May 3, 2000. Peter Kurth points out that Anastasia/Anna Manahan had died several months before Halloween of 1984. So much for my memory! I could have sworn she was still alive when we went trick or treating. I had spent the previous academic year abroad, so maybe I just missed it, and no one informed me! Or maybe I'm nuts.
In 1984, I went trick or treating at the home of the woman who claimed to be Anastasia, Imperial Grand Duchess of all the Russias. I was twelve, a little too old to be trick or treating, and she had been committed to a nursing hospital and was deemed mentally unstable several months previously. Her husband, who was as wacky as she was, aided and abetted her in her wackiness, and so was considered unable to care for her.
Melissa lived down the street, and having grown up in the country, I found the allure of trick or treating in the city - in a real neighborhood of real houses, and where yards could be measured in yards - very alluring. I was fully aware that I was a little too old to trick or treat, and so I intended this to be my last and greatest hurrah.
Anastasia and Jack Manahan lived in an house overgrown with bushes, cats, books, and a general clutter. The lights were on throughout the house, the windows and doors were open, and no one seemed to be home. It was the spookiest place I have ever seen.
We crept slowly (so slowly waiting for one of the others to admit how freaked out she was) up the path, and finally reached the door. I looked in and around quickly (hence the overwhelming impression of clutter), and someone said softly, "Trick or Treat," and we barely stopped to wait before we dashed back to the relative safety of the street.
I knew who Anastasia was - or whom she claimed to be. My mother had interviewed her for a magazine when I was little, and I had found her tapes and listened to them about a year earlier. I was fascinated by the story, by the idea - the hope - that someone could survive something so horrible. My mother somewhat believed her (but not as fanatically as Peter Kurth did), and I wanted to, if only that the mythical Anna Anderson would always be undercut by the imperious cranky real thing.
Of course, recent DNA tests have shown that she is most likely that missing Polish factory worker who disappeared a few days before Anna Anderson jumped in the canal, and that's pretty hard to argue against (although Kurth does!). Of course, now all of my questions will never be answered.
Did she knowingly pretend to be Anastasia? Was she merely delusional? Did the explosion in the factory addle her senses? Did she study hard? Is it all a conspiracy? Could her apparent great nephew really be her grandson, and hence, the DNA match makes sense?
Is there a big conspiracy to prevent her recognition as a Romanov? What about the ear match?
I'd really like her to have been the Anastasia. I just can't believe it any more.
The Manahans were well known in Charlottesville - less so for her claims to royalty as to their overwhelming oddness. (Charlottesville proper never quite knows how to handle the truly different.) He used to hitchhike down 20 South to get his property in Keswick when his truck wasn't running.
Many a morning, Kate and I'd pass Jack Manahan dressed in mismatched plaids and stripes and old sweaters trudging along this old country road that was ill-prepared for the modern traffic, much less pedestrians. We never stopped.