How Lovely A Country This Is

Part II

The Russian Imperial flag waved over the entrance to the Waldorf-Astoria as the Grand Duchess arrived, and she passed through the famous lobby with its enormous clock and through “Peacock Alley” to get to her rooms on the corner of the Hotel at 34 Street and Fifth Avenue, called the “Royal Suite” by the press.[1]The rooms, also known as the “Corner Suite” were decorated in what was referred to in the papers as “Baronial” style, included a dining room, a sitting room, and a bedroom with large windows facing north and east.[2]  

The Sitting Room of the “ROyal Suite” at the Old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

The Sitting Room of the “ROyal Suite” at the Old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

Grand Duchess Victoria Melita received a few important guests in the hotel, including Mr. Boris Brasol, who was the official representative of the Grand Duke in New York,[3]as well as several members of the press. Her day ended with a small dinner in her rooms with her retinue, Mrs. Loomis, Mrs. Lansing, and “a few elite invited guests.”[4]  

The next morning, Grand Duchess Victoria’s schedule began in earnest.  Mrs. Loomis had arranged for a motorcar tour of the highlights of New York City.  The drive included Central Park, Riverside Drive, Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, and a few other sites of interest. The Grand Duchess was very interested in the sheer scale of the city and the density of its population.  The press commented that the Grand Duchess took far more interest in the Lieutenants Brown, Murphy, Kelley and Nerman, her motorcycle escorts, and the men from the bomb squad who were part of her entourage, than in many of the sites in the city.  The Grand Duchess frequently asked after their wellbeing as they stood in the cold, rode on the running boards of her automobile, and waited for her in the chilly December weather.  In the late afternoon, the Grand Duchess returned to the Waldorf to rest, and was presented by her entourage with a book of crossword puzzles that was all the rage in New York.  The crossword puzzle was a new American craze, and had completely captured the public’s attention.  The Grand Duchess accepted the gift and retired to rest and change.[5]

That afternoon, with Mrs. Loomis at her side, the Grand Duchess had a full-fledged press conference with members of the local and national press corps.  The topics were wide and varied, and Mrs. Loomis confided later in a letter to a friend: 

She is so easy and pleasant, particularly with the press. It is remarkable how kind she is to them. She is genuinely interested in their questions, and has infinite patience even for the stupidest and least tactful among them.  She is somehow both serious and gay, which is no mean feat.  I later asked her Imperial Highness if she were tired after the meeting with them [the press] ‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘How could I be? Everyone here is so happy and bright, it is hard not to feel it oneself.  How lovely a country this is!’[6]

The conference avoided politics, and when questions of succession or finance arose, the Grand Duchess skirted them with elegance, often returning to comment on the beauty of some of New York’s buildings, or the kindness of its citizens that she had met.  When asked about American women, she smiled and answered: “I had always been of the opinion that American women were the best-dressed in the world, and after seeing them at tea and then at a formal dinner as I did yesterday, I am convinced they are… certainly the last word in fashion. In addition they are very charming, and I am having an extraordinarily good time.”

Detail of The entrance to the new sherry’s Restaurant at 300 Park avenue, wurtz bros., New York, ca. 1925.

Detail of The entrance to the new sherry’s Restaurant at 300 Park avenue, wurtz bros., New York, ca. 1925.

That night, after the Opera, a supper dance was thrown at Sherry’s in the Grand Duchess’ honor.  Vera Fokine performed from the Firebird,[7]and the guests (and later the press) agreed that it was the most “brilliant event of the season.”  The Grand Duchess sat with her retinue, Mrs. Loomis, Mr. Djamgaroff, and Mr. and Mrs. George F. Baker, Jr.[8]  The guests that night included members of the Russian and other European aristocracy then visiting New York, including Prince Gagarin, Lady Queensborough, and the Duc and Duchesse de Richelieu.  A host of New York society names such as the Van Rensselaers, Pulitzers, Livingstons, Hamiltons, Rhinelanders, Astors, Whitneys, and the Gouverneur Morrises flood the write-ups of the event, which went late into the night though it was noted the Grand Duchess retired early, as her trip to Philadelphia was the following afternoon.

In the morning, the Grand Duchess had time for one more meeting with the press, during which she was only slightly less guarded about politics.  Perhaps spending more time with New Yorkers had relaxed her, but she left us one sentence revealing her personal thoughts on the current situation in the Soviet Union. The Grand Duchess mentioned that she understood that Russians were unhappy under the Soviet government, and was quoted as saying “Every sane person knows they are dissatisfied with the present Government.  Just read their statistics and you will find out why. But I cannot talk politics with you, and I hope you will not stress what I have just said.”[9]  The Grand Duchess was also asked to comment on news which had recently arrived from Berlin, saying that the Grand Duke was to be exiled from Coburg for setting up a Russian government-in-exile, and that he was neither popular nor accepted by other members of the Romanov family.  The Grand Duchess admitted that she had read that report (issued two years previously in Europe, but new in the United States), but that “It is not true.  It is just some more propaganda.  That report has been printed many times before.”[10]  

Grand Duchess Victoria with a Crossword puzzle at the waldorf astoria, 1924.

Grand Duchess Victoria with a Crossword puzzle at the waldorf astoria, 1924.

