By Art Cashin of UBS Financial Services
On this day (+2) in 1916, one of history's most celebrated but most inept assassinations began. In the retelling of most assassinations we hear how the victims might have been spared if....! You know the drill - if the guy guarding Lincoln's box had not gone for a drink or if the Archduke Ferdinand had not had his car forced up a side street, etc. etc.
But this assassination was more like Larry, Moe and Curly plan the Normandy Invasion.
The proposed victim was a semi-literate preacher who passed himself off as a Russian monk. Pre-dating some TV preachers, in an age with no TV, he preached that you needed God's forgiveness. And, to give God a wide enough target, it is necessary that you sin a lot. So, many of his convocations turned into what we might secularly call today - drunkfests or orgies. (But, he said God does need a large target.) Critics of the preacher called him "The Mad Monk". He called himself "Rasputin".
Anyway, Rasputin hit pay-dirt when he appeared to cure the hemophiliac son of Czar Nicholas II. Viewing the cure as a miracle, the Czarina demanded that all decisions be cleared with the miracle-maker, Rasputin. That made him the most powerful man in Russia, which did not sit well with the nobles. Thus, the assassination attempt.
On this night Prince Yussupov, the Czar's nephew-in-law, invited Rasputin over for some late-night cakes and wine. Yussupov and his pals loaded the cakes and wine with enough cyanide to kill a regiment of Cossacks. And just for insurance they put extra cyanide on the knives, forks, plates and glasses. Then Yussupov sat down and made small talk with Rasputin. Over several hours Rasputin ate most of the cakes and drank all of the wine. Then he asked the prince if he had any more wine.
In a panic, Yussupov ran upstairs where the co-conspirators gave him a gun and told him to shoot Rasputin. He shot him in the back at close range. Rasputin tried to turn but fell backward. A doctor was called in and pronounced the monk dead, saying the bullet had pierced his heart. An hour later the conspirators returned to move the body.
In a scene straight out of a Stephen King movie, as Yussupov bent over the body, the monk opened one eye and grabbed the Prince by the throat and started to beat the hell out of him. The others freed the Prince and the conspirators fled, locking the door behind them. Rasputin kicked down the door and chased them onto the palace grounds. They turned and shot him twice knocking him to the ground. Then using iron bars they beat his head to a bloody pulp. They then tied his hands and feet, cut a hole in the ice and dumped him in the River Neva. When the body was found, it was noted that he had freed his feet and one hand and if he hadn't drowned he might have come back one more time.
Peasants believe Rasputin put a curse on Russia, which caused the revolution in 1918 and may last to this day (more wine, Mr. Putin?).