Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Downton Abbey - Russian Style: World War One (Part Two)

An interview with one of the last living Russian countesses before her death in 1991.

By Robert Hudson Westover

Part Two of a Series

August 2014 marked one hundred years since the start of World War I, the “war to end all wars” or more to the point the war to launch a century of bloodshed, upheaval, more wars of horrific proportions and the greatest rewrite of national territories since the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century. 

Perhaps the most catastrophic collapse of these latter day empires was that of Russia. For more than three hundred years the Romanov dynasty had held their empire together with a supreme autocratic rule that mirrored the nation’s cultural inheritance from the Byzantine Empire. It was no accident of history that the throne the tsarina’s sat upon during the coronation of a new tsar in the Kremlin’s Annunciation Cathedral was claimed to be the very throne of the Byzantine empresses that once rested on a green marble slab on the first tier of the cavernous and magnificent “greatest church in Christendom” the 5th Century Hagia Sophia in ancient Constantinople.

As with so many of us, the cataclysms of life changing events are often unexpected and we look back to our time before the incineration of what we once knew with a strange melancholy or sentimental fascination.

Robert H. Westover and Olga C. Morgan in Olga's garden,
Laguna Beach, CA (April 1991)
Photo Credit: Lawrence R. Westover
In the following interview Olga Morgan, born Countess Olga de Chrapovitsky, looks back to her vanished world of imperial Russia from the perspective of nearly 70 years. 

Olga was destined to be connected by either blood or marriage to two of the most prominent and tragic families of the Twentieth Century, the Romanovs and the Kennedys. Part Two and Three of these interviews with Olga are something of an amazement in that any one person would be an intimate witness, per se, of both the bloody and murderous fall of the House of Romanov and the tragic event Jackie Kennedy, her niece via marriage, experienced on the on that horrible day in Dallas when her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in front of the entire world.

Olga C. Morgan's nephew,
Hugh D. "Yusha" Auchincloss III
(left next to JFK) is pictured here
at JFK's and Jackie Kennedy's
wedding reception held at
Hammersmith Farm, Newport, RI.
It’s a wonderment to me that anyone, seeing what Olga had observed from the front lines of several of humanities' most wrenching and barbarous hours, could still hold out hope for the betterment of the species. 

But she did. 

And her joyous and hopeful attitude, laced with her noble spirit inspired me in my darkest times and I hope will inspire the reader as well.

Note: All photographs are either the property of the author, used by permission or thought to be in the public domain. 

World War I for a Russian Countess

A Compilation of Two Interviews with Olga C. Morgan

Location: Mrs. Morgan’s villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach, California. 1983 (Dr. Richard Pierce*)/1991 (Robert H. Westover)

Richard Pierce (RP): And then the war? [World War I]

Morgan: We were still studying when the war broke out in August 1914. I still had a year, but we refused to study German after that; we thought it was unpatriotic.

RP: Was this suggested?

Morgan: No, no, we refused, and mother was furious with us.

RP: When the war broke out, we were in the country; I remember it very well. We were more or less expecting it, because there was that murder in Sarajevo, and the whole thing which led up to it, but we knew a lot of the military men. My step-father having been commander of a division, all the men who were stationed in the country, in Gatchina, for instance, had to come and call on us and leave their visiting cards, and then some of them were invited to the house; mother knew their family or something; she wanted us to have some kind of rapport with other people. We used to drive to the station to see all the regiments off, and wave goodbye to them, and it was all very heart-rending, that they were all leaving.

Countess Olga de Chrapovisky with departing
troops at her home in Gatchina, Russia (1914)
Robert Westover (RW): How did people look at the war?

Morgan: Well, we were all very patriotic, but honestly I really don't know others outside my family felt. I was still a teenager and certainly not very interested in a war that seemed so remote. My great enthusiasm was riding on horseback, and of course when the war came on, then it was a little harder, because the men were all called along with many horses and other animals to supply the front lines so I wasn't able to ride much, which made me a little bit sad. 

RP: And then the casualties began to mount?

Morgan: Yes, and then we were called on to help in the hospitals. We were very young; I was 17, but we were asked. All the young girls in town who were well bred were asked. It was not a military hospital, but they had nobody else. I think there was one doctor for the whole hospital, because the nurses had all gone to the front. Everything was depleted.

RP: So although technically a nurse's aid you were taking the role of a nurse?

