Monday, 14 November 2016

The American Who Slept in the Winter Palace

After the restoration of the Winter Palace in 1840, visitors were once again allowed to tour the State Rooms and the Jewelry Gallery on the 3rd floor.

In 1855, the Minister of the Court approved organized tours of Nicholas I’s study on the 1st floor with a ‘special ticket’. My book will reveal the fascinating details of the replica furniture made for the room prior to its opening.

After the death of Alexander II in 1881, tours of the Winter Palace ceased. In 1884, the Minister of the Court Vorontsov-Dashkov and Chief Marshal Naryshkin agreed to resume the tours, including the rooms of Nicholas I, Empress Alexandra, Alexander II and Empress Marie. Visitors were to be accompanied by a palace guard. To view the study of Alexander II where he died required the personal approval of the Minister of the Court.

In July 1884 letters addressed to the Commandant of the Winter Palace were sent from the embassies and consulates requesting tickets for individuals ‘personally known to them’. The first request was from the English Ambassador; the second from the US Consul for an American family. Many others soon followed; Portugal, France, Crown Prince of Monaco, etc.

During the reign of Nicholas II, foreign and domestic ‘tourists’ continued to visit the Winter Palace in greater numbers.

Diplomatic missions in St. Petersburg had exclusive access to the Winter Palace; attending Imperial ceremonial events, private meetings with the Emperor, etc. Ambassadors and their staff were members of aristocracy and younger sons employed in the foreign service. The costs for diplomats to maintain a residence in St. Petersburg and other capitals required personal wealth.

The Imperial family had personal friends and acquaintances within the American community who recommended individuals for them to meet. Amalia Kussner Coudert painted miniatures of Nicholas II and Alexandra in March 1899. Her article in the American ‘Century Magazine’ in 1906 describes Alexandra’s boudoir in the Winter Palace and Nicholas wrote in his diaries of sittings in the Winter and Alexander palaces.

In June 1917, the American Commission were invited to stay in the Winter Palace. One of its members was Cyrus H. McCormick of Lake Forest, Illinois.

Photograph (below) by C. McCormick of his rooms in the Winter Palace on the 3rd Floor

In the early 1920s, tourists were shown the historical rooms of Nicholas I, Alexander II and Nicholas II. In 1925, the Small Church was added to the tour and visitors paid an extra fee to see its interior. In 1926, the historical rooms were closed and the contents were disbursed and sold.

From the 1840s to the 1930s, Americans of the gilded age and their descendants were guests or toured the Winter Palace. Their family archives contain letters, diaries, photographs, invitations, menus, etc. that I hope researchers will one day publish.

Photographs (below) by Branson DeCou of the Winter Palace in 1931

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