In closing, the Grand Duchess was asked about shopping (“Shopping?” she asked incredulously, “They do not give me time for that!”), and again about the ubiquitous crossword puzzles.  “I have tried three,” she admitted, “but I have not solved one.” She noted that the puzzles would certainly enjoy favor everywhere.  “The whole world is a puzzle just now,” she noted.  The Russian party left New York for Philadelphia at ten in the morning, and at the special request of the Grand Duchess, Mrs. Loomis joined the Imperial party though she had not been originally scheduled to accompany them for the remainder of the tour to Philadelphia and Washington.[11]

Arriving in Philadelphia, the train was met by Mr. and Mrs. William E. Scull, Mr. Alexander Van Rensselaer, and Mr. W. J. Dallas Dixon.  There was a changeover of the Grand Duchess’ guard, as the New York detectives, who had traveled with the Grand Duchess from New York yielded their charge to the Philadelphia police, 12 of whom had been assigned to the Grand Duchess during her stay.[12]  The Grand Duchess was led by a police motorcade to the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel to rest briefly and change, before being the guest-of-honor at a luncheon hosted by Mrs. Scull at the Ritz-Carlton.  Upon her arrival at the hotel, the Grand Duchess was met by reporters and she repeated that she was in the United States solely to thank America for its relief efforts during the war.  Asked if it were true that she had come to gather gold belonging to Nicholas II in an effort to reestablish the monarchy in Russia, the Grand Duchess burst out laughing.  When she had recovered, she addressed the reporter simply but smiling; “I never knew the Emperor had money deposited in the United States.”

The visit, it may have appeared, was on its way to becoming a success.  The Grand Duchess was handsomely received in Philadelphia, and despite the local press deriding the American sponsors of the Grand Duchess’ visit as socially ambitious and attempting to create and define a new social strata in the city of brotherly love, it appeared that all was going well, and that the Grand Duchess was receiving a slowly mounting tide of support and increasing momentum to her trip.   

Grand Duchess Victoria Arrives in Philadelphia, 1924. Footage begins at 4.14.

The dinner on the first night in Philadelphia read like a “Who’s Who” of Main Line Philadelphia Society.  In the “Pink Room” of the Bellevue Strafford Hotel, the Grand Duchess was received by Chapter 2 of the Colonial Dames of America, as well as the Kuhns, Drexels, Biddles, Dukes, Van Rensselaers, and Sculls, before proceeding into the Grand Ballroom for the main entertainments.  The Grand Duchess entered, making a great impression dressed in a black velvet evening gown with silver trim, as the entire room rose to their feet for the Russian Imperial Anthem played by the Philadelphia orchestra engaged for the occasion[13].  Mrs. Scull, wearing the second-class silver medal of the Russian Imperial Red Cross which had been presented to her during the war by the Russian Ambassador Count Cassini on behalf of the Empresses Maria Feodorovna and Alexandra Feodorovna, introduced the Grand Duchess to each of the more than 200 guests who had arrived in Philadelphia for the occasion.

The following day, the Grand Duchess was taken on a tour of Philadelphia, but mostly, the press noted her elegant clothes and comportment, rather than her impressions of the city.  The press commented on her Romanoff heirloom jewelry, fur-trimmed brown suit and matching brown shoes with sensible heels.  It noted that the pale blue accessories worn with her brown ensemble matched her eyes, “the same color as those of her cousin, the Prince of Wales’.”  Despite a degree of  confusion over her title (Philadelphians were not really sure whether she was an empress, a grand duchess, a princess, or “the Queen of Russia”), her important status was acknowledged by the people of the city.[14]  The Grand Duchess left Philadelphia for Washington, and one may presume that she and her party were in high spirits.  Press reports do not indicate anything other than smooth sailing, until the Grand Duchess arrived in Washington.  As the Grand Duchess and her party made their way towards the nation’s capital and the very large events there planned by Mrs. Lansing, word may have come to the party that all was not well in New York.  

On the eleventh, a piece was published from Paris via the Chicago Tribune which ran in the New York Times, claiming that 300,000 émigrés had sworn to back Grand Duke Nicholas, and that the remains of the Russian Imperial Army had sworn loyalty to him.  The article further went on to outline Grand Duke Nicholas’ plans to create a constitutional assembly, and to list the names of the organizations that supported him, including the Union of Russian Officers Abroad, and the Monarchist and Nationalist Union.   The article roundly denounced Kirill and his claim, and made particular note of the fact that the Parisian papers were full of scorn for the important reception currently being offered Grand Duchess Kirill in the United States, particularly papers which referred to her as the Tsarina.  The article made it clear that while Grand Duke Kirill had the better and only legal claim to the throne, he was “profoundly unpopular” and that most émigrés had thrown their support behind Grand Duke Nicholas, including General Baron Wrangel.  All of this information in the Times appears to have little corroborating support in European papers of the time, indicating that it may, in fact, have simply been a reprint of a propaganda leaflet printed in Paris at the time, sent to New York by supporters of Nicholas [15]

In October, in Europe, Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaevich had given to the press a letter from the Dowager Empress in which she stated that Grand Duke Kirill’s announcement of his assumption of the rights to the throne of August 31 had been “premature,” and further to which, the Grand Duke Nicholas condemned the decision of Grand Duke Kirill.  Grand Duke Kirill issued a stern public response[16], but the thought of the Dowager Empress’ disapproval pained him enormously.  This letter, made public by Grand Duke Nicholas, was later revealed by Grand Duchess Xenia[17]not to have been written by the Dowager Empress herself, but by several people close to Grand Duke Nicholas, and brought to the infirm Dowager Empress for her signature.[18][19]  While this incident was finished in Europe, it had not even begun in the American press. 

