So, this isn’t Ossining-related, but it is running and history related, so please to enjoy . . .
Now, sometimes I do the environmentally horrible thing and DRIVE to a run. Like take a 30-minute away drive.
This run starts at the Buxton Cemetery on Succabone Road in Bedford Hills, and it’s so delightful and challenging that I try do it weekly. After our run, my friend and I cool down by walking through the cemetery and drinking our water. And we have learned a lot about the people who lived around here, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
But we only just noticed these gravestones:
It’s a little strange that it took us this long, because these headstones are entirely different from all the others. However, they are off to the side of the cemetery and are quite obscured by the ferns growing up around them.
I noticed them mostly because the last name is “Gagarin” and Yuri Gagarin was the first human who ever went into space (Vostok 1, 1961. Yes I am a space nerd.) However, I don’t think there’s a connection, as I don’t think he was from a noble family. At least, his origin story involves working at a steel plant and never mentions nobility. But then it wouldn’t, would it? (However, readers, always feel free to correct me!)
Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader of this blog, I was sent the following obituary of Prince Serge Gagarin, the son of Prince Sergei and Princess Catherine. The very last line says the following: “In case you were wondering, Serge Gagarin is not directly related to Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, the cosmonaut who, in April 1961, was the first human to orbit the earth. Yuri Gagarin was descended from serfs owned by the Princes Gagarin. He died in the crash of his MiG-15 in 1968.” I had no idea that Russian serfs took on the name of their “owners.” Clearly, more research is needed, but it certainly gives Yuri bona fides as someone who represented Marxist ideals.
I have learned, through my armchair research, that Prince Sergei and Princess Catherine were indeed legitimate Russian nobility.
It seems that the Gagarin family goes back centuries, some say 31 generations (!!), and were close to many Czars and Czarinas over the centuries. Unfortunately, in 1917, after the Russian Revolution and the following civil war, being a noble was not a good thing – in fact, the concept of nobility was abolished. The Gagarin family fled to Turkey, then France, finally settling in the US with other Russian ex-pat nobility.
I did find an interesting article that seems to indicate that before he fled, Prince Sergei was involved in helping pack up St. Petersburg’s famed Hermitage Museum: “Crown diamonds – the symbols of the imperial power, genealogical books and treasures from the Jewel Gallery, earlier kept in the Winter Palace, left for Moscow in August 1914, immediately after the outbreak of World War I, and were stored in the Kremlin Armory. Now the royal throne and the palace silver were to be taken out of the palace.”
Both the Prince and Princess rated obituaries in the New York Times. Princess Catherine died in 1938 at the age of 50 “of a heart ailment,” and is described as married to “a diplomat of the Czarist regime.” And Prince Sergei, whose 1941 obituary states that he was “connected with the Russian Foreign Office” tells the horrible tale of his death “when a hot-water heater exploded at his Summer home in Bedford, New York.” Yikes!
However, both of these obits seem to skim over stories that are much more involved (and possibly dark?) than the New York Times felt like sharing. I wonder what they are?