In a wrong body. The secret of the life of Nicolai de Raylan.
Moscow: IDRIS publisher. 2021; 416 p. 16+
DEATH OF A LITTLE HUSSAR
On November 4, 1906, two respectable gentlemen arrived in Phoenix, the capital of Arizona: one heavyset and gray-haired, the other a diminutive, middle-aged man with a thin, haggard face. Were it not for his high-heeled boots and elegantly androgynous Victorian-style frock coat, from behind, one might have confused him for a teenage boy—the son of the gray-haired gentleman.
Porters loaded the pair’s ample luggage into a steam car available for hire in the station square, and it quickly took them to the small and cozy Union Hotel. With the help of his companion, the little man struggled up the hotel’s front steps. Now and then, he had to raise a handkerchief to his lips to contain muffled fits of coughing. His slender arms and thin body made him look like a fragile ballerina. His coat appeared a couple sizes larger than needed, the delicate man seeming to weigh no more than ninety pounds. With a practiced eye, the hotel owner determined that the cause of this discrepancy was most likely the rapid weight loss typical of consumption patients. By all appearances, yet another person suffering from this widespread disease had arrived at the hotel.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, patients with consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) were coming from all across America to the capital of Arizona. Out of all diseases, consumption had caused the most deaths over the last two centuries, and though almost twenty-five years had passed since Koch discovered the pathogen that causes the illness, the best treatment for it was still thought to be a climate that stimulated the body's defenses. The dry desert wind, abundant sunshine, warm winters, and hot summers made Phoenix the most ideal natural sanatorium for tuberculosis patients—there lay their final hope. In and around the city, hotels and sanatoriums were opened: tent camps for the poor and well-equipped lodgings for the wealthy. The influx of tuberculosis patients grew into a profitable business within the state, including for the Union Hotel.
A petite man checked in under the name of Nicolai de Raylan, his companion under Dr. William Rowe. They rented two well-furnished rooms located next to each other, connected by a large balcony. While the porter took the guests' luggage to their rooms, the hotel's owner, Mr. Christofferson, had a chance to speak with the doctor and confirm that his guess was correct. Rowe related that he had met de Raylan several months before in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, in the town of Canon where he was working as a medical practitioner.
Canon, like Phoenix, was considered one of the best climatic resorts for consumptives. Nicolai de Raylan came there from Chicago hoping that the mountain air would put a stop to his illness. For a while it seemed that the burdensome ailment was receding, for Nicolai's health improved. He began to take walks in the resort's picturesque surroundings, and a gleam of hope appeared in his eyes. But once the weather began to grow colder, de Raylan's condition worsened, and the doctor advised him to relocate to warm Arizona for the winter. Around this same time, de Raylan's son, Harry, and his wife, Anna, arrived in Cañon, and Anna asked Dr. Rowe to accompany her husband as his personal physician. The doctor had no family obligations, by that time having become a widower; the promised fee of twenty dollars per day exceeded the income from his medical practice; and he felt genuine sympathy for the patient. So Rowe agreed to the proposal without much hesitation. De Raylan and his personal physician headed south to Arizona while his wife and son returned to Chicago.
Nicolai was an open, talkative person, and within just a few days the hotel's owner and employees learned a great deal about the new guest's life. He told them that he was born and raised in Russia; that he'd inherited the surname "de Raylan" from his father, a Russian admiral; that after coming to America he'd settled in Chicago, where he had soon become a secretary at the Russian consulate and founded his own law office. He proudly shared that he'd participated in the 1898 Spanish-American War as member of the American army, showing them medals he'd received for his bravery and a letter of thanks addressed to Hussar de Raylan from President McKinley himself, whose assassination in 1901 had shocked the entire nation.
Nicolai had a photo album bound in expensive leather, which he often showed to the doctor and hotel owner. One of the pictures showed him on a rearing horse and wearing the well-known uniform of Chicago's "Black Hussars," who were indispensable participants at all large celebrations and parades. De Raylan said that outside of serving at the Russian consulate, his main pastime was training with the hussar detachment and at the athletic club.
The album was filled with photographs of friends, relatives, and other pictures personal to Nicolai. Among these was pasted a photograph of a young girl with a bouquet of white flowers, long bangs falling across her forehead, and a faint smile resembling that of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. According to de Raylan, this was Zhenya, his sweetheart during his youth in Russia. He spoke with great warmth of his beautiful wife back in Chicago and teenage son Harry, and regularly exchanged letters with them. Their photographs adorned several pages of the album as well as the frail hussar's bedside table.
