Who Was Iwan Dolgorouckoff? Photos From Lemvig Museum, Denmark

Who Was Iwan Dolgorouckoff

By June Morrall

(Photos: At left, my dad sitting in Shanghai’s Public Garden, circa 1939, my collection. At RIGHT, Iwan Dolgorouckoff, courtesy Lemvig Museum, Denmark.)

Recently I wrote a post which has become a favorite. It is called:�? Who was Iwan Dolgorouckoff?�? To read the piece, please click here

Iwan Dolgorouckoff was a mysterious character– with all the airs, pomp and accessories of British sleuth extraordinaire Sherlock Holmes. That’s how I would cast the Russian-Danish Iwan, if I were directing an early 1940s film noir.

Then in his mid-30s, my dad, a charming, movie-star handsome fellow himself, encountered Mr. Dolgoroukoff in Shanghai’s “Public Garden.�? This was the onset of WWII, a most extraordinary time in Europe and Asia. In the rural Chinese countryside civil war raged between Mao and Chang, while in Shanghai the war brought out the under side of everything you can think of.

To the Europeans living in Shanghai, the “Paris of the East” seemed to be at the end of the earth. Yet doom was a foreign army away in Shanghai, perhaps the last truly, open city, meaning that it was home to spies, beautiful ladies of the night and a buzzing black market economy.

And then there was the peace of Shanghai’s Public Garden.

Think about it: what better place to observe the tattering remnants of European civilization than from the banks of the Whanpoo River and the benches in the Public Garden? In Europe, at the brink of war in the 1930s, there was uncertainty, always someone chasing somebody else; one group dominating another.

The Europeans carried their intrigues with them to Shanghai and they felt safer than the majority left behind in Europe, where fear reigned and people suffered shortages of food and basic necessities. In Shanghai, there was a sense of calm, as if time was standing still. All the while, the free market was in force as the Chinese were accustomed to bargaining– and, with the right connections, most anything could be had for the right number after the dollar sign.

The Public Garden played friendly host to its European guests who surely discussed politics, world domination, and where to get sugar, butter, or the best cigar– while this grander, epic theme played out: Who was going to prevail? Who was going to rule the ground they stood upon?

After I posted the “Who was Iwan Dolgorouckoff” piece, I learned that Iwan was mentioned in a new book about the early beginnings of General Electric in China. Once the book was in my hands, I was surprised to see my first photo of Mr. Dolgorouckoff, confirming my father’s eccentric description of this unusual man.

The photo in the book was credited to the Lemvig Museum in Denmark. I googled the museum and emailed the archivist, asking permission to use the photo of Iwan Dolgorouckoff on my website. I scanned Iwan’s unusual “calling card�? (again, please see my original story for more details), and attached it with my email, then crossed my fingers. I hoped my email would be well received and was very excited about see an image of Iwan Dolgorouckoff for the first time.

Yesterday I received two emails from Ellen Damgaard at the Lemvig Museum. Here is one of them:

Dear June.

You can use the photos as you like on you website. The credit is: Lemvig Museum, Denmark.

I took a look at your website concerning Shanghai – that was really interesting, and I do think it is the right man. Your father’s description of Iwan’s appearance is very close to reality, and he seemed to be a strange person. I got the “Card�?, and will put it in our collection. We have some other photos of Iwan, and on one of them you can see a very special ring on his left little finger, maybe the poison ring?…

Kind regards

Ellen D.

(Photo: Iwan Dolgorouckoff, courtesy Lemvig Museum, Denmark.)

Who was Iwan Dolgorouckoff?

Story by June Morrall

Who was Iwan Dolgorouckoff?


There is something in me that welcomes mysteries. That want to solve them. Maybe that’s why I like the past so much. Mystery thrives in the past because if I have a fragment of an event, the people involved, the people who know, are usually gone. That turns it into a mystery. That means I have to put together what little I have and track down what I don’t have. Admittedly, I probably never solve anything; I just create a new mystery but I feel satisfied.

Like me, my dad kept stuff from the past. I don’t know how he managed to keep as much as he did. He had to move from WWII Berlin to Shanghai to San Francisco. My mom kept nothing. I’ll never fully understand her. The fact that she didn’t keep anything is a key to her personality. Just move on, nothing lasts, don’t hold on, or you’ll feel too much pain. She might have come to that conclusion after voluntarily leaving her home in Berlin to join the man she thought she was madly in love with, my dad, a half-Jewish man trying to survive in Shanghai.

She couldn’t have been certain that he loved her. In him, she may have seen the father she lost, shot dead on the last day of WWI in Alsace Lorraine, when she was just a girl.

My father,Charles, was an unusual man. Sensitive. Genuinely thoughtful and concerned, warm but careful in his selection of words.

Like me, dad kept scraps of paper, business cards, letters and envelopes with exotic foreign stamps. He kept the memorabilia for decades, and now I am the lucky recipient, and how I love the mysterious scraps of history that I have inherited. There are invoices with Chinese characters, good as modern art to me. There’s stationery from one of dad’s businesses, blank cream colored paper except for the name at the top: In bold black, “Continental Company,” followed by the Shangahi address.


And there are visuals, too, b/w photographs, plenty of them that lift the curtain of another t : In Europe, Berlin, London, Prague; In Asia, Shanghai, Hong kong.

A treasure for me.

One business card my father carried with him for decades fascinated me as much as the aquamarine ring my mother wore on her right hand. As a kid, the aquamarine ring always captured my attention. Its translucence, elegant square shape, the heavy frame of gold surrounding the soft blue stone. The ring seemed so big to me; I wanted it but thought there was no way I would ever get it. She told me dad had given it to her– and one day, to my total surprise, mom gave me the ring.

Dad kept a business card from Iwan Dolgoroukoff, an eccentric fellow he met in the famous Public Park (where Chinese were not allowed) in Shanghai. There, on the park bench, at one time, or another, my father encountered many of the fascinating exiles living in the international city. Iwan, a Russian, stood out for many reasons but on eof the things my dad couldn’t forget about Iwan was the expensive walking stick he always carried with him. The handle was a gold snake’s head, and when removed revealed a weapon, a sharp dagger.

As a mystery seeker, I could immediately understand the attraction to Iwan Dolgoroukoff, the man who carried a walking stick with a gold snake’s head.

That wasn’t the whole story, though. In time my dad learned that Iwan was in Shanghai, he said, on behalf of Pope Pius XI. My father was of the view that he might have also been a spy.

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