Morgan: I don't even know what role we took, because we had nothing to do with the bed making, or cleaning up or anything of that nature. They had peasant women who did all the work, but what we had to do was bandage, help the doctor when he was seeing patients, and sometimes stay late and wait at the door for people who would come in.

I remember one evening I was asked to stay later, and this man came in and he said "I got off the train. I was going to the front but I got off the train because I feel very ill." There was nobody in the hospital except me, that is, of the staff; it was full of patients, but they were mostly peasants. So I took him up to a room which was free, and I took his temperature which was very, very high. "I'll leave a note for the doctor when he comes in the morning," I said.

In the morning the doctor called me, and he said, "Did you touch that man?"

"Yes," I said, "I took his temperature."

And he said "You'll have to go into quarantine because he has spotted typhus."

I had noticed when I was taking his temperature that his chest was all covered with spots, so I was in quarantine for two or three weeks. It was very boring obviously; I couldn't work in the hospital; I couldn't see anyone; I just had to stay in my room.

RP: Your room at the hospital?

Morgan: No, no, at home. So I could have given it to everybody at home, if I had had it. I think spotted typhus was carried by lice. I don't think it came from touching a person. Well, anyway, they didn't have a chance in my case, because I never got it, but it was very annoying. I was completely quarantined; I couldn't go and see any friends.

RP: So you were in this capacity throughout the war?

Morgan: Throughout the war, yes. Then, towards the end of the war a lot of wounded began to come in, and then mother decided to open a little hospital. We had a building, it was not very big, but I think it had about thirty beds in it, and it was fixed up, more or less. I don't know who took care of it or anything.

I know that we spent all our days there, but we didn't really do anything very much except bandage. Sometimes the bandage would fall off immediately because we didn't know how to do this thing, but I suppose it was a morale builder, and they were not really people who were very ill, but they were somebody, for instance, who came with a broken leg and had to wait until the leg mended. You know, things like that; it took a little time. They were not ordinary citizens; they were military men who were convalescing, and then they'd have to go back to the front again.

So different doctors used to come in every day and check everybody, and it was a little bit better taken care of than the one we had worked in first, and mother was paying for it.

In our moments away from the hospital we used to go to a little tennis club, and that's where we had our fun. We all played tennis, and all these officers would come and be playing tennis too.

Then, during the sport, we didn't seem to have a governess with us all the time.

RP: A governess was around, then, even while you were working in the hospital?

Morgan: Oh yes! Sometimes they used to come and pick us up at the hospital and walk us home; very rarely did they let us walk in the evening alone. But at the tennis club we were free, and we met some very attractive young men there, and flirtations started.

RP: The family must have had very good means.

Morgan: Oh, mother was very wealthy. But unfortunately she took all her fortune out of the United States and took it over to Russia about 1910 so it went down the drain with the revolution, completely.

RW: Did you like working in the hospital? And did it become more horrific as the casualties mounted?

Morgan: No, I didn't like it, working in the hospital, but my sister [Maya] and I were very patriotic. We had to do it. There was no question whether the war was for the right or for the wrong; we hated the Germans and we wanted to do everything we could for the war. 

Yes, things did become more difficult as the war continued. Now I assisted in operations. In the first operation I assisted in I had until that point never even seen a naked man in my life. I ran out of the room and vomited! 

In another operation, I was attempting to distract my thoughts, trying not to watch what they were doing. We had no anesthetics, so they had to give the injured solider liquor as they removed his leg! Imagine no anesthetics at all! There was a terrible shortage. And the poor man was screaming his head off. I just stood there trying in vain not to concentrate on what was going on and then suddenly I looked down and I had this unattached leg in my arms! I fainted. But, eventually, in other operations I became less squeamish. What choice did I have? It couldn't be helped!  Things were far worse in St. Petersburg, I mean Petrograd...

Countess Olga de Chrapovitsky served
as a nurse during Word War One
RW: That's right, St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd as the Tsar felt it was more patriotic.

Morgan: Yes, but of course we had one thing that was very difficult. My mother, first of all, her name was der Felden [Derfelden], which was a German name, and secondly she had a terrible accent; she spoke very poor Russian, so many people thought that she was German. She would go into a shop and give her name and the salesperson would look at her and say "Oh, Nemetskii, German!" So she had a very difficult time.

RP: This takes you, then, through 1916, when things were getting increasingly difficult. Was the assassination of Rasputin looked upon as a patriotic act, or as an aberration?

Morgan: Oh, it was considered very patriotic, very much so. Because everybody hated Rasputin; they felt that he had a terrible influence on the Empress, and through her on the Emperor.

