Maria Rasputin escaped death in Russia and went on to become a lion tamer and author — but was she really the Mad Monk's daughter?
Maria Rasputin

Bettmann/CORBISMaria Rasputin, March 1935.

Her father was one of the most controversial figures in Russian history. As a little girl, she played with the Romanov daughters. And when imperial Russia fell, this girl — Maria Rasputin — fled the country and wound up in Los Angeles, after a long career in lion taming and cabaret.

Indeed, while popular accounts say that the Rasputin family name ended with the infamous Grigor Rasputin’s death, Maria Rasputin’s life proves otherwise. In fact, she took the family name to new heights — if she was, in fact, his daughter at all.

Maria Rasputin’s Beginnings

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Public DomainGrigori Rasputin (left) — mystic and self-styled holy man who had a magnetic influence over Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra — sits among a group of his followers, circa 1911. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

In 1898 — or possibly 1899 — a peasant family welcomed their newborn child, Matryona Rasputin, into the Siberian village of Pokrovskoye. The little girl would later change her name to Maria Rasputin in order to better climb the social ladder in Russia’s capital.

In the summer of 1914, a woman named Khioniya Guseva would attempt to assassinate Maria Rasputin’s father, Grigori. This event would spark a dramatic change in her father’s behavior — one which would set the path for his ascendence to the “Mad Monk” of Russia.

Following the assassination attempt, Grigori Rasputin began to drink more intensely (mostly dessert wines, which can have a very high alcohol content) and became heavily involved in the Russian Orthodox faith. He learned a great deal about magnetism and its uses in the human body, which would lay the foundation for what became his famous “healing practices.”

Rasputin thus became a sensation in Russia after using his supposed healing abilities to treat the son and heir of Tsar Nicholas Romanov II, Alexi, who had a blood disorder known as hemophilia. Somehow — and it’s not clear how — Rasputin was able to stop Alexi’s bleeding, leading the Tsar and his wife to believe that only Rasputin could keep Alexi alive — and thus secure the future of the Romanov dynasty.

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Wikimedia CommonsGrigori Rasputin.

Rasputin immediately became a fixture in the House of Romanov — as did his young daughter, Maria, who was about the same age as the Tsar’s daughters. Maria Rasputin wrote in her diary during these years that the Romanov girls — Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia — were elegant but very cloistered from the rest of the world.

As such, Maria fascinated the Romanov sisters, as she had seen the world beyond palace walls and had many stories to tell. The Romanov daughters, as well as their mother and father, all became increasingly dependent on the apparent healing powers of Rasputin, but the rest of Russia was wary of his closeness to the Tsar. Many suspected that he held too much influence over matters of state, which contributed to the growing discontent among Russians that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Romanov family.

It was no surprise, then, that a group of aristocrats banded together in 1916 to take Rasputin down — a task that proved to be phenomenally difficult. Rasputin survived poisoning, shootings, and stabbings, and only died when he was left to drown in the frigid waters of the Neva River.

Maria Rasputin would identify the body of her fallen father via a galosh stuck to the bridge from which his killer had presumably thrown him. She later wrote of his funeral that, “Many places in the little chapel were empty, for the crowds that had knocked at my father’s door while he still lived to ask some service of him neglected to come and offer up a prayer for him once he was dead.”

Abby Norman
Abby Norman is a writer based in New England. She's currently writing a memoir for Nation Books. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Independent, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Hippocampus Magazine, The Atlantic, The Mary Sue, and Quartz.
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