Princess Serge Belosselsky-Belozersky, Née Miss Susan Tucker Whittier of New York.

Princess Serge Belosselsky-Belozersky, Née Miss Susan Tucker Whittier of New York.

On the morning of the twelfth, however, New York banker Ernest Iselin called the press and made available to them the full text of the of the October letters of the Dowager Empress and the Grand Duke Nicholas.  When asked by the press how he had acquired the full text of these letters that had only been published in part in Europe, Iselin replied that the letters “had been sent to him by his brother- in- law, a native Russian, who said that the Empress had requested that they receive publicity in this country.”[20]   Mr. Iselin’s wife, Pauline, was born Pauline Whittier of New York.  Pauline’s sister, Susan Tucker Whittier, had married Prince Serge Konstantinovich Belosselsky-Belozersky in 1894[21], and calling at the Belosselsky palace on Krestovsky Island in St. Petersburg had become de rigeurfor every important American visiting the Russian capital.  Prince Belosselsky’s father had been an adjutant to Alexander III, and his brother, Espère Konstantinovich, had served the Dowager Empress on the Imperial yacht Shtandart.  

The wedding of HH Princess Nadejda of Russia to Prince Nicholas Orlov, Crimea, 1919. Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich is far left front, and Mr. ISelin’s sister-in-law, mother of the groom, Princess Olga Orlova is at far right rear.

The wedding of HH Princess Nadejda of Russia to Prince Nicholas Orlov, Crimea, 1919. Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich is far left front, and Mr. ISelin’s sister-in-law, mother of the groom, Princess Olga Orlova is at far right rear.

Their sister, Princess Olga Orlova (born Belosselskaya-Belozerskaya) had fled to the Crimea during the Revolution, where her son, Prince Nicholas Orlov, married Princess Nadezhda Petrovna of Russia, Grand Duke Nicholas’ niece.  Princess Orlova’s importance and political influence was widely recognized before the Revolution, even abroad by the foreign press.[22]It would have been a simple matter for the supporters of Grand Duke Nicholas to reach the American press through the important American family connections of the Belosselsky-Belozerskys to the Iselins.[23]

The combination of the first article about the support of Grand Duke Nicholas and the subsequent press conference by Mr. Iselin must have jarred the Grand Duchess and her retinue, now arriving in Washington; and the first news reports that reached New York about the Grand Duchess’ arrival in DC reflected the very difficult position in which the Grand Duchess suddenly found herself in the nation’s capital-- at odds with the press, and now also with official American policy towards the former Russia and the new Soviet Union.

While the US had not yet recognized the Soviet Union, and a great many American businessmen had lost money during the Revolution through the Soviet nationalizations of property and the USSR’s refusal to pay off Imperial debt, the United States was not prepared to receive the Grand Duchess as the wife of a head of state, or to acknowledge her husband as Emperor-in-exile.

While Grand Duchess Victoria was received handsomely by her hostesses and was met at Union Station by the Lansings and many other distinguished former members of the Government under President Wilson, there were no Imperial Flags, no motorcades, and no suite of police officers as there had been in New York and Philadelphia.  Washington DC sent only a small honor guard composed of district policemen to welcome the Grand Duchess, more as a courtesy to Mrs. Lansing, who, together with other women of the diplomatic circles, had been pressing the State Department for attention for weeks.  

The Willard hotel, Washington DC, ca. 1920.

The Willard hotel, Washington DC, ca. 1920.

The Washington and New York papers reported that Mrs. Lansing’s requests to the State Department for official recognition, an invitation to the White House, a government-sponsored reception, and even to borrow an Imperial flag to be flown at the Willard were summarily denied.  It was explained that only to visitors with official status could any Federal honors be given, and that as “the United States recognizes no government in Russia, officials see no way in which they may take official notice of the presence of the wife of the Grand Duke.”  Perhaps instructed to do so, Mrs. Coolidge left the White House with no excuses and departed Washington for several days, perhaps to avoid even an accidental meeting.[24]  The news from New York and the snub from official Washington did not deter Mrs. Lansing. Determined that her Imperial guest would receive the honors that she was due, Mrs. Lansing outdid herself.

Finding an Imperial flag somewhere, Mrs. Lansing set up a reception room at the Willard where Grand Duchess Victoria could receive the members of the Russian community of the district, as well as members of the diplomatic community of all nations, both retired and active, who came to meet and to receive her thanks for their participation in relief to the Russians during the First World War.  After the reception, the Grand Duchess returned to the Presidential Suite at the Willard to rest and to change, and then dined at eight o’clock with Mrs. Loomis and her retinue.  At ten o’clock, the party went down to the Grand Ballroom of the Willard.  

