The mystery of Nikolai Gogol's skull: who needed the classic's head?

Categories: History |

The life and work of Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol has always been shrouded in mysticism. Therefore, is it any wonder that strange and mysterious things happened to the writer even after his death.

There are still rumors that the classic, who was afraid that he would be buried alive, did not escape this fate, and his body was lying on its side, and the lid of the coffin was scratched. But these are all rumors, but the mystery of Gogol's missing head was and remains an unsolved mystery of Russian history.

The mystery of Nikolai Gogol's skull: who needed the classic's head?

Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol died on February 21 (March 4 — new style), 1852 in Moscow and his body was interred in the churchyard of St. Daniel's Monastery. The next time the grave was opened in 1909, during the reconstruction dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the writer, and then in 1931, for the reburial of the remains at the Novodevichy cemetery. It was during the transfer of the remains that it was discovered that there was no head in the burial.

The main source of information about the incident was the writer and local historian Vladimir Lidin (Gomberg), who was directly involved in the exhumation of Gogol's body. The writer wrote an essay "The Transfer of Gogol's ashes", which has already been included in the almanac "Russian Archive: The History of the Fatherland in certificates and documents of the 18th and 19th centuries", published in Moscow in 1994.

The transfer of the writer's grave was due to the fact that the territory of St. Daniel's Monastery was transferred to a shelter for juvenile delinquents, and the cemetery was abolished. In addition to Gogol, it was necessary to reburial the remains of the Slavophile writer A.S. Khomyakov and the poet N.M. Yazykov. Lidin described in great detail the work on extracting the coffin of the great writer:

The mystery of Nikolai Gogol's skull: who needed the classic's head?

Gogol's grave in the cemetery of St. Daniel's Monastery

The coffin was opened at dusk and the members of the commission were amazed at the absence of a head from the body. The writer was buried in a tobacco-colored frock coat, which was well preserved, and even underwear with bone buttons survived under it, but "... Gogol's remains began with cervical vertebrae." A human skull was found in the ground above the masonry of the crypt, but it did not belong to the writer, but to an unknown young man.

It was quite obvious that Gogol's head was stolen during the reconstruction in 1909, when the participants in the autopsy of the burial also took various things from the coffin "as a keepsake". Historians have recognized A.A. Bakhrushin, a collector, merchant and philanthropist, as the main suspect in the blasphemous act.

The mystery of Nikolai Gogol's skull: who needed the classic's head?

Alexey Alexandrovich Bakhrushin

In 1931-1932, NKVD officers conducted an investigation, during which it turned out that Bakhrushin could have bought the skull of a classic from gravediggers who were engaged in opening the grave. This was told during the interrogation by the monks of St. Daniel's Monastery, who found the reconstruction of the writer's grave in 1909.

The author of the article "The Missing skull of Gogol" writer Vladimir Khristoforov said that at home Bakhrushev kept the skulls of the great actor Shchepkin and some other person. The collector treasured this second head very much — a precious rosewood case with a window and a silver laurel crown were made for it. Other historians allowed this option, since the merchant was known for achieving his goals at any cost and often disregarded the laws of morality when hunting for rarities.

The mystery of Nikolai Gogol's skull: who needed the classic's head?

Gogol 's Death Mask

Urban legends of Moscow say that after the acquisition of Gogol's skull from Bakhrushev, a streak of failures began in life and business, and the collector, who was tormented by fear, handed the relic to Lieutenant Yanovsky of the Russian navy — the writer's great-nephew. There is also an opinion that the merchant did not give the skull voluntarily, but after Yanovsky came to his house and began threatening him with a revolver.

According to unverified information, a descendant of the writer wanted to give his skull to the Russian ambassador in Rome, so that he would organize the burial of a body part in Italy, which Gogol considered his second homeland. Yanovsky brought a rosewood chest with a skull to Sevastopol, from where his ship was to go to The Mediterranean Sea, but for some reason the campaign did not take place. Therefore, the officer handed the case with the head to the Italian captain Borghese, on whom he could rely.

The mystery of Nikolai Gogol's skull: who needed the classic's head?

The Italian himself later told everyone this story, and explained his miraculous rescue by a premonition that made him jump off the train on the move in front of that very mystical tunnel. Borghese insisted that Gogol's skull remained in his luggage and disappeared with him and the train, going to hell or to another dimension.

The ghost train has become an important element of oral folklore and has been repeatedly seen in The Alps, then near Balaclava, then in Mexico. Most sane researchers who have dealt with this issue tend to believe that the Italians simply appropriated the head of the great writer and invented a mysterious story with a train to justify themselves.

The mystery of Nikolai Gogol's skull: who needed the classic's head?

But most likely, Gogol's head was kept in the collection of A.A. Bakhrushev, and then, during the revolutionary confusion, was stolen by someone. It is not necessary that the new owner knew what kind of prey he got, so it is impossible to deny the most unfavorable outcome, in which the skull was simply thrown away, and the rosewood case was used for other purposes. In this case, Gogol's head is lost forever and we will never know about its fate.

N.V. Gogol was not the only famous person whose remains were disturbed by kidnappers — the theft of parts of corpses and even completely bodies is not so rare.

Keywords: Tomb | Classic | Book | Mysticism | Grave | Moscow | Writer | Abduction | Skull