De Raylan at the age 17 and his sweetheart Eugene (Zaney).
During the daytime, Raylan spent long periods sitting in a chair on the hotel balcony, breathing in the healing air of the desert, admiring the distant outlines of odd mountains. They looked as if they’d been made some baby-giant playing in the “Arizona sandbox”: heavy lumps of wet sand and sand-spires hardened by the scorching wind. Near the hotel, which stood on the outskirts of the city, grew large, solitary cacti—thick, green, prickly pillars with “arms”—as well as smaller types—fat, light-green, thorned leaves that grew directly out of the ground. Occasionally a little trolley that looked like a wind-up toy drove down the street; once, in celebration of some holiday, a parade of mounted cowboys and Indians rode past. Watching them, Raylan recalled noisy, fume-filled Chicago: the overcrowded trolleys, the human hive of intersecting roads, and the thousands of colorful processions that had been organized in honor of the World’s Columbian Exposition. There, amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, were his friends and lady-friends, the “Black Hussars,” his colleagues in the consulate and law office, and Anna and Harry. Whether he would return to them alive or be brought home as a body in a sealed casket, God only knew.
On short walks with the doctor, Nicolai often told him about his numerous affairs with women, as well as literature and political news from Russia. His position at the Russian Consulate gave him the opportunity to obtain new books from his homeland and read Russian newspapers that arrived alongside the diplomatic mail. The doctor learned from de Raylan about the Russian Revolution and the constitution that had been adopted. It was apparent that Nicolai was still as concerned as ever about current events in his distant homeland. Rowe found his patient an educated, noble, and well-mannered man, although sometimes Nicolai used dirty words when speaking about his adventures in the “black hussars” squad or other incidents in his stormy life.
In the evenings, Nicolai usually spent time playing cards at the nearest casino or reading Russian books he’d brought with him. His favorite was an old Moroccan-bound book with illustrations of the Napoleonic Wars. When the doctor asked what the book was about, Nicolai replied that it contained the memories of Nadezhda Durova, a famous Russian cavalry girl who had fought in the Russian army during the war with Napoleon, posing as a man.
Several times, the doctor accompanied de Raylan to the National Bank. The bank teller later stated that de Raylan had opened an account shortly after arriving in Phoenix and deposited several checks for small amounts. He also reported that de Raylan had accounts under different names at three Chicago banks.
When his strength was sufficient, Nicolai went to the post office almost every day to see if he’d received any letters. He did not tell anyone about the contents of his correspondence with his wife and others, but he quoted his son’s letters to the doctor with parental pride and compassion. The doctor remembered that one of the letters noted: “Dear Papa: I hope you enjoy Arizona and get well. Today I had my haircut and the bunny had a haircut, but not by a barber, her hair is falling out. Your loving son. Harry".
As the days passed, Raylan’s condition achieved a delicate equilibrium. It looked to him as if things were improving and the worst was already over. But then, in early December, his health began to decline rapidly. Raylan’s temperature began to rise in the night, the handkerchief he used to contain coughing fits was rife with spots of blood, and his face became more gaunt, taking on a waxy tinge. It became clear to the doctor that the patient’s days were numbered; he had no more than a few months left to live. Nicolai de Raylan apparently understood this as well. His outward behavior remained the same as before: calm and self-contained. Only his gaze became detached; he seemed to look through whoever he was speaking with, absorbed in recollections of his short life.
The doctor felt deeply sorry for the patient, for Nicolai was only thirty-two years old and had to spend his final days far away from his relatives and friends. Seeing that nothing more could be done to save the patient, the doctor asked: should I send your wife a telegram requesting that she come to Phoenix? Raylan replied that he hoped God would answer his prayers and that he’d improve soon, but that his wife’s presence could do nothing to help him. When asked about his will, he said he would write an updated one soon and have it notarized, then added:
“Anything could happen, doctor. I know death may come for me at any moment; all rests on God’s will. So I have a somewhat unusual request for you...I don’t particularly care whether my spouse will be present for the moment when I leave this world, but after my death, she must come without delay. You see, my wife and I agreed that if I die first, she must come wash and prepare my body and have me buried in Chicago in an Orthodox ceremony wearing a hussar’s uniform. If she dies first, then I have to prepare her body for the funeral.
