Today’s real life creepy place isn’t so much creepy as mystical, but it holds a very special significance to me: I grew up in that neighborhood and went for daily walks in this park when I was a child.
The park is one of the oldest in Moscow, in a neighborhood called Sokolniki (“Falconers”). Moscow is an old place with a rich history, and Sokolniki is no exception. The park got its name from none other than Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584), who was fond of hunting with falcons. A well-known Russian folk tale about a famous falconer is also said to be inspired by the falconers from Sokolniki. Much later, Sokolniki was the very first station of the Moscow Metro.
But the park has been there for hundreds of years, in one form or another. If you look at it from above, it’s a circular shape, with another round fountain at its center.
Kind of looks like a wheel, actually.
That might not be a coincidence.
Legend tells of a pagan tribe that occupied this land well over a thousand years ago. This tribe had a golden wheel that only the oldest shamans were allowed to read, and only once or twice a year. According to legend, the wheel could predict the future. Eventually, the tribe broke up into factions, and one of the factions ended up in the forest that would later become known as Sokolniki. They buried the wheel there, somewhere on the territory of today’s park, to watch over their descendants.
To this day, this the one of the most prosperous neighborhoods in Moscow. The park is a sort of best-kept secret: few of the many tourists who visit Moscow know it exists, and it’s famed for its atmosphere of calm and well-being. Another story tells of a famous opera singer who was supposed to give a concert in Sokolniki’s outdoor arena and came down with a sore throat the day before. He was determined not to cancel the concert and asked his assistant for a glass of water. After he drank the water, the pain vanished without a trace and never came back. Later it turned out the water came from one of the natural sources in the forest area of the park.
But not all of the park’s history is sunshine and rainbows. Like the rest of Moscow (the rest of Eastern Europe…) the park knew some dark times. Well before Ivan the Terrible, the place was called Volchia Zagub’, or Wolves’ Death. Here, Ivan Krasny, a Russian prince, was found dead under strange circumstances. After that, according to the story, the three lakes near which he was found mysteriously sunk into the earth.
Much later, in the 1930’s, Lavrentii Beria built a summer residence in the park (it was still on the outskirts of the current city limits.) Beria was one of Stalin’s secret police chiefs, best known for sending thousands of “enemies of the state” to be executed, and, oh, also devising the Gulag system. (That’s Soviet-era labor/death camps in the middle of Siberia, in case you didn’t know.) To this day, the building still stands. For the longest time it was abandoned, and now it belongs to the city.
Whether Sokolniki is a blessed place or a cursed place, it’s a part of Moscow with a rich and fascinating history. I didn’t know any of this as a little girl… but I sure loved the Ferris wheel.