The Grand Ballroom of the Willard was filled with over 700 guests when the Grand Duchess arrived on the arm of Mr. Lansing. Mrs. Lansing was accompanied by many members of Washington society, including Mrs. Frederick Dent Grant, the daughter-in-law of President Ulysses S. Grant, and mother of Princess Julia Cantacuzène, Countess Spéransky.  An “Imperial Box” had been constructed along the side of the ballroom, and the orchestra had been moved to accommodate the new arrangement.  A musical program was followed by dancing and a late supper. The ball was later described as the “finest private entertainment Washington had seen since before the war” though it was noted everywhere that “official” Washington had largely ignored the event—“There was a conspicuous absence of officials.”[25]

Grand Duchess Cyril at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, arlington cemetery, 1924.

Grand Duchess Cyril at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, arlington cemetery, 1924.

The next day, the Grand Duchess was taken on a tour of Washington’s sites, but the most important part of the day, and the whole reason for her trip to Washington, was her wreath-laying visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.  The Grand Duchess’ attendants laid her wreath, and the Grand Duchess left a single rose on the tomb. After what must have been a solemn luncheon in the company of the Washington Colonial Dames and the remains of the supporters of the Russian Relief Fund, the Grand Duchess and her suite boarded a train and returned to New York.

A press feeding-frenzy greeted the Grand Duchess on her return to the Waldorf-Astoria.  Despite repeated requests for interviews about the Dowager Empress’ letter and Grand Duke Nicholas’ accompanying statement, there was no personal comment from the Grand Duchess.  An official statement was released, stating that the Grand Duchess’ remaining time in New York was very tightly scheduled and that she would be unable to make any comments concerning the criticisms until a later time.  That evening, the Grand Duchess was the guest of honor at a formal dinner given by Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer at her house on East 71stStreet.

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas, East 97th Street, New York

The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas, East 97th Street, New York

The following day, the Grand Duchess attended a full memorial service, or litiya,[26]for the assassinated Imperial Family at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Nicholas on East 97th Street, where she was received with the full honors due an Empress.  Following the service, the Grand Duchess attended a luncheon given in her honor by Mrs. Charles B. Alexander, and then later attended a reception for the Russian community in New York at the Plaza Hotel, organized by Mr. Boris Brasol.  The event at the Plaza was well attended, even despite the growing anti-legitimist press. A story began to circulate that Countess Tolstoy, “a niece of the writer Leo Tolstoy,” had arrived in New York and that she maintained that the support of the Russian émigrés in London and Paris was solidly behind Grand Duke Nicholas and that the claim of Grand Duke Kirill was “not tenable.”[27]  

This report is quite interesting for two reasons.  First, it was disseminated all over the United States through syndication, often accompanied by a picture of Count Tolstoy’s daughter, Alexandra (then still living in the Soviet Union); and second, Count Tolstoy had no nieces.  The Countess Tolstoy who arrived in New York was, in fact, the English-born wife of the head of the senior branch of the Tolstoy family, Paul Tolstoy.  Earlier that year, Madame Tolstoy’s husband had supported Grand Duke Kirill’s claim, and several years later, by a decree of the Grand Duke Kirill dated October 8, 1930, Paul Sergeievich Tolstoy was authorized by Grand Duke Kirill to append the name of his ancestors the Miloslavskys to his name and adopt the title of Count.[28] In fact, according to an interview with a Tolstoy family member, the purpose of the Countess’ trip was to begin the process of securing this title and augmentation. It is difficult to see why any Tolstoy would announce to the press that Grand Duke Kirill’s position was untenable if they were simultaneously seeking a titular confirmation from him. It seems clear that the news report is at best inaccurate, and at worst a damaging fabrication.

Mrs. cornelius vanderbilt’s Louis XV dining room at 640 fifth avenue, New York

Mrs. cornelius vanderbilt’s Louis XV dining room at 640 fifth avenue, New York

That evening, the Grand Duchess attended a dinner at the great house of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt at 640 Fifth Avenue. Grace Vanderbilt was known for the splendors of her entertainments, and the dinner for Grand Duchess Victoria was no exception.  Many of the major social and political figures in New York were there.  Official Washington might have turned its back on the Grand Duchess, but cosmopolitan New York would do no such thing.  The list of guests who dined in Grace Vanderbilt’s Louis XVI dining room reads like the Social Register, filled with Astors, Vanderbilts, Whitneys, Morgans, Phippses, Van Rensselaers, Livingstons, Bakers, Dukes, and Webbs.  The Cantacuzènes, Shouvaloffs, and Troubetskoys were in attendance, and even the Countess Tolstoy made the list.