RP: But a great deal of this was exaggerated, was it not? Evidently, though, he did have a hypnotic power.

Morgan: Because he was able to cure the young Tsarevich. And now I have read some books about the medicines in Siberia. And there are really some very interesting herbs and things that people still use.

Or he might have been just lucky. Or he might have been just lucky. He was really a horrid man; everybody who knew him thought that he was a terrible creature.

RP: Except for those in his own circle.

Morgan: Yes, his own circle. Madame Vyrubova, who introduced him to the Empress, thinking that he might help the boy, and he did help him, there is no denying it, but it really was one of the reasons that there were less and less people willing to take the side of the Tsar.

But we were very far away from all that, because you see my stepfather had already died, thank God, and we were living in the country; we had moved out of St. Petersburg, so we had very little contact with people there. Before that, mother had lots of friends who lived in St. Petersburg, and she was seeing them all the time, but when we moved out into the country we had very few people. There was the Grand Duke Michael, who used to come to see us all the time, who never talked of politics, obviously. And a few of the grand dukes who lived in Gatchina at that time. And the Dowager Empress used to come and live in Gatchina at that time. We used to see them quite a lot. And I used to play with Prince Vasilii Romanov and the children in the palace; they had slides, indoor slides, and used to enjoy that very much. But otherwise I think mother was very much out of touch with the world, so when the revolution came it was quite a shock.

This picture of the Dowager Empress
Marie was give to Olga C. Morgan's
mother, Baroness Derfelden
RP: What do you recall of February 1917? Was the Revolution quite evident?

Morgan: No, not too evident at first except that the servants got a little bit disagreeable and mother put red [Soviet] armbands on our arms, so that nobody would stop us on the street.

Things got to be sticky, but we didn't realize it too much until finally one night we were all awakened, and soldiers came to the door and said "We want to see what you have in the house!"

We had a great marvelous collection of antiques and different kinds of firearms which my father and then my stepfather both had collected, and they took every one of them.

RP: When did that occur?

Morgan: At the beginning of the revolution. I can't give you the date because I don't know, but it was very, very frightening. First the knocking on the door, and then they came in. Soon they came knocking on the door again, another night; they wanted something else, and then suddenly mother said, "This is going to end very badly, because everybody knows that we have a great cellar of wines!"

So then she had a file of servants stand, and take the bottles out of the cellar and pass from one to another. Then at a deep ditch by the street the neck of each bottle was knocked off and the street was running with wine for miles. After that they lost interest in coming.

She was afraid they would come to the house, get drunk, and rape the girls. I thought that was a very clever move. Everybody said "She's crazy; that foreign woman is crazy, what she did, she poured all the wine on the street, all the good wine!"

I think we saved two bottles of Napoleon brandy, which we buried. It was very hard to do, so it must have still been February or March, the ground was not thawed yet, because we had a very difficult time burying those two bottles. I know where they are, but I don't think I'll ever be able to find them!

RP: So this was probably at the outset, in February or March?

Morgan: Yes. The Americans had already congratulated the Russians on how clever they were to depose the Tsar and start a new democratic life. We were absolutely infuriated by that. It was some time after that. Before that they couldn't come knocking at your door and coming in at night. Then there were police, but later you were on your own.

We didn't feel it in the country that much, but then the governess was sent to St. Petersburg to feel things out, and see what it was like, and she used to come back with lurid tales about what was going on, so we felt we had to get out. Our name, der Felden, was a German name, and mother spoke Russian with a very bad accent, so that everybody took her for a German, and then all the grand dukes had visited us all the time, so we were definitely in danger.

RW: You were in grave danger. Your mother must have been quite concerned.

Morgan: Absolutely. We were very frightened by this point. So mother went to the American embassy and asked them to help her get us all out of the country. They did so even though she had given up her citizenship. They restored her citizenship and we were safe to leave. That is if we departed soon. The situation was deteriorating fast.

So we got on the train and went across Siberia. We left just before the Provisional Government was ousted and the Soviets took over on November 7, 1917. We left just before that, and not a moment too late.

It was the last train before the line was cut, Elihu Root, the last scheduled trains to cross Siberia!

The journey took two weeks. The train was full of soldiers, who were all running away from the front, who didn't want to fight anymore. The whole country was in disarray! We were just very lucky to get out.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Downton Abbey - Russian Style (Part One)

An interview with one of the last living Russian countesses before her death in 1991.

