Finding the truth about great-grandpa’s plot to kill Czar Alexander III

One mystery I always wanted to solve was my great-grandfather’s supposed plot to kill Russian Czar Alexander III. I thought it was just another story from my grandmother that was so far from the truth.

But the joke is on me. Great-grandpa really did plot to kill the czar as a member of the People’s Will Movement, which included Lenin’s brother as a leader. These people weren’t just a bunch of unorganized and unhappy peasants. The original People’s Will Movement was responsible for killing Czar Alexander II.

Putting together the pieces of this mystery has taken years. I didn’t think this “rumor” could ever be proven true until my aunt’s apartment was cleaned out.

I found her grandfather’s patent records. Having no idea of what type of patents great-grandpa obtained, I had a friend in Moscow translate some of the records. She uncovered that the patents were granted for explosive devices.

So there went off the light bulb in my head. Maybe it was true he built a bomb to help kill the czar.

I mentioned this rumor to a cousin. She recalled that our great-grandfather was imprisoned in a tower in St. Petersburg  for his involvement with the People’s Will Movement.

I unsuccessfully tried to find information on my great-grandfather on Google by using keywords in English. Once I translated my keywords into Russian on Google Translate, I found so much information, including that he was sentenced to 4 months in prison.

Then I gave that information to a researcher in St. Petersburg to find records on my great-grandfather in Russian State Historical Archives, one of the world’s largest archives.

One record showed he served time in the Trubetskoy Bastion of the famous Peter and Paul Tower in St. Petersburg. I learned that my great-grandfather built 11 bombs for a mere 20 rubles, the value of $14 American dollars in 1885, from another record.

Luckily, those bombs didn’t get near Czar Alexander III and my great-grandfather used his naive age as an advantage when he was prosecuted. He was a 21-year-old  graduate from a mining school when he decided to get busy for 6 weeks in an unmarried woman’s apartment to make the bombs in the city where his family lived.

The remaining unanswered question is what happened to his bombs. For now, I have pieced together his life after prison. I learned my great-grandfather married into a noble family in Kharkov, where the People’s Will Movement tried to kill government officials.

Then my great-grandfather moved to the village where he was approached to build the bombs. His first son was born there and my family quickly moved to another eastern Ukrainian village.

What a surprise that my great-grandfather’s stay in the village was short-lived. Who would want a bomb-making terrorist as a neighbor or employee? He eventually left Ukraine and moved to southern Russia.

There, he made the news in the local newspaper for accidentally setting off an explosion that shook up neighbors near his business. Neighbors protested his explosive-making business as would anyone from any time period.

Soon afterwards, he died from a heart attack. It was best that his life ended prematurely at 46 years old because six years later the Russian Revolution started with the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family.

My great-grandfather would have been easily killed in the Russian Revolution with being a Don Cossack and Russian nobleman. It would have been an interesting fight for his life. “But I tried to kill the czar!” would have been his argument for his life. Thankfully, his heart attack allowed him to avoid seeing the heartache and bloodshed the Russian Revolution brought to his family.