The doctor promised to grant the dying man’s strange request—but he was not too surprised by it, for as it turned out, he was already somewhat aware of the unusual arrangement. A few days before, when his patient fell into deep sleep after a severe attack, the doctor came to adjust the pillows and accidentally caught sight of a piece of paper lying on the bedside table. Perhaps it was a short message from de Raylan’s wife. The doctor’s upbringing did not allow him to read other people’s letters, but he couldn’t have read this one even if he wanted to since it was written in Russian. But as his gaze fell on the letter, his eyes fixed on a phrase written in English in large, round handwriting: “No one should touch my body if my wife is not present.” Dr. Rowe thought that Anna, feeling that her beloved spouse’s death was imminent, had probably sent him instructions to pass on to others. As it turned out later, the doctor’s guess was not far from the truth.
Even in Colorado, however, Dr. Rowe could see that the warm relationship between the de Raylan spouses was far from harmonious. It was not likely that Nicolai de Raylan’s personal life was a happy one. The doctor had also overheard de Raylan telling the innkeeper about his marital troubles with his wife, who constantly demanded money from him. And when de Raylan sent for the bank teller, asking him to withdraw all the money from the Chicago account and transfer it to Phoenix, he admitted to the teller that he was taking these precautions to keep his wife from finding out about the account’s existence. There was a sense that there was some kind of real secret between Nicolai and Anna that was hidden from prying eyes. But asking the patient about details of his personal life was against the doctor’s principles.
De Raylan’s death throes began on the morning of December 18, and he started to move into a coma. Around two o'clock in the afternoon he woke up, and Dr. Rowe asked: “Should Anna be telegraphed?” Nicolai replied, “I think it’s time, although I still hope to get better.” But fifteen minutes later his breathing had stopped.
After documenting the patient’s death, Rowe sent a telegram to Nicolai’s wife, who had just become a widow. He reported the death and asked when she would arrive and what to do with the body. After that, he went to the best funeral home in the city, named “Mohn and Driscoll” after its owners, and made arrangements to move the body to the mortuary. The doctor remembered de Raylan’s unusual wish that his body not be touched until his wife arrived. But it was unknown how long it would take Anna to get there. Once she did, she apparently intended to take the remains to Chicago. So the doctor ordered that the body be embalmed to save it from decay. Perhaps this seemed more important to him.
De Raylan’s remains were taken to the mortuary and Mr. Driscoll began the embalming. He prepared a formalin-based solution and the tools needed to inject it into the bloodstream of the deceased. Then he laid the body on a special table. Driscoll was a professional in his business and was not sentimental, but at the hotel even he mentioned to the doctor that he was surprised at how feminine the face of the deceased looked: it had smooth delicate skin, without any signs of a mustache and beard. His astonishment multiplied as he began to free the body from its clothes. Under de Raylan’s shirt, Driscoll found an elegant cross on a silver chain with words engraved in Slavic letters. De Raylan's chest was tied with a wide bandage under which was hidden small—but clearly female—breasts. Further verification revealed that Nicolai de Raylan was a WOMAN. There was no doubt about it...
Shocked by an unexpected discovery, Mr. Driscoll covered the body and sought Dr. Rowe to question him about his late patient. He found him in the hotel's office, and after short conversation convinced himself that the doctor had been no party either by consent or known edge to this strange deception. Whereas if it were to be kept up the doctor could himself have put the body into a coffin and could have complied with all required regulations for the burial of the body. When Mr. Driscoll finally asked Dr. Rowe if he knew that De Raylan was a woman, the doctor stunned and discouraged. Soon he recovered and said that he had never had the slightest suspicion that his patient was not what he seemed. He had been with him a great deal in their rooms, in traveling and on the street. They had visited barber shops together for De Raylan shaved regularly and frequently. There had never been a move by him that could have raised a doubt as to his sex, not even could Santa do better than to make the boy or girl a present of a good wheel. In addition, he had a real wife and son, and purely male habits. However, the doctor noticed after a short hesitation, that Raylan had a couple of suspicious oddities, he allowed listening to the lungs only from the back and through the underwear, and on his face there were no signs of a beard.
