Saturday, 15 March 2008

The silent train in the Silver forest

This post truly is a pleasure to me: as far as I could find out, no website - or book (in English) - on "time slips", or whatever people call them, so far has reported this very short but very interesting incident, even though it involves a celebrity (sort of - an ex-celebrity, anyway).

The (ex)celebrity in question is Prince Felix Yusupov, a very picturesque character from the court of Nicholas II of Russia.

There never was a dull moment with Felix around.
For one thing, he enjoyed dressing in women's frocks - in public - and if it weren't for his mother's jewels, the sight of which was familiar to other society members, he would have passed for a very lovely if idiosyncratic young lady... So much so that, according to one of his descendants, he almost fooled the notorious ladies' man Edward VII of England who rushed to Yussupov's opera box after spotting the gorgeous "lady" from afar, from his own opera box...
(I learned this from an episode of a British series about royal families on Discovery Channel, back in the times when Discovery was still worth its name and reputation; I don't remember the title of the series. But it's a hilarious episode; be sure to watch it if you can.)

Yusupov's most notorious achievement, however, is having killed - "shot" would be an understatement - the redoubtable Grigory Y. Rasputin.
(Be sure to read Yusupov's own account of the conspiracy and eventual killing. It's bound to be subjective - but, by George, it reads well!)

Considering Felix's lifestyle, it's only understandable that a tiny "supernatural adventure" in a forest near Moscow, that happened during his adolescence, would pass unnoticed among the clamor of palace balls, soirees and revolutions.

Short and simple: that's the way I like stories.  
And this one is as short and simple as it goes. 

"One year, toward the end of the holidays, my brother and I had a strange experience, the mystery of which was never solved. We were leaving by the midnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg. After dinner we said good-by to our parents and entered the sleigh which was to take us [from their Arkhangelskoye estate] to Moscow. Our road led through a forest called the Silver Forest which stretched for miles without a single dwelling or sign of human life. It was a clear, lovely moonlight night. Suddenly in the heart of the forest, the horses reared, and to our stupefaction we saw a train pass silently between the trees. The coaches were brilliantly lit and we could distinguish the people seated in them. Our servants crossed themselves, and one of them exclaimed under his breath: 'The powers of evil!' Nicholas and I were dumbfounded; no railroad crossed the forest and yet we had all seen the mysterious train glide by."

Copyright ©RobinRimbaud *

Interesting, eh?

I see no legitimate (i.e. reasonable) reason to disbelieve Yusupov's account. And the narrative itself - the only such story in the entire book - has all the hallmarks of a true story. 
My first thought was that, Moscow being surrounded by plains, it could have been a mirage. (Trains and even trams, of course, did exist at the time of Yusupov's experience.)
But the Silver forest was a forest - with trees and all - and Yusupov explicitly 
says they saw the apparent train pass "between the trees".
I am not aware of mirages that could perform that trick.
(If you are, do let me know.)

Also, judging by the reaction of the local country folk (peasants) in Yusupov's entourage, they had never seen anything like it. Mirages are not all that common, of course; I suppose it's perfectly possible to live a long life without ever seeing one, even in places where mirages do occur.

But I don't think it was a mirage.
As to what it was, I can only speculate, of course... A train from the future? :)

A year ago or so, I took some time - not too much, as I had other, more pressing work to do - to examine the present-day map of Moscow and try to find either a railroad or a tram (streetcar) line crossing the Silver forest (actually, the "Silver Pine"). I think I found one (actually, more than one), but I am not sure.

Here's an appropriately silvery photo of the Silver forest today (by Bugulma):

And here you can find a set of lovely contemporary paintings of the park by Grigory Lozinsky.


I found a very useful website on Moscow trams (which apparently escaped my attention during my first search, a year ago). Based on it, I think the line I saw on a few different maps was NOT a tram. But here is the website anyway, in case you fancy a few minutes of time-travel through the history of the Moscow streetcar. 


There seems to have been a railway line crossing the forest and (partly) a tram line nearby in 1925. (The link leads to a map; the park is on the far left side of your screen, midway through the page, where it says CEPEБEPБOP.)
Which, of course, still doesn't explain Yusupov's experience.
And I wonder... were there other similar experiences in that forest?
If you happen to be from Moscow, or had any such experiences in Moscow (or anywhere, for that matter), you know what to do. :-)

A final, beautifully haunting image of the Silver (Pine) forest, submitted to Panoramio by the aptly named GhostWind.
(And here are some more photos of the place by the same author.)

* The first picture on this page is actually based on a photograph of the Silver (Pine) forest.

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