Grand Duchess Victoria released an official statement the next day: she published two complete English translations of Grand Duke Kirill’s Manifesto, the full texts of both letters made public by Grand Duke Nicholas, and Grand Duke Kirill’s responses to them.  She added an important coda: a statement from Grand Duke Kirill’s Paris headquarters which had been widely published in Europe, but not yet seen in the United States—which contained the following quote:

There are and there can be no aspirants nor candidates for the Russian throne other than the Romanoff dynasty, and as to that dynasty, the Russian Law is precise and imperative in designating the Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich to be the direct and legitimate heir to the Russian throne upon the death of the Emperor Nicholas, as well as that of his son and his brother.  The succession to the throne has always been announced to the Russian people directly through proclamation of the Emperor who has ascended the throne.[29]

 This statement is important to westerners seeking to understand the process of Russian Succession: the use of the phrase “self-styled” or “self-proclaimed” was often used to diminish Kirill, implying that he was the only person who saw himself as Emperor, and that the manifesto was somehow an illegal or usurpatory act.  In fact, unlike Western Europe, where the accession of a monarch is frequently announced by a parliament or by a chief officer of the court, in Russia, each Emperor announced his own accession for the same reason they crowned themselves at the coronation;  under Russian Imperial Law, the Emperor was the ultimate authority, and no one but the Emperor could make such an announcement.  Kirill was simply following the Fundamental Laws to the letter with his manifesto of 1924.  Copies of the letters written by Grand Duke Kirill made their rounds, and Countess Orlov made a statement on behalf of the Grand Duchess:

The Grand Duchess Cyril regrets that 
certain ill-informed persons should have
 taken the occasion of her visit to this
 country to publish certain documents 
and correspondence In an effort to
 ascribe a political significance to her
 visit in spite of her previous disavowal
 of such intent. This correspondence has
 been public property in Europe since September last. The publication of the
 single letter from the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna cannot but give a
 false and misleading impression without
 the knowledge of the antecedent correspondence to which it was written in 
reply.  Solely in the interests of a correction of this false impression, the 
Grand Duchess wishes me to give to the 
press copies of the English translation 
of the preceding letters written by her 
husband, the Grand Duke Cyril, to the
 Dowager Empress and to his uncle, the
 Grand Duke Nicholas, without comment
 from her.[30]

the Old Metropolitan opera house, broadway at 39th street, New York

the Old Metropolitan opera house, broadway at 39th street, New York

The Grand Duchess’ remaining time in New York included the highlight of her visit to the city.  On Monday night, December 15  the Grand Duchess was joined by her American friends Mrs. Loomis and Mrs. Lansing in the center box of the “golden horseshoe” of the old Metropolitan Opera. Surrounded by her American supporters including the key members of the Colony Club, the Colonial Dames, and the social circle of the Pulitzers, Astors, Vanderbilts, and Bakers, Grand Duchess Victoria and her suite enjoyed the production of Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, with the extraordinary cast of Beniamino Gigli and Rosa Ponselle, who were reprising their roles from the inaugural production at the Met in 1921.  The young Lawrence Tibbett joined the cast in the role of Fléville, and in a last minute switch, the role of the Comtesse de Coigny (to have been played by Kathleen Howard) was played by the young Russian soprano Ina Bourskaya. Mme. Bourskaya, according to reporters “seemed nervous and ill at ease…” but, the review continued, “Her beautiful voice was in excellent condition and she sang her music extremely well.”  It is quite certain Mme. Bourskaya knew who was in the audience: We know from a review of the performance that “It was a good performance on the whole, and in these days audiences rarely hear three such voices together as those of Miss Ponselle and Messers [sic] Gigli and Ruffo.  The ovations were particularly passionate as Mme. Bourskaya made her bows to the audience, and then, gesturing to the center box, sank with a profound curtsey to honor the Grand Duchess Cyril of Russia who has come from Germany to visit.”[31]After the memorable performance, the suite of the Grand Duchess and the Monday Night Opera Club retreated again to Sherry’s, where a light late supper was served.  The Grand Duchess left early as she was to sail the following day.

Speaking to the press one last time the following morning, the Grand Duchess, it was noted, was “Looking better in health and in spirits than she did on her arrival in New York ten days ago.” The Grand Duchess reiterated her opinion that her trip had never had a political motive, and that she had not collected any money during her time there.  “I found American society quite charming and most cordial,” she remarked, “Everyone has treated me so kindly here.”[32]Her last gesture, before boarding the France, was to turn to the four officers who had been with her on her trip and whom she had so admired, and to give each of them a signed portrait.[33]

To reiterate the fact that no funds had been collected by the Grand Duchess and that she had been the personal guest of the Monday Night Opera Club, the Colonial Dames of America, and private members of society in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, a separate statement was issued by Mrs. Loomis to the Times, saying that the travel arrangements of the Grand Duchess had been an entirely private matter.[34]

The First Class Grand Foyer and staircase of the SS  France, ca. 1925.

The First Class Grand Foyer and staircase of the SS France, ca. 1925.

The Grand Duchess, it seems, had an uneventful return to Le Havre on the France, and greeted the press in Europe with the same kind enthusiasm she had shown during her American stay.  She told the press she was grateful for the kindness shown to her in the United States, and that “If everybody copied the Americans’ upright common sense,” she said, “there would be less trouble in the world.” Asked if she thought that America needed a monarchy, the Grand Duchess laughed; “America,” she said, “needs nothing. She is getting along beautifully.” With that, the official trip of the Grand Duchess ended, and she returned to her family in Coburg after lunching with friends in Paris.[35]

The Grand Duchess’ final nights in New York and her effective diffusion of the tense political situation generated by the pro-Nicholas faction’s release of the already discredited letters of the Grand Duke Nicholas had passed and New York went back about its regular business. But on Christmas Day, 1924, an unexpected visitor arrived from Italy in the Duilio.  

