Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia // Public Domain
Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Rasputin’s Daughter Maria Was as Fascinating as the ‘Mad Monk’ Himself

Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia // Public Domain
Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Over the past century, legend and lore have made the name “Rasputin” synonymous with the fall of Russian imperialism. While urban myth still shrouds much of the truth about the relationship between Tsar Nicholas II and his trusted friend, the life of Grigori Rasputin’s daughter Maria is fascinating in its own right.

While Rasputin is rumored to have fathered illegitimate offspring, he did have children with his wife, Praskovia. Frances Welch’s Rasputin: A Short Life notes that of Praskovia’s seven pregnancies, three children survived to adulthood: Dmitri (born in 1895), Matryona (born in 1898), and Varya (born in 1900). Matryona reportedly changed her name to Maria when she moved to St. Petersburg to be with her father in 1913.

Rasputin with his daughter and followers in St. Petersburg, around 1914. Image via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite surviving numerous assassination attempts, Rasputin was lured into a trap in December 1916. While the exact events are unclear, it's believed he was poisoned, shot, and thrown into the Neva River, where his frozen corpse was eventually found.

Many people came forward pretending to be one of the Romanovs following the family’s 1918 assassination, but many also claimed to be one of Rasputin’s heirs. Vladimir Smirnov, a collector and co-founder of Russia’s first private museum dedicated to Rasputin, described the phenomenon to Russia Behind the Headlines this way: “More than a hundred Marias, Anastastias and Alekseis survived the execution in the cellar of the Ipatiev House. Now it’s the turn of Rasputin’s descendants.”

In the months that followed Rasputin’s death, the Romanov dynasty collapsed, and there is conflicting information about the fates of Rasputin’s oldest and youngest children. The Los Angeles Times reports that after Rasputin died, Maria and Varya were sheltered by the imperial family, but ultimately fled to Siberia. By some reports, Varya died of typhus in 1925, and Dmitri died of dysentery in 1933. Most accounts agree that both of Maria’s siblings passed away at a fairly young age. However, Maria went on to live an extraordinary life.

She returned to St. Petersburg, where she married a White Russian officer, Boris Soloviev. Nicholas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty quotes a passage from Maria’s diary in which she believed her deceased father compelled her to marry Soloviev: “Daddy spoke to us again … Why do they all say the same thing? ‘Love Boris—you must love Boris.’ … I don’t like him at all.”

The couple had two children together—named Tatiana and Maria, for the Grand Duchesses—before Boris died of tuberculosis in 1926. To support her family, Maria became a cabaret dancer.

Maria Rasputin being interviewed by a journalist in 1930. Image via Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia // Public Domain

In the 1930s, she joined the Ringling Bros. Circus as a lion tamer and immigrated to the United States. In a 1977 Associated Press article, Maria explained that she learned to tame wild animals because: “why not? I have been in a cage with Bolsheviks.”

The book Women of the American Circus, 1880-1940 cites the New York Times' description of Maria as she was billed by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in Madison Square Garden: “Daughter of Imperial Russia’s World-Famous Mad Monk and Confidant to the Late Czar.” The book implies that Maria used the Rasputin name as part of her act, “billing herself as performing magic over wild beasts just as her father dominated men.”

Maria Rasputin appearing in Dresden, circa 1935. Image via Getty Images.

Maria’s career in the circus was short-lived, however—she quit after being mauled by a bear. She went on to marry an electrical engineer, and after their divorce in 1945 went to work in a shipyard as a machinist.

Maria tried to set the record straight about her famous father, teaming up with journalist Patte Barham. Together the pair pieced together Maria’s memories and diaries into the book Rasputin: The Man Behind the Myth. It was published in 1977—the same year Maria died.

“My father was a very kind, very holy man,” she told the Associated Press. “Always he thinks of others—never himself, only others. Many people were jealous of him.”

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Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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iStock

Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
11 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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