Romanian Mysteries

By Jheri St. James

The Common Ground 191 file on Romania contains many interesting materials, which must have come in the little box with the soil:

  • Two sheets of gift wrap paper, white with red fleur de lis designs and green writing the word “souvenir”
  • A pink and white sheet of newsprint advertising “Societatea comerciala Romarta”.
  • An 8-1/2” x 11 copy of the Romanian flag in a plastic sheet cover—red, yellow and blue stripes.
  • A 16-page tabloid-size newspaper, “Mesagerul Economic” written in Romanian language.
  • A program from the Teatru si Cultura la Oravita, which appears to be an opera house with rococo decorations on the balconies and ceiling, and at least one chandelier in the ceiling.
  • A travel folder in English describing Bucharest: “Bucharest received its birth certificate on Sept. 20, 1459, when it was first mentioned by name in a document issued by Prince Vlad the Impaler (Dracula). This is a picture of his castle. With its broad café-lined boulevards, garden restaurants, parks, lakes and monuments, Bucharest is a metropolis of unique beauty and latin charm, the vibrant center of the nation’s economic and cultural life. In the Hachette Guide Bleu it is written that: The Bucharest splendor consists in the style mixture, putting together the modern cupola of the Palace Hall with the Kretulescu Church (a 1732 Byzantine miniature) or to the new National Theater an Intercontinental Hotel, the tallest building in the city, in the neighborhood of a suburb with picturesque houses…here a village there a metropolis.” One photo is of three scantily clad ladies wearing feather boa headdresses and wraps, dancers at the Melody Night Club.
  • A travel folder for The Romanian Coastline, “Country of Legend; Country of Holidays; Romania.” Subheads include: “Enjoying Holidays; The Joy of Entertainments; The Joy of Recovery; The Joy of Silence; The Joy of all Ages; The Joy of Intimacy; The Joy of Beauty; The Joy of Being Healthy; The Joy of Knowledge.” Photos and writings extol the historical locations, many hotels with women’s names, nautical clubs, nighttime entertainments (the same three scantily clad ladies photo), healing facilities for rheumatic, and other diseases, the beach life—camping, swimming, sunning, and monuments dating back to the 7th century B.D.
  • Program from the George Enescu National Museum describing 36 cases of mementos from the life of the “Mozart of Romania”
  • A picture of Mr. Enescu with hand-written notes from our collector, Judy Moon, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Bucharest: “George Enescu (1881-1955) – Romanian composer, violinist, pianist, conductor. Played the violin when he was 4 years old, graduated from the Conservatory in Vienna at 11 years old. Conducted the orchestras in Philadelphia (1923) and New York (1938). To Romania, Enescu is what Mozart is to Austria.”
  • A writing from an alleged previous collector, named Charlotte Claudi Magnussen of Copenhagen, Denmark, reading as follows:


“Romania is a country in the eastern Europe. The eastern frontier is The Black Sea, to the west Romania borders on Serbia and Ungaria, to the North to Ukraine and to the south to Bulgaria. The Romanian capital is called Bucharest . . . The soil, I send, is collected in Bucharest on my first travel to Romania in October 1993 . . . I’m from Denmark, and earlier I always collected everything from my travels and kept it so that is why I can send this to you and your project . . . My great grandfather was working in Romania in a town in the Danube Delta called Sulina around year 1900. He was an engineer and worked at the Danube commission and he participated in building the bridges over the river Danube. My father’s father was born in Sulina. He always told me a lot about Romania, and when I grew up I had become so interested that I wanted to learn the Romanian language and hoped that I could visit the country some day. In 1992 I started to learn Romanian and in October 1993 my husband and I went to Bucharest for the first time, and it was during that travel the soil was collected . . . I have two Romanian foster daughters in the western part of Romania.”

This is the most diverse file for collection site information ever seen. The mystery that comes to mind is how this soil was sent to us in 1993 when the project was initiated in 2001? Did Charlotte Claudi send all these items to us? And where is that phantom soil Charlotte sent from Romania? These are mysteries as great as those about Count Vlad and the vampire stores that grew up around him.

* * *

Another Volunteer Information sheet found in the file was made out by Judy Moon, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. This one was dated February 8, 2007, and she writes that her soil collection came from the George Enescu Museum in Bucharest—“Museum honors world-famous composer George Enescu, who is Romania’s Mozart.” Oh, yes, she sent a CD with some pictures, following:

Further sleuthing dug up the fact that Mihaela Paraschivescu actually picked up the dirt in her hands. She wrote, “I personally went to the site with two colleagues of mine, one digged and took the sample, another took photographs and put on the CD,and I organized the package and included the story and gave the package to the courier.”

So, Sherlock, that was where the soil and how the soil got to Gary Simpson’s international wall of soils. Well, thank you Mihaela and Judy. One mystery solved.

* * *

Turns out that part of the Charlotte Claudi mystery has also been located in this most interesting file. The jar arrived empty except for artifacts. Among the many emails back and forth between Gary and Charlotte was this one:

From Gary: “Hi Charlotte, Sorry to bother you again, but would you tell me how much soil was put into the jar, i.e., one quarter, one half, ¾? Thanks, Gary”

From Charlotte: “I had sent you what I had from Romania of old papers and the gift-wrapping paper that I told you about in the first email I sent to you where I asked if you would have it and you said ‘yes.’ There was also some little strings with the Romanian flags colours—red, blue and yellow. It is absolutely not allowed to collect sand in Romania, so I sent you what I had from Romania, hoping that you could use it in your project. But everything were put in the little plasticbag that was in the jar and the plasticbag was put back in the jar. Charlotte.”

So, the phantom soil collection in 1993 was a mistaken date on the volunteer form for a jar full of treasures from Charlotte to Common Ground 191. Aha! Another mystery solved.

* * *

Who was Count Vlad remains the last question: Vlad the Impaler reigned in Romania during 1456-1462, and is said to have killed from 20,000 to 40,000 European civilians (political rivals, criminals, and anyone else he considered ‘useless to humanity’, mainly by impaling them on a sharp pole. Some Romanians revere Vlad III as a folk hero for driving off the invading Turks. His impaled victims are said to have included as many as 100,000 Turkish Muslims.

Historically, the name “Dracul” is derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon. Vlad II Dracul, father of Vlad III, was admitted to the order around 1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks. From 1431 onward, Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coins bore the dragon symbol. The name Dracula means “Son of Dracul.”

* * *

Now where is that picture of the scantily clad ladies?

Obviously, Romania is a complicated country with soil of a multifaceted history, much as the Common Ground 191 file is a complex file, requiring much detective work to parse out the true facts. Empty jars, vampire stories, and the always-mysterious processes of the earth—the stuff of which our project is made! The word for peace in Romania is pace, prounounced pah-chay with emphasis on the second syllable. Here, the emphasis is on the second collection—where we did get the soil. Thanks Charlotte Claudi, Judy Moon, Mihaela Parachivescu and all friends of the project!



All images and text © Copyright 2018 Common Ground 191 - All rights reserved