Prince Serge Romanovsky, Duke of Leuchtenberg, the grandson of Emperor Nicholas I, arrived in New York as the guest of Mr. and Mrs. Ernesto Fabbri, the friends of Mr. Cunliffe-Owen.  It does seem that Prince Romanovsky would have had to leave Italy the minute he heard that Grand Duchess Kirill had left in order to arrive ten days after her departure.

HSH Prince Serge Romanovsky, 8th Duke of Leuchtenberg, ca. 1916.

HSH Prince Serge Romanovsky, 8th Duke of Leuchtenberg, ca. 1916.

“I am the cousin of Grand Duke Cyril,” the prince told the press, on his arrival. “But I am decidedly not his friend.” The prince outlined his reasons for objecting to Grand Duke Kirill’s claim: that Kirill had supported the Kerensky Government, that his claims to the throne were based solely on traditions that had no more validity, and that whoever overthrew the communists should be the one appointed to the throne.[36]Prince Romanovsky had lived since the Revolution under the protection of his aunt, the Queen of Italy—Grand Duke Nicholas’ wife’s sister.  He was to remain in New York for two months, staying with the Fabbris, meeting New York society, making every effort to undermine the reputation of Grand Duke Kirill and Grand Duchess Victoria, and dissembling the nature of the Russian Laws of Succession to eager listeners during lectures. 

While in New York, he also gave a public performance of his own compositions, as well as conducting a concert of church music with costumed dancers at the Plaza Hotel.[37]The prince enjoyed New York so much he ended up staying the whole year, singing with vaudeville acts at private parties, and ending his trip in October by filing for a Surrogate’s Court claim to the control the remainder of the Emperor’s fortune that he heard might exist—the same rumored fortune Grand Duchess Victoria had smiled at and the existence of which she had denied outright.[38]The case was later thrown out of court as a frivolous and unsubstantiated claim.  Prince Romanovsky-Leuchtenberg never married, and died childless in Rome in 1974, the last of his line.

HH Princess irina, princess yousoupoff, & her husband, prince felix yousoupoff, count sumarokoff-elston.

HH Princess irina, princess yousoupoff, & her husband, prince felix yousoupoff, count sumarokoff-elston.

In 1925, Prince Felix Youssoupoff, the husband of HH Princess Irina of Russia, received a letter from New York which he kept in his personal files, the envelope marked “Letter Concerning the Visit of Grand Duchess Victoria to New York, in February, 1925”. The letter from an unknown friend in New York read:

We have had here the visit of the Grand Duchess Cyril — such a scandal there never was, and which for us monarchists was more than distressing. She had been invited to be exhibited like a curious beast by a ladies' club [who] paid for her travel expenses, her hotel, taxis, and even the gowns and lingerie she had ordered. The satirical newspapers have published absolutely despicable caricatures, and all the dirtiest Jews that New York contains gathered at the Church to throw flowers at her and receive smiles. Her aide-de-camp, who has driven everywhere, is an Armenian carpet merchant named Djamgaroff, a scoundrel. And in Washington, where she very foolishly and stubbornly wanted to make a visit to the White House, Ms. Coolidge made her wait in the antechamber for a quarter of an hour, only to finish by saying that she was busy. Everything has been a strong and sad exhibition of stupidity and ridicule. [39]

While the letter is full of the gossip, anti-semitism, and outright fabrications (the Grand Duchess received nothing from her hosts except their hospitality, and the “visit” to the White House is an outright fabrication, this is clearly the image that was received and presented to the Russian emigration, who, sadly were to remain unaware of the good will and the sizable voluntary donations from America which were to be contributed to Russian causes in Europe. It has been suggested that the letter came from Prince Romanovsky-Leuchtenberg himself, who was not even in New York at the time.

In 1939, after the death of Grand Duke Kirill, his memoirs “My Life in Russia’s Service: Then and Now” were published. The period after the revolution remaining unfinished, his son, Grand Duke Vladimir finished the memoirs in a section he wrote himself, reconstructing the post 1920 period from his father’s letters and daily diary entries.  Vladimir Kirillovich chose to highlight his mother’s visit to the United States as an important moment in his parents’ lives together—a testament to the importance of American support for the legitimist cause;

Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, ca. 1930.

Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna, ca. 1930.

In November 1924 Mother received an invitation to 
visit the United States, and was away for a month. She 
was very well received in America, where a number of big 
receptions were organized in her honour. The moral
 success of her visit was very considerable, which was only 
natural, as she was an exceptional woman in every sense.
 Her brilliant intellect, her profound knowledge of life, and
 her great presence never failed to win the hearts of all
 with whom she came in contact.

In accepting this invitation my mother had one end
in view - to further my father's cause in America, and in 
this she undoubtedly succeeded. It was rumoured at the
 time that her object was to collect funds, but this was
 untrue. Mother had no such object in mind, and considered it far more important to establish connections with 
prominent Americans who were interested in the Russian

Mother's journey was a cause of great anxiety to 
Father, and he eagerly awaited news from her all the 

Perhaps the final word on the visit of Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna comes from Harald Graf, head of the Chancellery-in-Exile, who deeply regretted that the visit ultimately fell into a sort of self-sabotage. Too many emigrés objected to the visit, and some of the members of the highest nobility were insulted to see their Sovereign lady on a charity tour. Graf mentions that he was deeply pained that the donations which were inspired by the Grand Duchess’ visit were ultimately given by Mrs. Loomis to the International Red Cross, as the Committee for Russian Relief had been disbanded in 1924. Graf believed that if those unsolicited donations had been given instead to the Russian Imperial House and had been allowed to be distributed by them to the relief charities they supported in Paris, Coburg, and Berlin, a great many Russians would have been helped and support for the Imperial House would have grown among émigrés. The Grand Duchess refused to accept any of the funds which were accumulated as a result of the visit. Sadly, the Grand Duchess was castigated by her family and many Russians for attempting such a bold effort.

