The folklore of the northernmost state of the United States is a treasure trove for paranormal investigators. The mysterious Sitka phenomenon is reported in the 2016 book Spirits of Southeast Alaska: The History & Hauntings of Alaska’s Panhandle by author James Devereux.
The author drew attention to the urban legend of the former Novoarkhangelsk associated with the “Baranof Castle”. This is the name of the hill on which stood the residence of the first ruler of Russian Alaska, Alexander Baranov. The building itself burned down in a fire back in 1894. But stories about the ghost of a “Russian princess” allegedly appearing in these places arose much earlier.
One of the first publications on this topic can be read in the New York Times newspaper dated August 22, 1883. The article “The Story of a Ghost in Alaska” talks about a ghost that settled in an abandoned building. The residents of Sitka usually saw the mystical “princess” at midnight. She was said to wear long black robes and had diamonds on her forehead, neck and wrists.
“She wrings her beautiful white hands and wanders sadly from room to room, leaving at every step the light scent of wild roses,” the newspaper wrote.
Brave officers from warships sometimes dared to spend the night in Baranov’s castle, but none of them managed to talk with the ghostly beauty.
The “Lady in Black” was considered the daughter or niece of the “Russian governor,” who was once famous in Sitka for her beauty and grace. The girl was married against her will to an unloved man.
On the first wedding night, the bride disappeared. She was soon found dead in a small guest room. According to one version, the girl committed suicide. According to another, she was killed by her unhappy lover, a sailor on one of the merchant ships.
James Devereux provides in the book the details of the romantic legend he discovered. He describes the groom of the “lady in black” as a cruel and vicious man who blackmailed the ruler of Alaska, who was involved in a “revolutionary conspiracy.”
Even after the engagement, the beauty continued to secretly meet with her lover on the banks of the Koloshenka River (Indian River). When the governor found out about this, he sent the young man along with a naval expedition south along the American coast.
On March 18, the girl was married to the “evil prince” in the Orthodox Cathedral of the Archangel Michael. On the same day, the warship returned to the harbor. Upon learning of this, the newlywed ran away from the ballroom to meet her lover. Realizing that their situation was hopeless, the couple decided to die.
“With one last kiss they drew their hidden blades, pierced their hearts, and fell dead on the banks of the Indian River,” Devereux writes.
The lovers were allegedly buried locked in each other’s arms. And since then the spirit of the “Russian princess” began to wander around the “Baranov Castle”.
In some versions of the story, it is stated that the girl is holding a candle or lantern in her hands, as if looking for her beloved. A bloody wound was seen on the chest of the dead beauty, and before disappearing, the ghost usually emits a terrible cry of pain.
“The Lady in Black,” according to folklore, comes once every six months, preferring the northwestern part of the former Baranov mansion.
Who was “The Lady in Black”
There is no historical evidence for the Sitka legend. Rumor connects the “lady in black” with the name of the first ruler of Russian America, Alexander Baranov.
Polar explorer Frederick Svatka attributed the ghost story to the period of the sixth ruler – Baron Ferdinand von Wrangel, who was the “master” of Sitka in 1830-1835.
And according to The Boston Alaskan newspaper, published in 1906, the bloody drama took place in the spring of 1826, when Alaska was ruled by Matvey Muravyov.
Journalists named Muravyov’s niece Princess Olga Arbuzova, the young midshipman Demetrius Davidov and the old Count Vasiliev as the characters in the story. However, not a single historian of Russian America mentions such persons.
There are plenty of other contradictions in the legend itself. For example, from the description it is not clear why the unfortunate bride is dressed in a black robe, because the wedding attire of Russian aristocrats has always been white.
However, in some versions of the story the ghost is called “the lady in blue.” Apparently, in the dark, when the spirit appears, it is not easy to make out the color of his clothes. Moreover, in the presence of a ghost, the fire of eyewitnesses mysteriously goes out.
The plot of the “lady in black” is influenced by literary tradition – in particular, Walter Scott’s novel “The Bride of Lammermoor”. Therefore, it is possible that the whole story is a common invention of the yellow press of the late 19th century.
But even if this is so, the legend of the beautiful ghost eventually took on a life of its own. For example, the estimated date of death of the “lady in black” – March 18 – is due to the fact that it was on this day in 1894 that the “Baranof Castle” burned down.
Despite the dubious authenticity of the legend, guides in Sitka still make money from it to this day, showing tourists the supposed grave of the “Russian princess.”