By Robert Hudson Westover

Part One of a Series

Countess Olga de Chrapovtisky was born into a world of striking contrasts. On one side, Olga’s side, there was such opulent wealth that it would make a billionaire of today blush. The other side eventually destroyed a system they had little to no investment in—in other words: they had nothing.

The Russian Empire’s elite not only controlled nearly all wealth, the daily operational powers of government were invested in them as well. Proximity by either birth or friendship to the Tsar was hugely beneficial to one’s future prospects. Olga’s family had both.

Had the empire of the Tsars’ continued, I have no doubt that Olga would have married into the Tsar’s family and could have possibly been a Grand Duchess. This was the trajectory of her life as the reader will discover in the following interviews.

Olga C. Morgan (right) with her sister Maya Auchincloss (left)
and brother-in-law Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr. dressed
in traditional Russian costumes.
(Hugh would later marry Janet Bouvier,
becoming Jackie Kennedy's stepfather.)

When most people think of Russia they conjure up images of glistering onion-shaped gold and enamel domes. Or they think of guards with bearskin hats and people speaking in a heavy Russian accent. And this is all true—and was true in Olga’s time as well.

However, what most people don’t know is that there was a very Western European side of Russia during Olga’s time. The well-heeled of the imperial court spoke either English or French—with near perfect annunciation. The Russian language was for addressing “the masses.”

A visitor to the Court of Tsar Nicholas II would hardly be able to tell the difference between the Tsar’s court and that of Buckingham Palace, except for the excessive display of wealth. One famous philosopher once said of the Tsar’s court “All the combined magnificent of the courts of Europe could but match St. Petersburg…”

This was Olga’s Russia.

In March of 1983, renowned historian Richard Pierce interviewed the former countess now “just” referred to as Mrs. Olga C. Morgan. Olga’s entire childhood and early adult life was in close proximity to Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Although Russian, Olga’s mother, Margaret Taylor, was an American railroad heiress and a native of Milford, Connecticut.

Conducted at Olga’s home in Laguna Beach, California, Dr. Pierce’s interview is now housed in the archives at U.C. Berkeley.

Several years later, Olga allowed me to interview her as well. Over a period of three weeks I obtained several hours of conversation I have yet to completely transcribe. Because Olga did not know Dr. Pierce very well, she was somewhat withheld in the intimate details of her life in Imperial Russia. And, since Dr. Pierce was only interested in her imperial background, the interview does not delve too deep into her life as an exiled countess living in the United States. For instance, there is no mention of her third marriage to J.P. Morgan’s nephew Jasper Morgan, nor is there a reference to her sister, Maya, marrying Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr, the future stepfather to Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

Olga C. Morgan, a former Russian countess,with Robert Hudson Westover 
at her home in Laguna Beach, California 

Olga called me her godson and I referred to her as my godmother. From the time I met her (I was 16) she held enormous sway over my life, but that’s a story I cover in my soon to be published book “Lessons in Nobility.”

Throughout the interviews in this article, I have inserted in italics some of the responses Olga gave to me when I asked the same or similar questions and other facts that I have since become aware of through research on various projects related to Olga’s unique life. Additionally, I have taken the privilege to edit some of Dr. Pierce’s transcriptions.

As mentioned above, I have recently finished a manuscript on my time with Olga. Because the work goes into much of Olga’s life after the Russian Revolution I have kept the following interviews focused mainly on Olga’s life in imperial Russia. 

Note: All photographs are either the property of the author, used by permission or thought to be in the public domain. 


A Compellation of Two Interviews with Olga C. Morgan
Location: Mrs. Morgan’s villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach, California. 1983 (Pierce)/1991 (Westover)

Olga’s Earliest Memories of Her Family

RP (Dr. Richard Pierce): Could we begin with a short autobiographical sketch, including a bit about your family?

Morgan (Olga C. Morgan): I will do my best! My mother, Margaret Taylor, was born in 1870. The family had become wealthy; I think it was in railroads. Henry Augustus Taylor, her father, built the library in Milford, Connecticut, and they have his portrait in oil there.

My mother met my father, Nicholas de Chrapovitsky, a Russian naval officer, at a ball in Washington, D.C.

Margharita (Margaret )Taylor. (1894) 
A year later she went to Paris and married him in the church in the Rue de Russe she had become Orthodox and they went to Russia. Of course, after America it was a very difficult place for her to live; she didn't speak the language, so she always had an English companion with her who helped her translate.
RHW (Robert Hudson Westover): What Olga did not reveal here is why Margaret Taylor, essentially ran off with a Russian count. Being from one of the most prominent families in New England, it was a bit surprising to “society,” as Olga recounted to me. (“Society” at that time was the term for the ruling class.)

