Peter Pike #3: Revenge of the Romanovs.
A priceless Fabergé egg smuggled out of Russia ending up in a Midwestern antique store? C’mon now.
Truth usually is stranger than fiction. Here’s the British article that got the plot going.
‘The Lost Third Imperial Easter Egg By Carl Fabergé,’ Art-Antiques-Design Reports, 2014
AAD REPORTS 26 March 2016 AAD (Art-Antiques-Design) Reports. First published in art-antiques-design.com in 2014, reprinted 26 March 2016)
THE LOST THIRD IMPERIAL FABERGÉ EASTER EGG EXHIBITION
One of the missing Imperial Fabergé Easter Eggs made for the Russian Royal family was on public view at Court Jewellers Wartski in Mayfair in the run up to Easter 2014. The magnificent Third Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg was on view for four days only two years ago, and is unlikely to be seen again in public for a long time.
The tragic story of the last Tsar and his family has been fascinating the world for almost a century and most people will immediately associate the iconic Fabergé Eggs with the Russian Royal family. Only 50 of these lavish works of art were ever created, each of them a unique design and a certain mysteriousness is attached to all of them.
After the revolution the Eggs were seized by the Bolsheviks. Some they kept, but most were sold to the West. Two were bought by Queen Mary and are part of the British Royal Collection. The remainder belong to Museums, Oligarchs, Sheikhs and heiresses. Eight of them, however, are missing of which only three are believed to have survived the revolution. Now, one of them has been discovered under the most miraculous circumstances.
This Fabergé Egg, which is beautifully crafted and contains a Vacheron Constantin watch inside, is sitting on an elaborate, jewelled gold stand and measures 8.2 cm in height in total. It was given by Alexander III Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russians to his wife Empress Maria Feodorovna for Easter 1887.
Easter is the most important of all Russian Orthodox festivals and it’s a long-established tradition to exchange Easter eggs. Carl Fabergé, goldsmith to the Tsars, created the lavish Imperial Easter eggs for both Alexander III and Nicholas II from 1885 to 1916. The Eggs are his most prized creations and have become bywords of luxury and craftsmanship.
This egg was last seen in public over 112 years ago, when it was shown in the Von Dervis Mansion exhibition of the Russian Imperial Family’s Fabergé collection in St. Petersburg in March 1902. In the turmoil of the Russian revolution the Bolsheviks confiscated the Egg from the Empress. It was last recorded in Moscow in 1922 when the Soviets decided to sell it as part of their policy of turning ‘Treasures into Tractors’. Its fate after this point was unknown and it is was feared it could have been melted for its gold and lost forever.
It was only in 2011 that Fabergé researchers discovered that the Third Imperial Egg survived the revolution, when it was discovered in an old Parke-Bernet catalogue. Its provenance had been unknown and so it was sold at auction on Madison Avenue, New York on 7th March 1964 as a ‘Gold watch in egg form case’ for $2,450 (£875 at the time). This discovery started a worldwide race to discover the whereabouts of the egg, which was now worth tens of millions of dollars.
In the meantime the egg was bought in the Mid-West of America at a bric-a-brac market. The buyer lived a modest life and tried to make extra money by buying gold and selling it for its scrap metal value. When he spotted the egg, he thought he could make an easy $500, although they had to pay $14,000 for its scrap metal value. But what had worked on many occasions, did not work this time. He had overestimated its worth and couldn’t sell it. No one spotted its potential and luckily no one offered more than the owner had paid for it, hence it was saved from the melting pot. The egg has several scratches on it where the metal was tested for its gold content.
The egg became a financial burden to its unknowing owner. One evening in despair the owner tapped ‘Egg’ and ‘Vacheron Constantin’ into Google and a Telegraph article regarding the egg’s survival appeared quoting Kieran McCarthy, director of Wartski, the London based, Royal Warrant holding experts on the work of Carl Fabergé.
Recognising his egg in the article the owner was unable to sleep for days. He got on a plane to London to find Kieran and to show him images of the egg. Kieran was left speechless by the images and was almost certain the lost egg had been found, but to confirm its identity and ensure it was not a very clever fake, he travelled to the US.
When he arrived in a small town in the Mid-West, he was shown into the kitchen of the owner’s home and presented with the egg, which was slightly smaller than the large cupcake positioned next to it. After an examination he confirmed that it was indeed the lost Imperial treasure. It had travelled from the hands of an Empress in the grandeur of Imperial St. Petersburg to a scrap metal dealer in modern day America.
Wartski acquired the egg for a private collector, making the finder an art historical lottery winner, receiving multiple millions of dollars per centimetre of egg. The collector generously allowed the egg to be displayed in London where it was on view for only four days in a specially designed exhibition at Wartski.
