Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

6 People Who Claimed to Have Been Romanovs

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1917, the House of Romanov had been ruling Russia continuously for more than 300 years when the family was overthrown by the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin. On this date (or possibly yesterday—there’s a debate about exactly when it happened) in 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, along with his wife Alexandra and their five children, met a brutal end: they were shot and stabbed in the basement of the house where they were being held by the Bolsheviks, and the Romanovs’ extended family were either killed or exiled. Nicholas and his family were the last to hold the throne, and their deaths signified a permanent end to the royal family.

Over the years, a number of people have come forward pretending to be exiled members of the Romanov family. Some merely wanted to be famous, while others were convinced that they truly had royal blood coursing through their veins. Today, all members of the immediate family have been identified through DNA evidence as having been killed. 

1. Marga Boodts // Claimed to be Olga

Marga (left); Photo from alexanderpalace // Olga (right); Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

After Marga Boodts married a German officer in 1926, she shared a shocking secret: That she was actually Grand Duchess Olga of the Romanovs. Olga was the first daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra, and her hand in marriage was considered very valuable.

Boodts claimed she'd kept the secret because she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. She said that she was being supported by her uncle, Kaiser Wilhelm II, until his death, and she promised him she wouldn’t tell anyone for “the protection of [her] own life.” 

She went public with her claims when Anna Anderson (see below) decided to come out with her own claims of Romanov ancestry. Boodts wanted to destroy Anderson’s credibility while supporting her own. She even wrote a book about everything she had supposedly gone through as a run-away Romanov, but it was never published.

Boodts died in 1976 and was buried under the name “Olga Nikolaevna”; the grave was supposedly ruined in 1995.

2. Larissa Tudor // Rumored to be Tatiana

Larissa's grave (left); Photo from // Tatiana (right); Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Larissa Tudor married Owen Frederick Morton Tudor in 1923 and lived a very uneventful life with her husband until she died three years later, when she was just 28. Larissa never claimed to be Tatiana, the second daughter in the Romanov family, but rumors arose after her death.

When Larissa died, she left Owen with a large inheritance; its origins were unknown. More than 60 years later, author Michael Occleshaw discovered some inconsistencies in Larissa’s story. He found that she was buried under the name “Larissa Feodorovna,” even though her marriage certificate said “Haouk.” She looked similar to Tatiana and some neighbors, when seeing portraits of Tatiana, said the woman was Larissa. 

Occleshaw wrote a book detailing the events and how Tatiana would have escaped and how she could have come to be known as Larissa, although his theory was later disproven. 

3 and 4. “Granny” Alina and Ceclava Czapska // Said to be Maria by their grandsons

Alina and Ceclava never publicly claimed to be the third daughter of the tsar, Maria, themselves, but both of their grandsons later said they were without a doubt the Grand Duchess.

Alina (left); Photo from alexanderpalace // Maria (right); Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Granny Alina, according to her grandson, mysteriously showed up in South Africa and supposedly told her family there that she was a princess, but couldn’t tell anyone else out of fear of being shipped back to Russia. She died in 1969, and, in 2004, her grandson took her claims public. George Negus Tonight, an Australian program that focused on current events in the early 2000s, ran a show on it, and while the family was still investigating, the story was more or less closed.

Ceclava (left); Photo from alexanderpalace // Maria (right); Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Alexis Brimeyer also claimed that his grandmother was Maria, but his claims were taken significantly less seriously because he had a history of faking noble titles. He started with “His Serene Highness Prince Khevenhüller-Abensberg,” which he quickly gave up after he was sued by the actual Princess Khevenhüller.

After the legal dust settled, he took on several other names before claiming that his grandmother was actually Maria and that made him a Romanov as well. Brimeyer died in 1995, but not before he also laid claim to the Serbian throne. Until 2007, these conspiracies didn't seem especially farfetched, because there were a son and daughter missing from the skeletons discovered. But that year, the missing Romanovs were discovered, proving both Brimeyer's and Alina’s claims false.  

5. Anna Anderson, a.k.a. Franziska Shanzkowska // Claimed to be Anastasia

Anna (left); Getty Images // Anastasia (right); Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Since 1918, dozens of women have claimed to be Anastasia, the fourth and youngest daughter in the Romanov family, but Anderson is by far the most famous imposter. Her story begins when she tried to commit suicide in Berlin in 1920 and refused to tell anyone her name. Two years later, she began telling people that she was the Grand Duchess.

Some people who knew the Grand Duchess backed up her claims, including family friends and Russian officials. But when relatives of the tsar investigated Anderson’s claims, they discovered that she was actually Franziska Shanzkowska, a woman who had suffered a series of tragic events and had not been heard from since around the time Anderson was found in the canal. Her family later denied her when Nazis threatened to throw her in jail if she was found to be Shanzkowska.

In 1928, she came to live in the United States at the expense of Xenia Leeds, a Russian princess who was distantly related to the Romanovs and living with her American husband. After a failed attempt to claim the Romanov estate, she moved from place to place before ending up in Germany. Once there, she again tried to get ahold of the estate and failed. She returned to the United States in 1968, where she married a wealthy man, and spent her final years in an institutional care facility.

Anderson claimed she was Anastasia until her death in 1984, but DNA evidence proved otherwise in the '90s.

6. Michael Goleniewski // Claimed to be Alexei

Michael (left); Photo from alexanderpalace // Alexei (right); Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Alexei was the youngest child and only son of Nicholas II, and a real problem for the communist regime in Russia. Like Anastasia, Alexei had quite a few claims to his name.

Michael Goleniewski lived a much less exciting life than Anderson, likely because so few believed his claims. He was born in Poland, and worked as a spy for the Soviet Union while employed for the Polish Secret Service, but he ended up working for the CIA and MI5

Goleniewski defected to America in 1961 and was made a citizen by a private bill passed by both houses of Congress. Once in the States, he began to claim that he was Tsarevich Alexei and that the rest of the family was alive and in hiding somewhere in Europe. In 1963Goleniewski had a reunion with another "Anastasia," a Rhode Island imposter named Eugenia Smith.

Unfortunately for Goleniewski, documents proved he was born and raised in Poland and 18 years younger than Alexei. The tsarevich also had hemophilia, a blood disorder that makes clotting difficult, which was never confirmed in Goleniewski. 

The CIA was not happy with Goleniewski for faking something so huge and ended his employment. Still, the wannabe Romanov claimed to know about the tsar’s money and even managed to spark an investigation. Like Anderson, he claimed to be Alexei until his death. 

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


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