January 22: Rasputin

Rasputin“There lived a certain man in Russia long ago/He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow” -Boney M, “Rasputin

Russian history is littered with infamous and controversial figures, but perhaps no individual is more infamous than Grigori Rasputin, who was born on this day in 1869. The self-proclaimed mystic served as a close adviser to Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra in the last years of the Russian Empire; so close in fact that some historians have suggested that his influence over the Tsar and Tsarina was so strong that he was all but running the Empire.

So, how did Rasputin reach such a position of power? Well, the Tsar and Tsarina’s son Alexei suffered from hemophilia and Rasputin had a reputation for being able to “mystically heal” bodily ailments. Thus the imperial family summoned him to court to work his wonders on the young Tsarevich. In addition to his “medical” work, Rasputin took on an advisory position to the Tsar, a position which allowed him to indulge in his main extracurricular interests: women and wine.

By 1916, Rasputin had an extremely strong influence over the Tsarina, and many in the Russian court were of the opinion that something must be done about the mad mystic. Thus, a plot was raised to get rid of Rasputin. On the evening of December 30, 1916 Prince Felix Yusupov invited Rasputin to his home. Before Rasputin arrived at the house, a team of conspirators prepared the building’s cellar for murder. The plan was quite simple, a doctor in the group grounded cyanide into a powder and lightly dusted some tea cakes and wine glasses with the poison. Upon Rasputin’s arrival, the conspirators hid upstairs and waited.

Yusupov escorted Rasputin down to the cellar and offered him some wine, which he declined. Next, Yusupov offered him a cake, and Rasputin gladly took one…and then another. Then, Rasputin decided that he would have some wine. After one cyanide laced glass of wine, it was apparent that the poison wasn’t affecting Rasputin. He then asked Yusupov for some Madeira wine. Before pouring, Yusupov “accidentally” dropped the glass and poured the Madeira into another poison covered glass. After that glass Rasputin finally began to complain of a tickle in his throat, but proceeded to have another two glasses!

Yusupov couldn’t believe that Rasputin still wasn’t dead, so he excused himself for a moment and went upstairs to consult his cohorts. After informing them that despite their best efforts, Rasputin still lived, he returned downstairs with a gun. Upon his host’s return, Rasputin said he was starting to feel a headache, but perhaps some wine could help. He drank the entire glass in one gulp, at which point Yusupov essential said “To hell with this,” and told Rasputin to say his prayers just before shooting him. Rasputin let out a ghastly scream before collapsing to the floor just as the conspirators came running downstairs. The body had no pulse, and Rasputin was dead.

The victorious assassins went up stairs to celebrate. For some reason, Yusupov decided to return downstairs and saw that Rasputin’s corpse was just where he left it. He was then overwhelmed with a desire to shake the corpse. He violently shook the body, at which point Rasputin suddenly came howling back to life. Yusupov ran up the stairs, with Rasputin chasing after him. Another conspirator fired four shots into the body until Rasputin was well and truly dead. At Rasputin’s funeral, the Tsarina slipped a note into Rasputin’s coffin asking “my dear martyr” to “remember us from on high in your holy prayers.” As for Yusupov, when he was asked in later years if he had any regrets about killing Rasputin, he replied “No, I shot a dog.”

Naturally, there’s a cocktail named after Rasputin and it’s actually quite clever. As Rasputin was a Russian and was often mistaken for a monk, the Rasputin cocktail is a combination of vodka and the hazelnut liqueur Frangelico (which comes in a bottle meant to resemble a monk).


  • 2 ounces Vodka
  • 1 ounce Frangelico

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Tomorrow: Pie. That’s all, just “pie.”


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