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Moscow's Misty Mystery


Two years ago, when the people's swimming pool was new, it was kept open day and night. In the chill Moscow evenings translucent mists steamed up from the heated water. Then, under the wintry eye of the Kremlin itself, the mists thickened with mystery: hidden from lifeguards, night swimmers began to drown in alarming numbers.

The pool, a touch of Muscovy Miami, sits on melancholy land that formerly was the site of the Cathedral of the Redeemer—a building whose enormous golden cupola was the pride and love of Moscow for close to a century. In 1931, however, Vyacheslav Molotov ordered the church destroyed and replaced by a towering "Palace of the Soviets," a monument to "the liberated worker" that would rise taller than New York's Empire State Building and be surmounted by a colossus of Lenin even bigger than the Statue of Liberty.

The tower never got built. A steel skeleton started to rise, only to be converted to scrap when Hitler's Nazis turned their guns toward Moscow in 1941. Thereafter, until the pool was built, the land remained a gaping, vacant lot. But even though the tower was not completed, there were some critics who never forgave the government for razing the cathedral. It was these intransigents who, as the police chillingly discovered, borrowed God's prerogative for vengeance. Lurking among the swimmers, anonymous in trunks, they dragged unsuspecting Muscovites into the areas of heavy mist and drowned them. The story of the murders is only whispered in Moscow today, but the purpose of the roped-off sections visible in this recent photograph is explicit: to make it easier for Moscow's cops to keep track of who's afloat and who isn't.