The Spirit of the Queen of Spades

PHOTO by deadokey / Livejournal
Where to find ghosts in the Moscow Region

Not long ago, my friends suggested that we head out of town and visit a haunted house. You can find both beautiful nature and countryside ghosts just 50 kilometres outside of Moscow, along Dmitrovskoye Highway.

Getting to the Ghosts

An hour and a half of driving gets us to the Apraksin country estate. On the way, the most experienced member of our party said that it's no ordinary ghost we were looking for - it was the spirit of the Queen of Spades, the eponymous title character of Alexander Pushkin's short story. The writer often visited Olgovo for balls and theatrical performances, and the character was allegedly inspired by the lady of the house. "Well, it's something like that," he finished his story, clumsily. Everything turned out to be half true.

The Spectre of History

On our visits to the estate, we always saw the same scene. The fence and closed gate with a sign announcing that it's private property. The main thing is to remember not to panic. Open the gate slowly and head in, no one will say anything. Behind the fence you forget about the ghosts almost immediately because you find yourself in another world – and definitely in a different century.

Even the obvious abandonment of the estate and the crumbling house don't spoil the experience.

What Happened to the Mansion?

The ruins of the mansion are laid bare: only the skeleton of a once magnificent palace remains. And what's surprising, is that in the 1950s the building was in more or less good condition. How can it have become so dilapidated in such a short space of time?

It turns out that in the 1980s, the authorities decided to change the mansion's roof. The old roof was removed, but installing the new one was delayed from summer to winter and again from winter to summer, while they were figuring out who should pay for the restoration.

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Meanwhile, the humidity and regular rainfall of the Moscow region made the once magnificent building of the 18th century look the way it does now.

We wanted to climb up onto the bricks to take a look into the empty windows and admire the remains of the columns and carvings. But when we tried to, a thunderous voice came out of nowhere, "Stop! You can't go there! " Of course, we immediately decided that this was the ghost of the Queen of Spades.

But it was just an ordinary woman with a bucket in her hand, a janitor or a cleaner. "You might kill yourself,” she muttered somewhat more warmly. “The bricks are crumbling, you'll fall."

She was right, of course. And we were vandals who lacked a self-preservation instinct. On one of our later visits we were relieved to find out that the building was wrapped in a mesh.

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Searching for Truth

However, before you carry on with your walk through the estate, it makes sense to get acquainted with its history and to understand the spirit of Pushkin's Queen of Spades. According to the archives, the story is as follows.

At the beginning of 17th century the village of Lgovo (now known as Olgovo) was granted to the governor of Dmitrov, Fedor Chaplin, whose family owned it for over a century. Later, the village passed on to Soymonov family, whose daughter married Field Marshal Stepan Fedorovich Apraksin and received Olgovo estate as a dowry. In 1757 (other sources claim it was 1747), the Apraksins' son, Stepan, was born – his godmother was the Empress Elizabeth herself.

During Stepan Stepanovich's time at the helm, the Olgovo estate achieved real prosperity. Incidentally, he was married to Ekaterina Golitsyn, the eldest daughter of Natalya Petrovna Golitsyn, who – here it is! – was the basis for the Countess in The Queen of Spades.

Pushkin confirms it in his diary: "My Queen of Spades is very much in fashion - players bet on threes, sevens and aces. People at the court have found similarities between the old countess and Princess Natalya Petrovna, but they don't seem to have become angry ... "

Noble Decadence

Pushkin's contemporaries admired the estate. Records show that its owners spent more than a thousand rubles on a grand dinner here, while the bill for a ball could reach 25,000. For reference, a cow cost no more than 10 rubles at the time.

In 1786, General Apraksin invited Italian architect and painter Francesco Camporesi to Olgovo. He rebuilt the whole palace and park complex. Almost all that remains of the estate is his handiwork. However, a paper mill and a kennel were destroyed, even though they were also of architectural interest.

Two slender, but peeling obelisks on the left and the right sides of the road were also built by Camporesi. They still welcome guests at the entrance to the estate. We go further inside. On the right hand side there are barns, well-preserved to this day. However, if there were no tenants with warehouses and shops, it would be easier to feel the atmosphere of the old manor. On the left hand side there are stables and a training pen, where Orlov horses were bred. These buildings still look in good condition.

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Finally, we arrive at the front yard through those seemingly locked gates. The ruined mansion is on the left, connected with the south and north wings by a low wall, following Camporesi's design.

Nature Under Lock and Key

If you walk between the servants' quarters and the northern outbuilding you will find the Black Pond. It's very picturesque, with an island in the middle. Cross a crooked suspension bridge, which has been destroyed by flooding many times, to reach the island and admire the beauty of its oaks and maples. When the estate was owned by the Apraksins there was no bridge to the island and it was called the Island of Love. Couples would come out here by boat, which guaranteed privacy.

Once there was a network of ponds connected by shared irrigation system. Apraksin's ponds have funny names: White Sparrow, Black Sparrow, Pink, Raspberry, Rustic... It's a pity that we haven't found out the origin of the names.

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There used to be fountains around the White Sparrow pond, with pristine white marble sculptures and white swans. These days, there's black driftwood instead of swans, and everything is covered with dense, overgrown duckweed.

Only a stone grotto at the edge of the channel above the White Sparrow remains. We almost forgot that we had come in search of ghosts. And then Olgovo surprised us. In the romantic twilight of the deserted, completely empty grotto we saw lit white candles! I can't even describe how excitedly we reacted to it. I hope that our readers will also see that in that moment it was clear to us that we were being greeted by the Queen of Spades herself!

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