Grigori Rasputin was born on Jan 22, 1869 in a small village in Siberia. Later in life he would become an Russian Orthodox Monk. He had a reputation as a mystic and a healer and picked up the nickname of The Mad Monk because of his unusual ways.
It seems Rasputin and Houdini arrived in Saint Petersburg at roughly the same time 1903. Houdini was in Russia to perform and was a hit in Moscow at the prestigious Yar Restaurant and also other theatres and establishments around Moscow. Houdini was so popular in Russia that the Czar Nicholas sent for him.
Apparently the Russian Royalty had a fascination with mystics and the occult and though Houdini claimed that his feats were all done by legitimate means, he was a wonder worker and it would be easy for superstitious people to attribute unworldly powers to Houdini.
|Houdini in Russia|
In Houdini His Life and Art by James Randi and Burt Sugar, the same 'spiritual adviser incident' is mentioned except in this version of the story, Houdini says wine was served at an elaborate ceremony and Houdini being a teetotaler, declined to drink. This was an insult and he lost favor with the Romanovs. This version of the story is repeated in the Ruth Brandon book on Houdini.
Is it a true story or just Houdini fiction? It's hard to say. The research I've done on the Romanov's shows that they were indeed very superstitious and did hire people they thought were mystics and prophets, which more often than not were just crazy people. Tsarina Alexandra had heard of Rasputin's ability to heal. Her son Alexei was sick with hemophilia and doctors had been unable to bring any relief to the boy. Rasputin seemed to heal the boy or at least ease his pain and so his esteem within the Royal Family grew.
In time however, things turned sour for Rasputin. People within and outside the Royal Family felt he was abusing his role and leading the royals down a dangerous path. On top of that he had a reputation for alcohol and women which did not seem to add up for someone who claimed to be a holy man.
In June of 1914, Rasputin was attacked by a former prostitute. She stabbed Rasputin in the gut and as his entrails burst forth from his body she screamed "I have killed the anti-Christ". Except, Rasputin didn't die. He was operated on and he lived.
Then in December of 1916, another attempt on Rasputin's life took place. First he was poisoned, but he didn't die. Then he was shot several times and didn't die. Then apparently he was beaten and then tied up inside of a carpet and thrown into Neva River. Somehow, he escaped from the confines but was unable to make it out of the icy river. An autopsy showed he had not drowned, so perhaps the multiple gun shot wounds along with the severe beating and the poison finally got him.
When I read of Rasputin's death, I couldn't help but think of Houdini. Many people think he died inside the Water Torture Cell, mainly due to the Tony Curtis movie on Houdini which ended that way. We know a punch to the stomach in Montreal had something to do with it. But some speculate that perhaps the punch had been a murder attempt by angry spiritualists. There is much debate about a punch being able to cause an appendix to burst. And if I'm correct, did not the authors of Houdini-The Making of America's First Superhero make the claim that Houdini might have been poisoned!? Regardless of the what, why or how, Houdini's death is as strange as that of Rasputin.
Houdini only made one tour of Russia in 1903. He never again returned. The Silverman book on Houdini says "Houdini left Russia with a feeling of relief and liberation, looking back on the country as "some sort of mild prison" from which he had "managed to escape". These must be Houdini's words as the same sentiment is in other biographies as well.