The Past I Heard …

By Buddy Early, November 2019 Issue.

To celebrate Echo’s 30th birthday, this year I will be

catching up with some of Arizona’s LGBT personalities from past and present to

revisit the people, places and events that helped shape our community.

There is a common misconception that the

existence of trans individuals is a new phenomenon, a product of the 21st

century. The truth is people have been living their true genders since the

beginning of time — but keeping a, well, incredibly low profile, to put it

mildly. In Arizona, we know that trans individuals have lived among us for at

least a century.

Marshall Shore, The Hip Historian and

coordinator of Arizona’s LGBTQ+ History Project, was blindsided by the story of

Nikolai de Raylan when a friend doing research for the site Find a Grave tipped

him off. As Marshall is wont to do, he quickly became preoccupied with learning

more about Nicolai, and adding him to his agenda for the History Project.

Chicago resident and Ukrainian-born

Nicolai Constantinovich De Raylan had been living in Chicago, serving as

secretary to the Russian consul. Born in 1873 and assigned the name Anna

Terletsky, Nicolai was likely a descendant of Russian nobility. In order to

stake a claim to his father’s fortune, legend has it, Anna set off to

authorities that he was actually a boy who had been raised, illegally, as a

girl by her mother.

Cut to 1906 Chicago, where Nicolai resided

with his second wife and stepson. Nicolai headed west for a monthlong stay in

Arizona, a doctor-prescribed excursion to help cure him of tuberculosis. It was

no cure; Nicolai died December 18 in a Phoenix hotel room.  With his wife still in Chicago, Nicolai’s

body was being prepared for burial when a surprising discovery was made:

Nicolai had a vagina.

There is so much more to this story, and

the details make it ripe for a Hollywood screenplay.

This is where Marshall Shore comes

in.  Presently, Nicolai’s body lies in an

unmarked grave inside Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery on west Van Buren Street.

Marshall thought this man deserved better and deserved to be known. He set out

just under two years ago to raise funds for a gravestone (an eBay auction to

support the cause and the History Project can be found on Phoenix Pride’s

website) and has signed a deal with the cemetery to allow its placement.

“For me, reading that story, it was full

of such intrigue and in some ways such betrayal,” Marshall told me, not 100

percent certain the lack of a marker is an accidental or intentional slight —

but mostly sure it was the latter. “When you look at things now, and how (our

country is) trying to erase people … that’s what this is.”

It wasn’t easy. According to Marshall, you

can’t just call a cemetery and tell them you want to put a grave marker at an

unmarked grave. There are protocols to follow, and only after it was determined

there is no family that might object, Greenwood Cemetery gave the thumbs up.

A ceremony will be held at the cemetery on

November 16, at which time a grave marker that is simple and appropriate for

the time period will be placed. It will have a solid base and an above-ground

piece with Nicolai’s name, birth and death years, and the following quote from

Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“To be yourself in a world that is

constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Marshall said it will be small affair,

with a handful of people and a few speakers. But the significance of this small

affair cannot be measured. The recognition of a man’s life lived, like any of

ours, is not too much to ask. To mark Nicolai’s existence in this way, even a

century later, is to honor him in a way The Arizona Republic would not.

The newspaper’s headline read “A Man in Lifetime, a Woman in Death.” (While

that headline was not out of line for a time when gender identification and

pronouns were not a big deal, it’s still nice to be able to correct things the

best we can.)


the way, if you’re wondering what happened to Nicolai’s modest fortune, it

wasn’t awarded to his second or even his first wife. Those marriages were both

left null and void by the courts after the revelation of Nicolai’s “down

theres.” It was Nicolai’s mother, Seraphina Terletsky, back in Russia, who

inherited Nicolai’s estate of $3,124 — the equivalent of about $81,000 today.

But it’s Arizona’s LGBTQ+ History Project that inherits the legacy of the man.

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