Count Nicholas Chrapovitsky. (1894) 
(Hugh D. "Yusha" Auchincloss III 
photo collection. Used by permission.
The surprising part of Margaret’s marriage was not only its oddity, but also the cultural divide and separation it would invariably create. It was one thing for a power family to marry off a girl to English aristocracy; it was entirely another thing to ship her off to the mysterious heirs of the Byzantines, the imperial Russians.

The truth was that Margaret really didn’t have a choice. Since her mother’s death, her father had slowly begun to erode the social standing the family once had. “He had whores around the place and mother had had enough…” Olga told me during one of our interview.

RP: Do you know when they met, or what had brought him to the United States?

Morgan: I don't know. That's the trouble, there are so many details that I don't know. I know she met him in Washington, D.C., but I don't even know the date of their marriage. I only know that I was born on December 19, 1896, so obviously they must have been married for at least a year before that.

RHW: Through newspaper articles, I have discovered that Olga’s father was a Romanov and a decedent of Peter the Great. Count Chrapovitsky was a friend of Nicholas II as well. Margaret went by Margarita. I don’t know why Olga refers to her as Margaret. Perhaps she was just simplifying her mother’s name.

Nicholas and Margaret did meet at a ball in Washington, D.C. and it was in 1894—the year of the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The Russian naval fleet had come to visit the event and for a time was moored in New York Harbor.

RP: Could you relate some of your earliest memories?

Morgan: My earliest recollections, strangely enough, are mostly of life in the country, where we went in summer. We used to go someplace I don't even know where it was near St. Petersburg, on the water. My father was away most of the summer. And it had a beach, and I remember we used to go down to the beach, and we had a little carriage, with a pony, that we drove around, with a governess, obviously. That I remember quite vividly, but I remember very little of life in town, and of studying with governesses and all that.

Then I have a very strange recollection of when I was very small, about five or six. My sister and I slept in a room where we each had a bed, and at night I used to see a little devil, walking around my bed. I could have sworn that it was a little black devil, so there must have been some stories I was told that affected me like that, because I really saw him, and when I'd get up in the morning and try to get my toys out of the closet I was always standing off in case he jumped out because I thought he lived in the closet with my toys. That's a very early recollection of when I was in town. I don't remember where we stayed in the country. We always rented different places; I don't remember what they looked like. I only remember that they used to be near that beach.

RHW: The Chrapovitsky’s townhouse in St. Petersburg, 14 Fontanka 14, was enormous and survived the Revolution and World War II. When Olga’s family lived there, the lobby had a large stuffed Russian brown bear with its paw extended out so that callers could leave their cards. The home was large enough to have dozens of servants living in it. Some of them where proficient enough with musical instruments that when needed, the family could summon its own orchestra.

Morgan: My father was killed in the Japanese War, in the Battle of Tsushima May 27-28, 1905, and I know very little about him. I hardly ever saw him because he was always stationed on the royal yacht, the Standart. He was there all summer.

I remember only that when we went to the United States during the summer of 1905, as we got off the ship all the correspondents threw themselves on my mother and said "Did you know that your husband was lost in the battle?" And mother had had a premonition while she was onboard; she kept saying "I think he's dead."

But otherwise she didn't know; it was a rather cruel thing to do, a terrible welcome. He was on the Alexander III. The whole fleet was sunk, many by their own volition, because they did not want the Japanese to take them prisoners. They were all regarded as heroes, so we became ladies-in-waiting to the Empress as one of the rewards for being daughters of heroes.

The New York Times
June, 7 1905



The Countess Chrapovitsky, widow of Count Chrapovitsky,
second in command of the Russian battleship Alexander III,
which was one of the vessels of Admiral Rojdesvensky 's
fleet that was destroyed in the battle of the Sea of Japan,
arrived in New York last night on the North German Lloyd
liner Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The Countess, who was accompanied by her two little
daughters, was met by her brother, Henry Taylor of
Milford, Conn., and left for that place soon after the
Kaiser Wilhelm docked.

Mr. Taylor said that his sister was too grieved over the
Misfortune that had overtaken her to talk, and added that
she was not yet certain that her husband was among the lost,
and would not believe so until she received official
confirmation of it.

She heard of the sea battle when the Kaiser touched
at Cherbourg and Southhampton a week ago yesterday.