After short discussion the Dr. Rowe agreed with Mr. Driscoll that no further steps should be taken toward the sending of the body away until there could be an investigation of the strange affair and that the authorities should be notified. They also decided that the strange case should not be leaked to the press, the body should be definitely embalmed, and the doctor will immediately send a telegram to Raylan’s wife.
However, it was almost impossible to keep the secret of an unusual incident in a city, where the most exciting thing to happen all year were a few rodeos and unsuccessful bank robbery. The next day an article with a headline that screamed “DEAD MAN WAS A WOMAN” appeared in the local newspaper, Arizona Journal-Miner. The shocking news was immediately reprinted by many provincial and metropolitan newspapers, and Nicolai de Raylan’s name became known throughout the country.
Dozens of reporters in Chicago and Phoenix rushed to trace the footsteps of the mysterious woman, looking for scoops. In Phoenix, they interviewed “his” personal doctor and other people with whom "he" had communicated there. In Chicago, they found the widow and her son, and soon de Raylan’s first wife as well—for it turned out that "he" had been married twice. It was discovered that Nicolai de Raylan served for over a decade as a clerk and a secretary to the General Consul of Russia in Chicago, Baron Albert Schlippenbach, and that he was also the founder and owner of a very profitable Russian law office which worked in close contact with the consulate. Reporters also discovered that de Raylan’s bank accounts held about $6,000, a significant amount at that time, equivalent to $170,000 today. One account had been opened under the name “Nicolai de Raylan,” another under “Nicolai Konstantinovich,” and yet a third in the name of his son, Harry. It was reported that de Raylan was living large, spending several thousand dollars a year—an amount far exceeding the modest salary of a clerk or secretary.
Nicolai’s friends, employees of the legal office and the consulate, and current and previous wives all claimed that there was some mistake; de Raylan was undoubtedly a man. “A woman? That is absurd! De Rylan was a man, slight, delicate and lean, but certainly a man. I lived with him for 5 years, he drank, smoked, dragged after women, this was the reason for our divorce, I knew several of his passions” - said the first wife, Eugenie. Her current husband, Francis Bradchulis, added that he was involved with de Raylan in business, that they’d visited beaches together, and that he had no reason to doubt Nikolai’s male identity.
Reporters visiting the home of de Raylan’s second wife found her in a mourning dress, holding husband’s picture in her breast, and sobbing convulsively:
– The dead woman in Phoenix is my husband? All nonsense, all nonsense! He was probably robbed, hidden somewhere and hopefully still alive. If he did die in Phoenix, his body was subsequently replaced. It is possible that Rylan was killed by powerful Russian enemies because of his revolutionary activities. I looked upon him less as a husband than as a baby; he was so slight and delicate. I loved him so much; he was always kind to me. My husband was well-educated, fluent in five languages, well versed in Russian history and the political situation in the country. He told me he was born in a suburb of Saint Petersburg, and that his father was an admiral in the Russian Navy.
Reporters were unable to get clear answers to questions about Nikolai’s past and what reasons had forced him to change sex and leave Russia. It turned out that he had told almost nothing about his past life to either of his wives, nor to his friends and colleagues.
The Russian Consul in Chicago, Baron Schlippenbach, told newsmen:
“De Raylan once admitted to me that he had been brought up in Russia as a girl. He wore corsets which had given his form the appearance of a woman’s. By the will of the parents, he attended a fashionable girl’s boarding school, and had manifested no ambition to be a man, and was a girl in outward guise and every other aspect. Then near the close of her 18th year came the mysterious crisis in her life which drove her from Russia and caused her to disguise her sex in the garments of men and to retain the disguise to the end of her life. One day De Raylan told me he was born in Odessa. Another day he told me he was born in Kiev, and once he gave Japan as his birthplace. Whatever he was, he was a prince of liars”.
In another interview, the Baron stated that he had hired de Raylan as an interpreter of French and Polish, and that later he became a consular clerk and personal secretary to the consul. Six months before, he had fired de Raylan for stealing a letter containing valuable government information. (As will become clear later, neither the consular clerk nor the consul himself were distinguished by their truthfulness).
The wives of Nicolai de Raylan could add little to what was said about his origin. According to his first wife, Eugenia Bradchulis, Nicolai came from the middle class of southern Russia. Some revolutionary secrets forced him to leave his parents' house in Yelysavethgrad (known since 2016 as Kropyvnytskyi, Ukraine). Mrs. Bradchulis said that once, unknown to her husband, she had discovered diary entries in de Raylan’s wooden chest. She only managed to read about de Raylan's affair with a girl who lived in the city of Kamianets-Podilskyi (now Ukraine).