The last Fabergé clock sold in public, was a non-Imperial one known as the ‘Rothschild Egg’ which sold at Christie’s in 2007 for $18.5 million.
Two other of the original eight missing Imperial Eggs are known to have survived the Russian Revolution. They are the 1889 Necessaire Egg (heavily chased gold, set with pearls and gemstones, without a stand, containing 13 miniature toilet articles) and last recorded at Wartski in June 1952. The 1888 Cherub Egg with Chariot (a gold egg resting in a chariot drawn by a Cherub) was last recorded with Armand Hammer in New York in 1934.
Detailed description of the Third Imperial Easter Egg:
The reeded yellow gold egg opens by pressing the brilliant cut diamond pushpiece, to reveal a Vacheron Constantin watch with diamond set gold hands that is hinged to allow it to stand upright, the egg is supported on an elaborate sabléd gold stand, stood on lion paw feet and encircled by finely chased coloured gold garlands suspended from three cabochon blue sapphires topped with rose diamond set bows. Made in the workshop of Fabergé’s Chief-Jeweller: August Holmström in St. Petersburg, 1886-1887. Ht. 8.2 cm.
Fabergé started creating Easter Eggs for Tsar Alexander III. It is both a sacred and intimate object; a celebration of Easter, the most important of Russian Orthodox festivals, and simultaneously a token of the Tsar’s heartfelt love for his wife the Empress Marie. Later, as the Imperial Fabergé eggs had become icons, its creator produced a number of lesser eggs in homage to those made for the Tsars. They are known as non-Imperial eggs, of which the Apple Blossom Egg is an excellent example.
Peter Pike #2: Lincoln Love Letters.
Wait. You’re not saying Abraham Lincoln was gay, are you?
Well… the jury is out on that one.
The president before him, James Buchanan, probably was. He and William Rufus King, congressman, senator and VP under Franklin Pierce, lived together for 13 years until King’s death in 1853. Buchanan referred to the relationship as a ‘communion’ and the two attended balls together.
In private, Andrew Jackson called them ‘Miss Nancy’ and ‘Aunt Fancy.’ Another observer referred to King as Buchanan’s better half.
Lincoln’s sexuality has been exhaustively covered in the academic and popular press, starting with Carl Sandburg’s not-so-subtle hints in 1926 (Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years), gathering steam with the personal liberation movement of the 1970s and peaking with Larry Kramer’s claims in 1999. Kramer was a founding member of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP and an award-winning screen and stage writer. He claimed he’d found lover Joshua Speed’s diary hidden under the floorboards of the Springfield grocery store Lincoln ran with Speed – in itself a remarkable claim for a confirmed Manhattanite — and was using it to rewrite American history. Details of how this incendiary document, chock full of gay sexual encounters, was discovered were murky.
Kramer hinted at a Lincoln-Booth liaison, but never produced a shred of evidence, much less the diary. He also refused to say how he came in possession of the diary and was apparently unaware that the building that housed Speed’s store and several other buildings in the same block burned to the ground in 1855, 14 years after Speed had left Springfield for Kentucky. .
Kramer’s allegations have since been dismissed as a self-serving hoax among Lincolnistas, but the controversy over Lincoln’s sexuality hasn’t retreated back to the shadows. On the contrary. Even the hot and heavy heterosexual letters from Ann Rutledge, more or less agreed to be genuine, and Ann and Abe’s romance itself have been questioned.
So what gives?
Lincoln stalwarts: Lincoln’s supposed proclivities are based on a wholesale misreading of 19th century conventions of men and women, fatherhood and motherhood, male friendships and sleeping arrangements. Beds and living space in general were pretty scarce on the frontier. Everyone slept with everyone, even with animals, unless you were the sole king of that particular slice of the wild frontier.
This school insists that amateur (like Kramer and me), professional and somewhere in between (like Sandburg) historians pounce on the tiniest particle of Lincoln’s private life no matter how thin the proof or questionable the source, making no attempt to understand how the highly segregated sexes of the early to mid-19th century acted, thought and felt but rather imposing freewheeling late 20th and 21st century sexual standards. Passionate same-sex friendships were a staple of 19th century American life; in more traditional societies, these standards still apply. I personally have seen Arab men walking hand in hand and Russian men kissing each other. On the mouth. Okay, there may have been some vodka involved
Lincoln revisionists: The record speaks for itself, starting with Lincoln’s stepmother, Sarah Bush Lincoln, who said he ‘never took much interest in the girls;’ Lincoln’s authenticated and quite racy poem on the marriage of Billy and Natty, quoted in my book; his meager experience with the opposite sex; Lincoln and Mary Todd’s reportedly ceasing to sleep together as early as the 1850s and their strained relationship during the White House years; and Abe’s well-documented intimate relationships with studly men such as Billy Greene, Joshua Speed, David Derickson, Elmer Ellsworth, William Herndon and others. My book goes into much more detail. America might have been a different place in the 19th century, but many, many people noticed these man-crushes.