RHW: According to many accounts of the naval battle, the Alexander III went down with all hands—several thousand men. The Russian’s quickly went on to negotiate for peace. There are no known biographical details concerning Count Chrapovitsky at the Naval Museum in St. Petersburg.

When I asked Olga about her father she did remember her mother telling her how on their honeymoon in Africa, the count went to shot lions all day and left his wife in the hot sun. According to Olga, Margaret nearly died of heat stroke “so he must have been a very selfish man…” Olga added.

Morgan: After my father died my mother never saw his side of the family anymore.

RP: Why this estrangement?

Morgan: She didn't like them. And then, about a year later, she remarried, to Christopher der Felden, or Baron der Felden, but he didn't like to use that because he said it was Germanic.

Famously shy, the Tsarina turned her back
to the camera in this picture with
Count Chrapovitsky (right)

Before that, through my father's family, my mother was always invited to all the balls and other affairs at court. But after she married Baron der Felden, she never went to the balls and things like that anymore, but then the Imperial family used to come and visit us—the  Dowager Empress, the Grand Duke Michael, and quite a few others; they were very close.

RHW: What Olga leaves out here is that Margaret’s strained relationship with her in-laws resulted in less proximity to the Tsarina, whom she had become close to. Added to this was the fact that Alexandria really didn’t    
     care for her mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress.

Despite the politics of the court, Margaret managed to keep on relatively good terms with Alexandra but she became very close to the Dowager Empress Marie. So much so that later in life, the empress gave Margaret many sentimental objects one of which was a handkerchief that Olga said “had dried the tears of the Tsar.” 

The Russian Dowager Empress Marie with
Baron Christopher der Felden (foreground)

In exile, both Margaret and the dowager empress played crucial roles in bringing world attention to Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. This collusion between the two is well recorded in Peter Kurth’s best seller, “Anastasia, The Mystery of Anna Anderson.”

The cover photo for Peter Kurth's
book about the Grand Duchess

Imperial Schooling 

RP: You mentioned having governesses, could you describe that? At what age did you have the first?

Morgan: The first was before 1905. She was a French governess, whom we disliked very much. Whenever we did anything that she didn't like she would say "Faite la planche!" which is French for "make the board' so we had to get down on the floor and lie like a board we hated her! And we were never able to tell anyone how much we disliked her, except when we went on this trip in 1905 to America. Then every day we would come out and say "Oh, how wonderful it is, to be without her! How wonderful it is not to have Mademoiselle Mizan around our neck! "

And mother said, "Do you really dislike her that much?" So when we got back she fired her or retired her people didn't fire a governess, they retired her. But when we lived in summer in a country place we had a governess for each day. We had to take a walk with her, eat with her, talk to her, all day, and then the next day it would be a French governess.

In the winter we had the same thing; a governess for each day. It was very strict, we had always to take long walks and do healthy things, and then study that particular language for one day and then another language another day, and so I am very proficient in French. After I have been in Paris for two or three weeks they can hardly tell that I am not French.

RP: So this was from the age of 6 or 7?

Morgan: Yes, and before that. This lasted until my stepfather got very ill. Then we had to break the whole monotony of the thing, because then we went every year to Cannes, Nice and places like that. They thought he had TB and that he couldn't stand the winter climate. So then we had only one governess with us, but then we would get another governess there who could speak French. German was a little bit forgotten at that time. We had the Russian governess come with us, the maids my mother's maid and our own maid to take care of my sister and me, and a valet who took care of my stepfather, so you can see what a large procession of people traveled back and forth.

RP: That was in what year?

Morgan: In 1907, 1908 and 1909, and I think he died in 1910. After that mother was completely broken up; she never went out socially after he died. She was completely devastated. Then we started the routine of the governesses again, but by that time we were much older, so we were able to pick and choose a little bit.

RP: So it was always female tutelage?

Morgan: Entirely female, except for mathematics. Then I had some kind of young man who taught me mathematics I don't think he was a professor; he was probably a student. I was very good at mathematics; I wish I had continued. But otherwise it was always females. We had a butler and a valet in the house, but when the war came on in 1914 then there were no men doing any work for us, except that we did have a coachman, but he must have been a very old man; everyone else went to the front.

Imperial Living

RP: Where was your house in Petersburg?

Morgan: It was Fontanka 14. After mother remarried, when we moved in the summer we always went to the same country house that belonged to my stepfather, in Gatchina, and that place we adored, for then we had our own animals; we had left them there for the winter.