The next day, her husband found that she had been going through his things and became furious. He threatened to shoot her without hesitation if he caught her doing it again. Eugenia also said that in Russia, Raylan had an affair a girl named Zhenya from Saint Petersburg. He called her “my angel,” regularly corresponded with her, and even sent her money through the former Russian consul in Chicago, von Tal.
From de Raylan’s current widow, Mrs. Anna de Raylan, the reporters learned that her husband was born near St. Petersburg, had sailed to the US from Odessa at eighteen years of age, and constantly received correspondence from Russia—all of which he destroyed upon reading. De Raylan kept close watch upon all Russians arriving in the United States, and especially upon those coming from Odessa. Mrs. de Raylan also said that de Raylan’s son Harry was actually her son from her first husband, Joseph Armstrong, and that out of all his acquaintances, the only ones de Raylan invited to the house were the Russian consul Baron Schlippenbach and vice-consul Prince Engalitcheff.
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Edward Knox, the gatekeeper of the house where the de Raylans lived in Chicago, claimed to have known Nicolai intimately and to have made frequent horseback riding trips with him. He told reporters a heartbreaking story about de Raylan:
“De Rayland was an ardent horseman and every time he rode out wore a tight-fitting costume of the Chicago hussars and on many occasions also carried a saber at his side. I met him several years ago, when he wanted me to pick out a horse for him just after he has joined the Chicago Hussars. There was a vicious horse at the stockyard known as a ‘man killer’, which had the reputation of injuring a number of riders. De Raylan insisted on having this horse because it was vicious. I warned him against it, but he insisted that he wanted a horse with life in it.
“One day while out for a ride, he told me his life story. He said that his parents belonged to the nobility of Russia and lived in a palace near St. Petersburg. When he was youth parents sent him to Paris to complete his education, and while there, he met a beautiful French girl and married her. The marriage threw his parents into a rage and they disowned him. Three years later his parents sought reconciliation and invited him and his wife to and their two children to the palace.
“He went there but soon after his arrival he was prevailed upon to make a trip to Germany along, leaving his family in his father’s palace. While away, he declared both his wife and two children were starved or poisoned to death, and when he returned they had disappeared. He then put a curse upon his parents and fled to America, with a vow never to return to his native land.
“When he told me this about his wife and family being poisoned, he broke into tears and recovered his composure with difficulty. He asked me never to mention it to any one or mention to him again as the subject was painful to him.”
In conclusion Knox said that de Raylan could not raise a mustache and offered him $75 if he could procure a remedy which would grow hair on his upper lip. He said that Nicolai sent sums of money to France in his efforts to secure a preparation that would make a mustache grow.
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The information published within three days of de Raylan’s death caused much excitement in Phoenix as well. Hundreds of eyewitnesses went to the mortuary to look at the mysterious woman’s remains as if she were an outlandish mummy. This distasteful public interest was clearly offensive to the memory of the deceased, but there was no one to stand up for her honor. At first, the body was dressed in its habitual clothes—a black frock coat a la Prince Albert and dark trousers—in order to take a photograph to send to Chicago for identification. Then, as was considered more appropriate, the body was arrayed in a women’s white silk robe. According to local newspapers, in these clothes “Raylan began to resemble a woman: the lines of the face appeared to have softened and become more regular, presenting even traces of beauty.”
One of the first visitors to the mortuary was a man named Charles Tanner, who told the funeral home staff and then the newsmen that he had met de Raylan thirteen years earlier during the Chicago World’s Fair. At that time, said Tanner, young Nicolai worked in the publishing house and as private secretary to the Russian commissioner at the exposition. From 1895 to 1897, Tanner, de Raylan and another young man named Martin Kastle had bachelor quarters in Chicago, where they became close friends. The chums were unsuspicious; though they sometimes kidded de Raylan about his feminine looks, they never doubted his sex, for their friend had all the habits of a man: he smoked cigars, drank whiskey, and greatly enjoyed the company of women. Tanner said he had the impression that de Raylan was of noble birth and his real name was Nicolai Konstantinovich (the son of Konstantin).