Lincoln’s relationship with Derickson in particular drew attention. Elizabeth Woodbury Fox, the wife of Lincoln’s naval aide, wrote in her diary, ‘Tish [her husband] says, ‘Oh, there is a Bucktail soldier here devoted to the president, drives with him, and when Mrs. L. is not home, sleeps with him.’ What stuff!’ It was also noted by a fellow officer in Derickson’s regiment, Thomas Chamberlin: ’Captain Derickson, in particular, advanced so far in the President’s confidence and esteem that, in Mrs. Lincoln’s absence, he frequently spent the night at his cottage [the Soldiers’ Home], sleeping in the same bed with him, and — it is said — making use of His Excellency’s night-shirt!’
Where the heck do you get the ideas for these novels?
I don’t have to look far. They come to me. Two friends came up with ideas out of the blue: one on a real missing then recovered Faberge egg; the other just a title involving canines. Both then became Peter Pike novels.
Right now, I’m reading William Manchester’s “American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 – 1964,” and it’s opened my eyes about World War II in the Pacific Theater, Mac’s genius – he really was — and his son. Manchester drops some pretty strong hints about Mac’s son, who I discovered, has been living under an assumed name in New York City…. more than enough material for a novel. I’m not sure Peter Pike would enjoy Manhattan, though.
How long did it take to write “Peter Pike and the Murderous Mormons?”
The short answer is, about six to seven months, getting up at 5 a.m., working every weekend, in between work, family, getting a master’s in education…
The long answer is, close to three years. After finishing, I edited, and edited, then edited again; I got a very good reader to point out flaws and where things dragged. I was still editing even after my great publisher, Ronda Caudill, Full Moon Publishing (http://fullmoonpublishingllc.com) had accepted it. I was still finding things I wanted to change after two manuscript reviews!
The very long answer is, about 30 years. I became interested in Mississippian culture in the late 90s, when we still living back East; and in the terrible civil war-within-the-Civil-War in Missouri when we moved nearly 20 years ago. The real, unburnished history of almost anyplace in the world is usually hidden pretty well.
Where did you get the idea for “Peter Pike and the Murderous Mormons?”
I was in Quincy, Ill., on Veterans Day a few years back, bought a red poppy from a veteran at the restored town square. Lincoln debated Douglas there, among other events.
Quincy has a remarkable number of beautiful Victorians, Federal and Greek Revival structures, some 3,500 buildings in four National Historic Register Districts, according to the city. It also has Indian Mounds Park, with the requisite trails, playgrounds, shelters and picnic tables and a large swimming pool, built around at least eight burial mounds; and Woodland Cemetery, with more gigantic, unexcavated mounds. Both have great views of the Mississippi. All more than enough reason to take a drive and walk around on a dreary November day.
There was a lot of trash on a steep cobblestoned street in the old warehouse district down by the river – snack and junk food wrappers, microwave burritos, soda cans. I kicked a can of Diet Mountain Dew for the heck of it — ouch, my toe! It was a full can. As I looked closer, I saw I was wading through full cans and unopened wrappers. WTF, I thought? It all must have fallen off a truck.
I then saw a homeless man down by the river. I saw the same man in the historic district, slinking into an abandoned building a block from those magnificent mansions.
And I started thinking – who is this guy? Why is he wandering around? What does he find?
The answer hit me a few days later – he’s a homeless vet, and he stumbles upon an excavation in Indian Mounds Park and the legendary items. All the rest – Shaitan, Chief Fear, the Mormons – followed from that.
The plot of “PP & MM” seems familiar. Where have I seen it before?
S. Eliot once supposedly said “Good writers borrow but great writers steal.” After re-reading Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” I realized his was the perfect plot, with lost artifacts worth killing for, shady characters, a beautiful and treacherous woman, a dying character who staggers in with the treasure, private detective and all. Peter Pike, however, is no ruthless Sam Spade. He is, in fact, kind of a mess. Things are looking up after “PP & MM,” though, when he stumbles upon some lost Lincoln … well, that’s the next novel.
There’s a lot of history in “PP & MM.” How much is fact, how much fiction?
Mississippian civilization is real. This sprawling culture – stretching from Wisconsin to Florida, the East Coast to Kansas — with its pyramids, ports, harbors, highways, super-cities like Cahokia, suburbs and farms flourished from about 600-1400 AD, depending on who you ask. It was in a steep decline by the time Columbus got here. St. Louis was called Mound City because of its many Mississippian pyramids and other structures. All but one have been leveled. That there were large, complex civilizations before the Europeans got here and that this was not exactly untouched paradise is one of those pesky inconvenient truths that die hard. People still believe it today, I find.