It is poignant to remember that the idea for the trip began when Grand Duchess Victoria’s sister, Queen Marie of Romania, introduced her to Mrs. Spreckles through whom Mrs. Loomis was introduced. Grand Duchess Victoria wrote extensively to her sister about the trip and its organizers, and ultimately about her disappointment in the final result.

Queen Marie however, thought that the charity tour idea still had merit, and so on the 18th of October 1926, HM Queen Marie of Romania arrived in New York to cheering crowds and a ticker-tape parade. Invited by businessman Sam Hill and danseuse Loïe Fuller, Queen Marie arrived with her two youngest children, Prince Nicolas and Princess Ileana for an American-Canadian tour that would net Romanian charities millions. What was unacceptable for Grand Duchess Victoria was widely praised when done by Queen Marie. Grand Duchess Victoria was, perhaps, a bit too “modern” for people’s taste, and as always, perhaps, a little ahead of her time.

The visit of Grand Duchess Victoria Feodorovna to the United States is a fine illustration of several constants: that the Russian Imperial House has a long and fruitful history of relationships with Americans via visits to the US, that the Imperial House has always felt the United States and its people to be kind and generous and has considered American support important, and that it remains grateful for American support for Russia and for Russians abroad.  


[1]Erin Allsop, Waldorf-Astoria Archivist, Telephone interview and email exchange, 6 February 2014.

[2]The original Hotel Waldorf was built along 34th Street, and its construction heralded the transition of New York’s Murray Hill neighborhood from an affluent residential area, home to the Astors and the Morgans, to a commercial one.  Objecting to the noise and construction, Caroline Backhouse Astor (“The” Mrs. Astor) sold her adjacent house on Fifth Avenue to her hotelier nephew, Waldorf Astor. The Astor mansion, with its ballroom where New York’s “Four Hundred” had danced was demolished, and on the site was built the “Astoria” hotel, later combined with the Waldorf to become the Waldorf-Astoria.

[3]Mr. Brasol was later to become the first American President of the Pushkin Society, as well as the Russian Imperial Union-Order, a legitimist-monarchist organization founded in 1928 which still exists in the US and in Russia in full support of the restoration of a legitimist monarchy in Russia in the person of Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna.

[4]“Grand Duchess Discovers Crossword Puzzle”, New York Times, 9 December 1924

[5]“I was shown one of these puzzles, and have been working at them ever since,” the Grand Duchess told a reporter. “You know, one has to be shown their way about a bit in these puzzles.”  The Grand Duchess ordered several copies to take home with her. (ibid.)

[6]Julia Josephine Stimson Loomis, “Letter to Mrs. P(ell?) February [no date] 1925, Private collection.

[7]Which the Times carefully reported as from “The Thunderbird”

[8]George Fisher Baker, Jr. (1840-1931) was the son of the co-founder of the First National Bank of New York and the Harvard Business School.  Twice as rich as JP Morgan, Baker and his wife the former Edith Brevoort Kane were old New Yorkers with new money in the 1920’s.  The long friendship between the Bakers and New York’s Russian community ended up in the sale of the Baker mansion on Park Avenue to the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.

[9]“Duchess Predicts Monarchy’s Return” New York Times, 10 December, 1924.



[12]“Grand Duchess Cyril Visits Philadelphia”, New York Times,11 December, 1924.

[13] “Society Welcomes ‘Czarina’ to Philadelphia, Guarded by Police”, The Evening Bulletin,10 December, 1924.


[15]“Back Duke Nicholas for Czar of Russia,” New York Times, 11 December 1924. While Wrangel’s own memoirs note that Grand Duke Nicholas’ popularity with soldiers increased as the First World War went on, and that his liberal democratic views became increasingly popular, nowhere that the author can find does any source suggest that General Baron Wrangel ever officially placed his support behind Grand Duke Nicholas as a candidate for a restoration.  While Baron Wrangel certainly did not wholeheartedly support Grand Duke Kirill, (See GD Kirill, “My Life in Russia’s Service…” p. 221-222)  Wrangel and Grand Duke Nicholas did work together heading the “All-Russian Military Union” as former soldiers of the Empire, but there is no suggestion that Wrangel ever saw Nicholas Nicholaevich as Sovereign or a legitimate pretender to the throne.  There are no sources that this author can find that support the existence of a “Monarchist and Nationalist Union” or even a source that can corroborate the numbers of the membership of the “Union of Russian Officers Abroad.”  This article may be no more than a reprint of a pro-Nicholas pamphlet circulating in France at this time.  In fact, Grand Duke Kirill admired Baron Wrangel greatly, and on the Baron’s death in 1928, he wrote to Wrangel’s daughter in sympathy.  (Graf, p. 155) “His Majesty had always had the greatest respect for Wrangel, recognizing his merits in fighting the Bolsheviks. He sent a cable of condolence to his widow expressing his sincerest sympathy.”