In further conversation, Tanner shed light on the mystery of de Raylan’s involvement in the Spanish-American War and the circumstances under which he received a letter of thanks from President McKinley. He said that at the outbreak of the war, he and de Raylan had gone together to the recruiting station to enlist in the army and travel to the distant countries where the Spanish-American battle was unfolding. Charles was accepted and took part in the battle in the Philippines. De Raylan’s slight figure worked against him, and he was rejected without medical examination.
McKinley’s story, according to Tanner, was likewise unremarkable. De Raylan had joined a marching organization in Chicago that was to escort the president on his last visit to the city. Although Nicolai was an experienced rider, a frightened horse knocked him out of the saddle in front of McKinley, causing de Raylan severe injuries. The president ordered his carriage stopped and inquired solicitously as to the extent of the rider's injuries. On his return to the hotel the President wrote de Raylan a letter of regret and sympathy, not of commendation and thanks for military services. As to the Spanish war medals it the possession of De Raylan, Mr. Tanner said he knows nothing, and that perhaps he bought them from combatants.
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The day after Rylan’s death, an official investigation was opened in Phoenix on behalf of the District Attorney. Doctors Bizell and Palmer performed autopsies on the body, which showed that the death was due to pulmonary tuberculosis, and the deceased was a full-fledged woman, moreover, a virgin.
The attesting witnesses who examined Raylan's remains and a coroner Byurnet issued the following official verdict as follows:
“We, the jury, find that the person residing here since November 4, under the name of Nicolai De Raylan, as a male, was, as a matter of fact, a female, and the body expected at morgue was the same person. Death resulted, we find, from tuberculosis.”
Here it stands to mention an intriguing discovery made by Driscoll when he was about to embalm the body. The American press was shamefully silent about it, with only one of article in the Arizona newspaper reporting that under the clothes of a man, de Raylan successfully hid the body of a woman, and that “The masquerade had been carried to the last possible and unnecessary detail”. This “detail” was an artificial penis and testicles made of chamois skin and stuffed with down,” which “were suspended in the right place by means of a band around the waist.”
Perhaps undertaker Driscoll did not tell the press about this discovery to avoid an unnecessary clamor, but he did tell the doctors who performed the autopsy. Doctors did not make a secret of this discovery among their colleagues, and most of the medical articles on gender problems that mention the "de Raylan case" (beginning from 1907) refer to an elaborate artificial penis.
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After the death of the frail Hussar, there was a lengthy exchange of telegrams between Phoenix and Chicago. Reports of de Raylan’s death and his true sex were sent to his wife, the Chicago Bank, the Chicago Probate Court, and the Russian Consulate. In a reply, the Russian consul asked Dr. Rowe to report the events in Phoenix in more detail. The doctor was about to leave Arizona, so he immediately sent a report to the Consul, Baron Schlippenbach, along with an accompanying letter that was published in the Chicago’s newspaper:
Phoenix. Arizona. Dec. 22, 1906.
Baron Schlippenbach, Chicago, Illinois.
<…> I considered De Raylan a very honest, upright, noble, gentleman, and shall forever cherish the memory of him, I can hardly bring myself around to say "her" for I only knew her as .the man, a noble hearted man. And there is a noble thing revealed in the autopsy we physicians were all satisfied that she was a perfectly virtuous woman, a virgin.
"Why she hid under the disguise of a man, is more than I can tell, but that she wanted to keep up the disguise even in death is evident.
There will be photographs or her corpse and probably one will be sent you.
I am going to Los Angeles from here, but will be in Canon City, Colorado, soon.
Wishing you everything good, as he was in the habit of saying when writing you. Very respectfully yours.
W. C. ROWE
When the public administrator's office of Cook County in Chicago—where de Raylan had resided—received word of de Raylan’s death and his feminine affiliation, they seized his Chicago bank accounts. The money de Raylan had recently ordered from Chicago’s banks was therefore never transferred to Phoenix. It appeared that de Raylan had all his property bequeathed to the last wife and son, including a considerable amount of money, jewelry, and personal belongings. But could a woman have a wife, could a “wife” lay claim to “his,” inheritance, and could the court validate his will? Was it possible that de Rylan’s “wife” really did not know that “he” was a woman, and was not an accomplice in the deception? All these issues required judicial review.