The lost city of stone is fiction. Sort of. That there were people here before the Indians is certain. Who? How’d they get here? What happened to them? There are persistent hints and rumors of both European and East Asian exploration and colonization, old stories of people who looked Chinese or European, not Indian. But all this is still conjecture.
The Sword of Laban, say the Mormons, is real. (Not the crystal part.) Laban, a contemporary of Nephi 1 in Jerusalem (~600 B.C.), possessed a truly nifty sword: “The hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and the blade thereof was of the most precious steel” (1 Ne. 4:9). God ordered Nephi to kill Laban (1 Ne. 4:10) with the sword. The sword then found its way to the Western Hemisphere. So did Jesus, by the way.
In 1829 the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates said they saw the sword (D&C 17:1). President Brigham Young reported that the Prophet and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Joseph Smith and one of his disciples saw the sword when they entered a cave in the hill Cumorah with a large room containing many plates. “The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: “This sword will never be sheathed again until The Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our God and his Christ”‘ (JD 19:38).
So the sudden appearance of the sword might just trigger a strong Church reaction.
Smith also said he saw the entire Book of Mormon emblazoned on golden tablets or plates, transcribing every word with a seer stone, or peep stone, his face buried in his hat. “Joseph placed either the interpreters or the seer stone in a hat, pressed his face into the hat to block out extraneous light, and read aloud the English words that appeared on the instrument,” says an official Church account. (The Church released photos of this seer stone in 2015, if you’re interested.) These tablets, among other revelations, declare that the Garden of Eden was in northern Missouri, that Christ visited America, and that a lost race of Israel colonized America only to be wiped out by Indians. These were just one of many plates the lost tribe of Israel left scattered around.
The lost tribe myth was remarkably persistent in the 19th and even early 20th centuries, and not just among Mormons. Who the heck built these huge structures? Must have been Aztecs! Welsh! Vikings! Atlanteans! Because surely the ancestors of the sparse, bedraggled Indians settlers encountered could not have built these pyramids and cities. That European diseases wiped out up to 90% of the population is another inconvenient truth.
Bloody Ben is also based on a real, bloodthirsty Civil War guerrilla, Bloody Bill Anderson. Anderson rampaged across Missouri into Kansas, earning a rep for extreme violence in a truly guerrilla war, as close to Vietnam as America ever got. (Yet). Anderson was part of Quantrill’s gang that burned Lawrence, Kan. After his sister died when a Union Kansas City jail collapsed, Anderson swore revenge, and broke off from Quantrill’s troop to form his own gang. Jesse and Frank James rode first with Quantrill then with him and probably participated in both the Lawrence and 1864 Centralia Massacre, where Anderson and his boys executed a train full of wounded and convalescent Union soldiers. Anderson himself was shot down about a month later by trained guerrilla hunters – antiterrorism squads are nothing new — and reportedly dragged by his heels to a garrison in Orrick, Mo., where he was beheaded and his head stuck on a pike. There’s a monument at the ambush spot, and I’ve visited it. Bloody Ben’s dandyism, long hair and hat are also based directly on Bloody Bill. Some guerrillas swore to never cut their hair until the South won or they were dead.
The spirit Prudence Desperes is based on a spirit called Patience Worth. Between about 1913 and 1937, an St. Louis housewife named Pearl Curran channeled Worth through a Ouija board. Patience, said Mrs. Curran, was born in Dorsetshire, England during the 17th century and migrated to America where she was killed by Indians at the age of 44 or 45. Using first a Ouija board, graduating to automatic writing then “clairaudient dictation,” Patience, through Curran, rattled off seven books, including an eyewitness account of the life of Christ, dozens of short stories and plays, thousands of poems, countless epigrams and aphorisms in both archaic and 20th century English. Patience was acclaimed a literary genius, her writing compared with Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Spenser. Respected professors of English literature, psychologists and philologists all declared Patience genuine, too.
For more on Curran and Patience Worth, see my notes in the back of “PP & MM.”
Phineas Taylor’s Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome is based directly on Phineas Taylor (“P. T.”) Barnum’s traveling show of the 1870s. He really did exhibit Commodore Nutt, giant snakes, the “What is It?” and a hippo. He really did denounce slavery in antebellum Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Barnum brought the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind to the U.S. in the 1850s, and that made his fortune. Old-timers were still raving about her angelic voice at the end of the 19th century – the very word “Jenny” was instantly understood.
What’s your question?
Write to me, and I will answer to the best of my ability.