Digital Russian History Imperial Russia Nostalgia and Memory

Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1909

Although I’d hoped to post something more substantive for my second post, instead, here’s a drive-by link to two photo albums that include some amazing images of Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1909.

To me, they bring home how much some of the streetscapes of these cities haven’t really changed in a century–and then how much some of them have.

My favorite image is this one, showing an early public health measure: free boiling water to fight the spread of cholera. The cucumber seller is a close second.

(Incidentally, I first saw these at, an interesting blog that often links to wonderful image sources–including, today, images from the blockade of Leningrad.)

By Alison Smith

Professor, University of Toronto, Department of History;

Author of For the Common Good and Their Own Well-Being: Social Estates in Imperial Russia (Oxford University Press, 2014)

12 replies on “Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1909”

There was a return trip in 1911 that Murray could not attend because he had become head of the advertising department for Union Carbide (founded by the owner of the horses). Here is what was said about Murray in an article by the journalist that replaced him on the 1911 trip:

“In closing I must add that there is mourning in the land of the Czar at Murray’s non-appearance. When the natives learned that the Billings stable was to return, it was supposed, of course, that he was to return with it, and the fact that he was not would undoubtedly cause the city to be draped in crepe, were it not for the fact that the Imperial Majesty himself is due for a visit in about two weeks, in consequence which the entire population is engaged in a perfect orgie of activity with paint, calsomine, gold leaf and upholstery, streets are being repaved, windows polished, droshkies refurbished and harnesses besilivered, regardless of expense. The Czar however, will depart May 21st (May 8 Russian style) and thereafter nothing will dispel the pall of gloom – for Murray is recorded in local history as the greatest Russian-American that has ever appeared in the shadow of the Kremlin. Innumerable legends exist regarding is prowess in the consumption of vodki and sakouski, of the famine in caviar and sterlite that followed his departure, and the drought in the wine cellars at the Metropole, the National Continental, the Imperial Club, and at “The Yards”. There is a Murray Howe Memorial Society, composed exclusively of chefs, butlers, matres-de-hotel, waiters and bell boys who are still living in luxury from the shower of rubbles and kopeks that made his trail luminous. There is a similar society composed of droshky and troika drivers and owners; that portion of the citizens that habitually depends upon largess for their sustenance hold periodical mass meetings upon the plaza in front of the Grand Opera House and petition the Czar to issue a ukase demanding his return: while night before last, at the performance by the Imperial Ballet of “La Belle au Bois Dormant” when the premier danseuse, the beauteous and sprightly Mlle Balaschova , learned that the American trotting legation was present and that Murray Andreyvitch was not among them, she was so overcome with grief that she was obliged to omit her grand climactic “pas-seul” in the last act, and a physician had to be hurried to her dressing room. But the biggest gloom prevails in the Thieves Market, where the most affectionate remembrances exists of the tall Americanski’s fraternal visits. The king of pickpockets has been inconsolable ever since he was told that his comrade from across the seas would probably never return to his old haunts, where, three years ago, they used to foregather with much mutual enjoyment.

From all which it will be understood that such an ineffectual understudy as myself is laboring under disadvantages impossible to overcome”

What tremendous resources, Alison. Of course each of our authors can and should choose their own voice for the blog, but as I suppose is obvious from my own posts, I certainly hope our blog will include more than just long-form substantive posts. It is such a great opportunity to share some of our favorite resources with our colleagues in education whether at the collegiate level or high school teachers. (I’ve received a number of comments from high school teachers thanking me for teaching resources that they are now using.) I hope we’ll treat the blog as an experiment in different genres of historical writing.

These photographs are fascinating, and will be a useful resource for teaching. Funny that as I read your blog I was also half-way through my own post on images of Moscow and Leningrad, albeit from a few decades later!

Alison, please do continue to post images and whatever you find of interest. I, for one, was thrilled to see these, and looks like a good read (we’ll see how well Google translator can manage).

Let me add, whoever said that a picture was worth a thousand words wasn’t far off. The difference is that instead of posting several pages of the construction you personally place on these photos, you’ve allowed readers to interpret for themselves. Often, this can lead to a more open-ended discussion.

On to the photos….

They are such interesting, casual street scenes, but something about them gives me a bit of a chill, and I think it’s the extraordinary clarity. Except for the lack of color, I get the feeling I could step through the frame and be there. They’re not distant; they’re very present. And it makes me wonder how long ago a century really is.

Thanks again…

Alison – as a result of the unbelievable response to the photos since the article came out (over 700,000 individual photo views in the two days since the Moscow Times article was posted), I have found an archival company that is going to scan Murray’s remarkable scrap book about the trip, his racing life and career at Union Carbide that directly resulted in his racing relationship with C. K. G. Billings, its founder.

Let me know if you would like me to keep you in the loop on the scans – it is a collection of articles/photos/cartoons of him from publications/letters/passports/Russian invitation/awards etc dating back to the late 1800’s and among other things has letters etc from famous people that he counted as friends. I am not sure if I can post everything on FLICKR as it will have to be high resolution to get the notes written in his hand. His articles about Russia from the trip are fascinating as he speaks a lot about Russian people and details about Russian life – all in the humorous style that had him inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame for his writing.

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