Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/450

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By Professor W. G. SUMNER,


IN 1897 reports ran through the newspapers of the civilized world that a religious sect in southern Russia had begun to practise suicide from religious motives. In June of that year Mr. I. A. Sigorski, professor of psychiatry and nerve diseases in the university at Kieff, visited the scene of the transactions in order to make a psychological investigation of them. The following account is derived from his book.[1]

The scene was in the rich valley of the Dniester, in a cluster of farmsteads near the village of Ternova, three or three and a half English miles from Tiraspol. The family of Kovaleff and its connections owned several of these farmsteads. The one at which the events occurred was a valuable estate which belonged to a family of that name who were Old Believers (Raskolniks=schismatics). On the estate was a building which presented, on the outside, the appearance of a carriage shed with large doors. In fact there was no opening at all on that side. On the inside a pile of straw and reeds masked the entire exterior of the building and joined the roof, so that it looked like a solid store of those commodities, but behind this pile was a corridor which gave entrance to the building. There was another corridor inside by which connection was established with the main residence. This building was a refuge and more or less permanent residence for Old Believers of both sexes when on a journey, or old, or ill or persecuted. The name of it is a 'skeet.' It had been so used for a century, and the construction shows that the inmates lived in gloom and secrecy, apprehending danger and violence, and prepared to flee through the concealed passages in one direction or the other. They went out only by night, or singly, and as secretly as possible. Their favorite occupations were prayer, reading the books of their sect and religious conversation. In these observances the Kovaleff family joined with great interest.

In the autumn of 1896, for some reason which is not definitely known, the inmates of the skeet were thrown into excitement. Relics

  1. 'The Epidemic of Voluntary Death and Suicide in the Farmsteads of Ternova'; republished from the journal 'Problems of Nervo-Psychic Medicine.' Kieff, 1897. 99 pp. (In Russ.)