine, whose grandparents were executed in Tallinn, Estonia by Bolshevik troops, conveys the speculation that the last will and testament albeit stipulation for Romanov objects and annuity to be granted to the monastery made clear that Anastasia’s date of birth must be immortalized on the grave cross.
Catherine recently confided, “Anastasia hiding in plain sight! The story of this family being executed has haunted my soul since teen years. My own grandparents lost their lives to Lenin and his Bolshevik takeover. Whether or not Anastasia actually lived has been a lifelong and ongoing fascination. When I saw that Mr. Froebel-Parker’s book had been published, I rushed to buy it and was immediately engrossed in the biggest mystery of the 20th Century. I was with the author at her final resting place for a Russian Orthodox Requiem Mass on her birthday along with others. We all felt as if she was there with us. Several of us also returned to the grave on the date of her family’s murder to clean up the weed-choked grave and plant new perennials and we all felt it again! I returned the next day and lovingly cleaned and re-painted her cross and spoke to her and my grandparents. They both spoke to me. In my heart and soul, I am convinced she lived to a ripe old age of 96.”
Recently, a chat with those in Rhode Island who had known “Smetisko/Romanov,” gave further substantiation to her claim. Indeed, they related how the lady in the tomb, while alive, had insisted until her last breath that she was Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov, and that it was “very important to her” for people to hear it.
Hear it, the world will.
Even though in life she would not gain official recognition, she made sure that her tomb would inform people as to her true identity. A relief for many. An inconvenience for others. An embarrassment for a few. A surprise for all, except those who have been visiting her tomb over the years.
We have been privy to a wonderful miracle, the likes of which few could have imagined.