[16]The full text of Grand Duke Kirill’s response began: “It was with a feeling of the most profound sadness of heart that I read the letter of 21 September/4 October of this year of Her Imperial Majesty, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, to Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, which the latter then made public, and in which Her Majesty states that she finds Our adoption of the title of Emperor of All the Russias that was proclaimed in My Manifesto of 31 August, to be premature. Still more deplorable are the remarks added to this letter in the name of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, who permitted Himself in these remarks even to condemn My decision….” Grand Duke Kirill, “Announcement of Emperor Kirill I concerning the Published Letters of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich, Commenting on the Adoption by Kirill of the Title of Emperor” Russian Imperial House, accessed 22 June 2014

[18]Graf, p. 184-185

[19]It is also interesting to note that the extant diaries of the Dowager Empress were published in a Russian translation from the original Danish in their entirety in 2005.  The Empress’ diaries for 1921 and 1922 do not exist, and they end on 29 August of 1923. Grand Duke Kirill’s announcement that he would assume the role of “curator” of the throne was 8 August of 1924, and his announcement of his accession was 31 August 1924. There is, thus, no record of the Dowager Empress’ actual opinions on his succession other than the letter denounced by Grand Duchess Xenia as not written by her, but by supporters of Nicholas Nicholaevich.

[20]“Mother of the Czar Denounces Cyril,”, New York Times,13 December 1924

[21] “Three Wedding Ceremonies for Miss Whittier of New-York”New York Times, 9 October 1894.

[22]“Russia Ruled by A Woman—Princess Orloff is Muscovy’s real Autocrat” The Rideau Record, 4 September 1913.  Acc, 22 June 2014,2616446The tabloid headline of this piece is terrible, but it contains useful information about Princess Orlova’s connections and influence at court. Princess Olga Konstantinovna Orlova, née Princess Belosselskaya-Belozerskaya, was among the most important figures in St. Petersburg society.  Her father’s family was central during the reign of Alexander III, and her husband was in Nicholas II’s inner circle.  As a result, Princess Orlova was a bridge between the two generations often at odds with one another.  Pious, charitable, and a great supporter of the arts, Princess Orlova left St. Petersburg for the Crimea during the revolution, where her son, Nicholas Orlov married Grand Duke Nicholas’ niece, HH Princess Nadezhda Petrovna. She left Russia in 1919 on the HMS Marlborough with the Dowager Empress, and died in 1923 [cf. Welch, Frances, The Russian Court at Sea, (London: Short Books, Ltd., 2011)].

[23]The author does not wish to imply that either Princess Orlova or her brother Prince Belosselsky-Belozersky were knowing accomplices in a plot to undermine the Grand Duchess Kirill during her visit to the United States—this is only to point out that if, as the author believes, they were instructed by pro-Nicholas courtiers to make the documents public on the Dowager Empress’ behalf, they would have done so without question or hesitation out of their longstanding loyalty to the Dowager Empress and their newly close marital relations to the Russian Imperial Family through HH Princess Nadezhda Petrovna’s marriage to Prince Orlov.  They were well-placed to do so.

[24]“Grand Duchess Gets No Official Honors”, New York Times,12 December, 1924.

[25]“Visitor Greeted at Fête,” The Washington Post, 12 December 1924.

[26]Special Russian Orthodox commemorative prayer service.

[27]“Duchess is Silent on Attack on Kirill”, New York Times, 14 December 1924

[28]Letopis' Istoriko-rodoslovnago obshchestva v Moskve.Moscow, 1905-1915 and 1993 sq., cit. 1992 2(46), pp. 80-81.

[29]“Duchess is Silent on Attack on Kirill”, New York Times, 14 December 1924

[30]“Cyril Sought Aid of Czar’s Mother”, New York Times, 15 December 1924

[31]“Andrea Chénier”, New York Sun, 15 December1924

[32]“Grand Duchess Off, Pleased With Visit”, New York Times, 17 December, 1924


[34]“Opera Club Denies Diversion of Funds to Entertain Grand Duchess”, New York Times, 18 December 1924.  Several weeks after Grand Duchess Victoria’s departure, a press agent made spurious claims that he was owed money by the Grand Duchess for services provided during her visit, and that she had made a fortune during her trip—again there is no evidence for this, and the article appears during the Romanovsky-Leuchtenberg visit to New York.

[35]“Grand Duchess Cyril Sings Our Praise”, New York Times, 24 December 1924.

[36]“Czar’s Cousin Here, Derides Duke Cyril”, New York Times, 26 December 1924.

[37]“Prince Gives a Concert”, New York Times, 25 March 1925

[38], “Seeks Czar’s Cash if Any Is Here”, New York Times7 October 1925

[39] Letter quoted in original French, catalogue “Collection du Prince et de la Princesse Youssoupoff” 13-14 November, 2014, Couteau-Bergerie, Paris, Lot 122

[40]Grand Duke Kirill “My Life in Russia’s Service; Then and Now,” (London: Selwyn & Blount 1939.) p. 231.