When Anne de Raylan found out about the seizure of her husband’s account, she quickly realized that she might not inherit his wealth and hired a lawyer to defend her interests. In a telegram to the funeral home of Mon and Driscoll, she said that she would not be able to come to Phoenix and requested that the circumstances of her husband’s death no longer be made public. In response, she was told that she herself was at fault for the commotion since she’d claimed her husband’s body had been replaced by a woman’s. But the main question--when de Raylan’s body should be sent to Chicago and who would pay for its transport—was not answered.
Finally, on December 23 Anna de Raylan sent a telegram in which she asked that her husband be buried in Phoenix at the least possible cost, and that all his personal belongings be sent to her. Chicago’s reporters also learned that the current husband of de Raylan’s first wife, Francis Bradchulis, who was in business with Nicolai, had offered to pay for the transportation of his friend’s body to Chicago, but that Anna refused his help.
Nicolai de Raylan’s funeral took place at Mohn & Driscoll on December 24th. As in the preceding days, the undertaking rooms were thronged all forenoon with visitors desirous of seeing the body of this remarkable woman, hoping to find out the latest rumors about her. At the beginning of the service, the doors of the chapel were closed to prevent any more people from coming in to look at the last act of the drama that had been playing out before their eyes for free. Only a few officials, hotel employees, the barber who had “shaved” the deceased, and a few reporters were allowed to attend the service. The only person who knew de Raylan before he came to Phoenix was Charles Tanner, as Dr. Rowe had already left town. Reverend McLean officiated the service. His address was brief and did not touch the life of the dead. He only said about the temporality of earthly life, the kingdom of God, absolution of sins, and eternal rest. No one else wished to make a farewell statement. Since the deceased was a virgin woman, the formalities related to the funerals and burials of virgins were observed. Dressed in a long white cloak, the body of the deceased was enclosed in a white casket and conveyed to the grave in a white hearse—symbols of purity and virginity. The procession slowly moved towards the newly opened Greenwood cemetery. The horse-drawn hearse was followed by a carriage conveying the pall bearers, followed in a taxi car by the late Charles Tanner, a priest and manager of the local public school. At the end of the procession there were wagons with curiosities and sympathizers.
We can assume that, before death, Nicolai was thinking that his wife and son would get the fortune he had acquired, and that they would accompany him on his last journey together with his friends and colleagues. He dreamed that he would be buried according to the Orthodox rite and dressed in a hussar’s uniform, and that he would be remembered as an ardent horseback rider and reveler, a successful businessman, a caring father, and a conqueror of women's hearts. Ironically, none of Nicolai’s wishes came true, and his/her life became the property of the tabloid press. The only small consolation in his afterlife might be the fact that he was buried with an Orthodox cross engraved with the name “Nicolai,” an item he held dear to his heart.
It seemed at first that the mystery of de Raylan’s life would be forever buried along with the body, and that no one would ever know this mysterious woman’s real name, who her parents were, why she turned into a man, what forced her to leave Russia, or how she managed to mislead two wives and all the people around her. However, the subsequent course of events showed that it was too early to close this enigmatic affair. For several years after the death of the little hussar, interest in his/her life did not diminish. The American press published interviews with de Raylan’s wives and the Russian consul in Chicago; information about the struggle for his inheritance and about the Russian legal office; and a summary of Nicolai’s diary entries. Two major articles about de Raylan’s possible lineage were also released in a Russian historical journal in 1915 and 1917.
The following sections of this book present a historical investigation of the life of Nicolai de Raylan in Russia and America: his childhood and adolescence spent in Odessa, Kiev and Saint Petersburg; his journey to the United States; his participation in the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the Russian law office; his relations with his wives; the court battle for his estate; and his literary and linguistic talents, as well as possible explanations for his behavior from a modern medical perspective. A separate chapter is devoted to the fates of Russian consul Baron Albert Schlippenbach and Vice-consul Prince Nicolai Engalitcheff, de Raylan’s close friends and patrons.
To conclude this prologue, it should be noted that the journalists who have reported on Raylan’s case and the author of this book refer to Raylan as “he” in some cases and “she” in others, causing confusion for both themselves and their readers. Without a doubt, Raylan was biologically female and grew up being raised as a girl. But at a certain age, she started not only dressing in men’s clothing, but also seeing herself as a man, exhibiting the virtues and shortcomings of the male sex. Therefore, when discussing the period when our protagonist wore women’s clothing, the pronoun “she” will be used, and from the moment of transition into Nicolai de Raylan, the pronoun “he.”