A page from one of Olga's photo albums which includes both a photo (top right) and a postcard (bottom right) of pre-1917 St. Petersburg. On the top left is the above referenced photo of Margaret Taylor in her youth. The bottom left photo is if a youthful Countess Maya de Chrapovitisky who would become the first wife of Hugh D. Auchincloss Jr. 

RP: Gatchina that was where Paul spent so many years, waiting for his mother to die so that he could gain the throne. It was almost destroyed during the war, but they have done a remarkable job of restoring it.

Morgan: It was a beautiful palace. The Dowager Empress used to come and stay there, and behind the palace was a huge park. We children used to take walks there every day, and on the way to the park we used to buy great loaves of bread and feed it to the geese, ducks and swans. And we loved that; it was beautiful.

But it was quite dangerous in the autumn, because then the elk fought; sometimes it was quite frightening. So it was a beautiful, beautiful park; I think that they have left it quite as it was. We also used to drive through it quite a lot, because walking was a little far. We'd drive to it, and then get out and walk, with those loaves of bread to feed the birds.

Gatchina Palace, Russia

RHW: Olga recounted to me that on many occasions, the Dowager Empress would visit her mother at their home in Gatchina. One can only imagine what an ordeal that must have been!  

RP: This takes us up to what point?

Morgan: Oh, it must be already 1908, 09 and 10.

RP: And still you never were in school, but always with governesses?

Morgan: Always governesses. No, I never went to school, but we bothered mother so much about it that finally she said "All right, once a year you can go and take exams." Which was not pleasant, because we had never seen any of the people who would give us papers. She felt that maybe that would keep us on our toes.

We had very few girlfriends, unfortunately, because we never went to school. There were just children of my mother's friends, so we had about five families with whom we were very close. Among them was the
Countess Tolstoy and all her children and I'm still close to them now.

We attended very few social events. As a social event we used to have dancing class when we were young, which I thought made up for a real social life. And I did go to one ball when I was only sixteen. It was Grand Duchess Olga and she was giving a ball. She came over to the house and she asked me, "Would you like to go to a ball?"

"Oh yes I exclaimed, "I would love to!"

So she said to mother, "I have invited your little girl."

Mother said, "It's not possible! She has not been out in society or anything."
But she then told me, "Never mind, I told her you could go."

So they made me a dress, which had to be covered up, of course, to the neck, with the arms covered and everything, and then I went to the ball and it was very interesting. Everybody was so beautifully dressed. Pushkin describes it as everything gleaming with jewelry and everything beautiful. And I danced. It was in her palace.

Grand Duchess Xenia 

That was in 1914, in the spring, just before I went to the Crimea. She was the Emperor's sister; she later married a commoner, and she went to Canada and she died there. A book was written about her, it was called Once a Grand Duchess.

RHW: How often did you see the Tsar?

Morgan (interview with RHW): Quite often. In the winter, when we lived in St. Petersburg, we used to go to visit [the imperial family at Tsarskoe Selo], and even in summer, when we were there they used to have parades on the Champ de Mars, and it was very beautiful and very exciting, with wonderful music. The Emperor was always in them!

Before mother married Baron der Feldon we often were invited to play with the Grand Duchess not only at Tsarkoe Selo but also in Crimea.

Tsar Nicholas II

RHW: What was your clearest memory of these visits?

Morgan: On one visit to Crimea, we were invited to Sunday dinner at the imperial palace. Later that evening, we played a series of children’s parlor games. I think I was ten years-old or so. The emperor almost always joined in on these games. Anyway, during one particular game, I think it was Post Office, or something like that, the point is is that a certain times in the games the participants are to quickly sit down. I did. Then everyone went suddenly silent. I looked up, and saw the face of the emperor smiling down at me! In a complete state of fear I ran out of the room! Everyone burst into laughter! Even the empress laughed!

RHW: She was rather dower wasn’t she?

Morgan: Oh, yes and most of the time she sat very quietly as we played with the children [the Grand Duchesses]. The Tsarevich never played with us. He usually sat with his mother. Everyone knew something was wrong with him but no one dared ask. Of course, our regular visits ended when mother remarried. We would still see them though, [the Grand Duchesses] on occasion.

I was very strictly brought up I had to have very good manners always, especially when in the presence of the imperial family! My sister and I we were being groomed, you see, for being ladies in waiting. We couldn't have bad manners; you had even to eat in an especially neat way.

