Union Hotel, Washington St & N 6th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003
Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona, USA
Nicolai Constantinovich De Raylan (1873 - December 18, 1906) was the personal secretary to the Russian consul in Chicago, General Baron von Schlippenbach, for whom the Russian-born De Raylan translated documents and handled various correspondence. He was on a train to Phoenix, at turns coughing violently and chatting amiably with his physician, W.C. Rowe. It was October 1906, and the 33-year-old De Raylan, a notorious carouser and bon vivant, was headed for a months-long desert air treatment for the tuberculosis he’d been battling for two years. Fully expecting to recover, he’d left behind his wife and stepson, with whom he shared an apartment in Garfield Park, Chicago.
Arriving in Phoenix, he and Rowe checked into adjoining rooms at the Union Hotel on Sixth Avenue and Washington Street, fancier accommodations than the tent camps where dozens of other tuberculosis patients stayed while taking in the dry Arizona air. Rather than use the bathroom down the hall at the hotel, De Raylan paid $186 to have a private bathroom built. Rowe would later tell reporters that he enjoyed spending the ensuing weeks in Phoenix with his patient, who usually dressed in dark trousers and a knee-length coat called a Prince Albert. Rowe would say he found De Raylan to be “a very honest, upright, noble gentleman, a noble-hearted man.”
Despite the doctor’s ministrations, De Raylan’s condition deteriorated within a couple of months. As it did, he became more agitated—though less about the prospect of his death, it seemed, than the circumstances that might attend it. De Raylan emphatically instructed Rowe that if his demise proved imminent, his wife was to be summoned immediately, and only she was to handle his corpse. Pressed by Rowe, De Raylan explained that he and his wife had entered into a religious compact of sorts: that whoever outlived the other would wash the dead body and see personally to its interment. But when De Raylan died in his hotel room on the evening of December 18, his wife was still in Chicago, awaiting his return. With no next of kin close at hand, Rowe sent for a pair of undertakers, Mohn and Driscoll, to deal with the body. Then Rowe went to the hotel office to telegram De Raylan’s wife the news of his death. Soon after, one of the undertakers, Driscoll, rushed back to the hotel to deliver to Rowe another piece of news, one considerably more shocking than that of the death itself. On undressing the body, the undertakers had made a startling discovery: strapped to the man’s waist was an artificial penis and testicles made of chamois and stuffed with down.
Within days, the Chicago press had picked up the story. On December 20, a front-page article in the Inter Oceanoffered a detailed account of De Raylan’s life in Chicago, based on interviews with those who’d known him, though the piece offered little about what may have preceded his arrival on our shores. “Baron’s Confidential Secretary Pictured by Friends as Oddly Effeminate,” blared a headline beneath a photo of De Raylan and his wife, Anna. “Wife Is Indignant.” The article itself seemed at certain points to insist on the reassuring notion that telltale signs had been there all along, while at other moments it described De Raylan’s acquaintances as utterly flabbergasted. “While they admitted that he had many peculiarities, they stoutly maintained that he was a man.”
Paolo Rinaldi, a barber, told the reporter that De Raylan had been extremely anxious to grow a mustache. Rinaldi said that his customer had used at least 20 lotions and creams in an effort to get his facial hair to grow, and applied one, made of wine and water, 10 times a day. The barber went on to say that, on his advice, De Raylan had taken to shaving four times a day, apparently under the assumption that this would stimulate the follicles. De Raylan stuck with the task for two months, according to Rinaldi, “but at no time was there the faintest sign of hair upon his face.”
In a similar vein, a cabdriver named S.D. Lambrakis told the Inter Ocean that De Raylan “on numerous occasions” went out in women’s attire. On other occasions, the driver watched as De Raylan and a female companion fought in his cab. “It was De Raylan’s favorite diversion to scratch the face of his companion. He never resorted to blows,” Lambrakis said, insinuating that De Raylan fought like the woman he was later discovered to be.
And yet, the reporter noted, “De Raylan’s habits … were those of the ‘rounder.’ Chorus girls, wine suppers and ‘red light’ tours were a part of his regular routine. All intimates of the dead secretary agreed that he smoked and drank in excess. He was never without a cigarette and he was able to drink some of his stoutest companions ‘under the table.’ ”
Edward Burchulis, who had married De Raylan’s ex-wife, Eugenia, remarked incredulously, “Why, I have been swimming with him, both at Atlantic City and in the Central YMCA here in Chicago. I am sure he was a man.” (One can only assume De Raylan was wearing a bathing suit that covered his top as well as his bottom.) Even Baron von Schlippenbach, who’d worked daily with De Raylan at the Russian consulate, claimed to have had no inkling that his private secretary had a female body. “He professed to be astounded by the statements of the coroner at Phoenix,” the Inter Ocean reported, and “refused to explain how a man without proper credentials could be advanced to so important a post as that enjoyed by De Raylan.” As for Rowe, the doctor said he’d examined his now-famous patient many times—presumably without asking him to undress fully—and never found anything unusual.
