Dark tourism and the death of Russian Emperor Alexander II, 1881-1891

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Author: Alison Rowley
Date: Summer 2017
From: The Historian(Vol. 79, Issue 2)
Publisher: Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc.
Document Type: Report
Length: 11,569 words
Lexile Measure: 1540L

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On the morning of 1 March 1881, Russian Emperor Alexander II went to church in St. Petersburg, as he had done most Sundays during his life. (1) At 12:45, after hugging his young second wife and their children goodbye, he left for the Mikhailovsky Riding School where he was due to watch the Imperial Cavalry exercise. Forty minutes later, the emperor stopped in to pay a call on his cousin Grand Duchess Ekaterina Mikhailovna (1827-94), who lived nearby. After their chat, he stepped into his carriage for the ride back to the Winter Palace; he did not know that his route was lined with a handful of people--members of a group called People's Will (Narodnaia Volia)--intent on killing him. It was Nikolai Rysakov (1861-81) who threw the first bomb under the wheels of his carriage. While the ensuing explosion damaged the vehicle, Alexander II emerged dazed but unscathed. People standing on the street as he passed by, as well as some of his Cossack guards, did not fare so well, and the Emperor stopped to offer comfort to the victims and to survey for himself the devastation wrought by the bomber. As he stood on the street, Ignaty Grinevitsky (1856-81) approached and detonated a second bomb at his feet. When the smoke cleared, Grinevitsky was dead and the emperor lay gravely wounded in the snow with his legs shattered. The men charged with ensuring his security did not know what to do. As one historian notes, if "they had taken him to the military hospital nearby, they might have stopped the bleeding and saved his life." (2) Instead, they followed the Emperor's wishes and, without trying to apply tourniquets to his legs, took him home to the Winter Palace. Roughly 45 minutes later, Alexander II was dead.

Alexander's life had been threatened before that fateful day. First in 1866, when disgruntled student Dimitry Karakozov shot at him as he stepped out of St. Petersburg's Summer Garden. (3) The next attempt occurred in France. In June 1867, Alexander II arrived in Paris with his sons Alexander and Vladimir. They had been invited by Emperor Napoleon III (1808-73) to attend the universal exposition of art and industry. While riding in an open carriage, the Russian monarch was shot at by a Polish refugee named Antoni Berezowski (1847-1916), but the two bullets he fired missed their target. (4) Then, starting in the late 1870s, the emperor started a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the People's Will, a domestic group of terrorists formed in Lipetsk in 1879.

The People's Will's members believed that acts of terror against government officials would either force the government into reform or trigger a popular uprising once it had been demonstrated to the people that their divine-right monarch was, in fact, a mere mortal. (5) On 26 August 1879, the 22 members of the organization's executive committee sentenced Alexander II to death. Prior to his murder, the most serious of their attempts to kill the tsar came...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A498198649