Beyond 1910 -- After Margaret’s marriage to Baron der Feldon

RP: During this earlier period [after Margaret’s marriage to Baron Der Feldon], were you able to attend many cultural events? These seem always to have been an important part of Russian life.

Morgan: Do you mean like theaters? No, we were pretty well cut off, you see, because the trains ran very sporadically to St. Petersburg, and to take a train just to go and see a play... We used to see little plays in Gatchina, there were sometimes put on by amateurs and whatever, but that was about all that we saw, a few little ballets and things like that, but we never went to St. Petersburg anymore.

Morgan (RHW interview): But before we moved to Gatchina the cultural events were very splendid. The ballet was marvelous and the opera was very good as well.  We always had seats, very good ones, and always in boxes; we never sat in the main portion. We never were taken much to the theater, because it was not supposed to be for young people, but we were taken very often to the ballet and to the opera, at least once a week.

The Last Summer of the Old World

RHW: You spent the late spring early summer of 1914 in Crimea. This was the last summer of the “old world” [as the pre-World War I has come to be known]. What were your clearest memories of this visit?

Morgan: The Grand Duke George and his wife invited me to go visit with them and their two daughters, Nina and Xenia. We were very close, and we remained very good friends. The family had a beautiful home, near the Black Sea. It wasn't a home where they lived all the time. It was just a place where they went in spring and maybe in autumn.

Here, I have picture of the visit (shows a picture of her with men in military uniform). They all belonged to the Tsar’s Crimean regiment. This (second row, sitting) was the Grand Duchess Marie who was once married to the Crown Prince of Sweden which ended horribly! Also we had this lady in waiting, who came with us to see that we behaved. The officers were very handsome! They took us to their regimental place and gave us lunch and then they had the men do a Cossack dance for us. That was an outing!

RHW: Wasn’t the Grand Duchess Marie an adult?

Morgan: Yes, but it didn’t matter. We still had to be accompanied by a chaperone. But aside from the occasional lady-in-waiting that trip was really the first time in my life that I had fun, because I didn't have a governess with me! (Holding another photo) I am here in back, in white, third, there's the Grand Duchess Marie.

First row on the left, the Grand Duke George,
on the far right is the Grand Duchess Marie
(Olga is sitting just behind the Grand Duchess)
RP: I suppose much attention was given to dress?

Morgan: We were very clothes conscious, unfortunately, even as young children, because mother bought all her clothes in Paris, and then she had a very famous dressmaker in St. Petersburg where she got other clothes. When I was going to the Crimea, she took me to that dressmaker and got me some beautiful special clothes to wear there. When you were young you were supposed to be completely covered up, never to be decollete in any way, shape or manner. Even in the day we always wore something right up to our neck, and long sleeves. It was very different from today.

RP: And jewelry?

Morgan: We were given a few jewels to wear, but very few. I still have a piece of jewelry which was made for me. My stepfather had a star from someone, it was all diamond chips, you know the kind of diamonds they use in the jewelry in Constantinople. We were taken to the jeweler, and they showed us a lot of designs and I chose one for a barrette, because that's all we wore, you know we wore our hair back through the barrette. It was like a clip; I still have it, but I have it made over into a pin now, because where would I ever wear a barrette? So we did have a bit of jewelry even then, although we were very young, and it was not supposed to be worn by young girls. Mother, of course, was always beautifully dressed, and all the people around me.

RHW: Little did you know but this would be your last trip to Crimea. Did you ever see the imperial family again?

Morgan: No. Not in a social setting. However, the Emperor and Empress, along with the Grand Duchesses and sometimes the Tsariviech, would attend the departure of troops and other duties related to the war and we would see them there, but no, never again for any social gathering. It was on one of these occasions that I first saw Rasputin [at a train station].

RHW: What was that like?

Morgan: Oh, simply horrible. He was just so arrogant! Everyone knew he had a horrible influence over the empress. He was the only one who could save her son, so she believed. He [Rasputin] behaved as if he owned the world. Well, I suppose he did by that point…”


RHW: Yes, he seemed to have such magical powers. I read that the Tsarvich was dying of hemophila and was about to be pronounced dead until a telegram arrived from Rasputin telling the Tsarina to have the doctors leave the child along and that he would recover and he did! Do you think had he been killed earlier the empire would have been saved?

Morgan: Yes. I don’t doubt it for a moment. Rasputin destroyed Russia. Once his daughter wanted to speak with me, and I said to the messenger “Why would I want to speak with that peasant.”