Other posthumous accounts of De Raylan’s public life were riddled with similar contradictions. In some, acquaintances recalled him wearing clothes that hid the curves of his body. In others, he was described as a family man pulling down a handsome salary and engaging in virile activities like horseback riding with the Hussars, a volunteer regiment of gentlemen equestrians. He’d even boasted (falsely, in all likelihood) of having served in the Russian army and the Spanish-American War.
Nicolai Constantinovich De Raylan was born Anna Terletsky around 1873 and grew up in Kiev, the capital of what is now Ukraine. Raised in a convent by a French governess, Anna didn’t know her father, though she suspected that he was a member of the Russian nobility. Sometime in the 1880s, Anna, with the help of her governess, decided to seek a share of the considerable fortune possessed by her mother, Seraphima Terletsky. In order to strengthen her claim as a rightful heir, Anna intended to tell authorities that she was actually a boy who had been raised, illegally, as a girl by her mother. Thus began, according to the account in De Raylan’s journal, Anna’s journey into manhood.
In a letter, Anna’s governess beseeched a high church official named Constantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, procurator of the Holy Synod and an adviser to Czar Alexander III, to hear Anna’s case. Anna was granted a private audience with the procurator at the imperial palace in St. Petersburg. During the interview, Pobedonostsev became so confident that the young person before him was male that he agreed to testify to that effect at a trial that would adjudicate Anna’s claim on the family fortune.
The young Terletsky didn’t stick around to find out what happened in court. Facing the possibility of having to undergo a medical exam—which might reveal her secret and surely spur the vengeance of the procurator, who’d put his credibility on the line for her—she fled Russia, first for Finland and then, after an unspecified amount of time, for Belgium.
By the time Terletsky had settled in Belgium, she had fully abandoned her female identity, having landed a job working for a banker. The banker held Terletsky in high enough esteem that he eventually sent the man on an errand to America. That is where the Russian émigré would ultimately stay, living for a time on the East Coast and moving to Chicago around the time of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
De Raylan’s journal hints that the young Terletsky and her governess had been romantically involved, and it notes that she fled Russia using money borrowed from an amorous conquest referred to as the “little St. Petersburg sweetheart.”
By all appearances De Raylan embodied wholeheartedly the conventional attributes of the men of his era—for better or, sometimes, worse. The divorce complaint filed by his first wife, Eugenia, in Cook County Circuit Court in June 1903 contended that De Raylan “has been guilty of extreme and repeated cruelty.” Such a claim wasn’t unusual in a divorce petition, but the level of detail gives pause: The complaint tells of beating, pinching, choking, kicking, and the use of “vile, abusive and opprobrious language.” It also contends that on July 4, 1899, De Raylan came home drunk and punched Eugenia while she was nursing a baby (it doesn’t say whose) and that he poked her with a sword, making “several wounds on [Eugenia’s] body in attempting to kill or do great bodily injury.” We don’t know if De Raylan’s second marriage, to Anna Davidson, an actress who had a 10-year-old son, was equally tumultuous.
De Raylan’s second wife adamantly claimed to the Inter Ocean that the reports coming out of Phoenix about her husband’s body were preposterous. “They must have substituted some other body for my husband’s,” she told a reporter. “This terrible mistake must be cleared up, and I am going to see that it is done.” Subsequent news items reported that De Raylan’s widow and her son traveled by train to Phoenix, where she requested that the body be dug up. A second examination was conducted, but it merely confirmed the results of the first.
An undated record from Cook County Probate Court confirms that Anna received not a penny of her late husband’s estate, which amounted to about $87,500 in today’s money. After paying off claims submitted by a storage company, an ice company, and a few of De Raylan’s associates, the court-appointed administrator awarded a sum of $3,124—the equivalent of about $81,000 today—to none other than Seraphima Terletsky, “mother of Nicolai de Raylan [and] sole heir.”
Although he lived as a man, De Raylan was buried not in his favored dark trousers and frock coat but in a woman’s long silk white robe. His death certificate listed his gender as female. His grave was left unmarked. A local LGBTQ organization provided a headstone for De Raylan on November 16, 2019. The ceremony was covered by reporter Karina Bland, and her article entitled "Honored As Who He Was" appeared on the front page of the Arizona Republic newspaper.
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