At the very end of the 19th century, a fellow going by the name “Theodor O’Brien MacDonald, Baron de Stuart” appeared in New York City. His second and third names notwithstanding, the “Baron” claimed to be the son of a Russian general. He left Russia, so he said, because he wanted to leave the Orthodox Church and become a Roman Catholic. After spending time in a Jesuit monastery in Maryland, the Baron became dissatisfied with Rome and decided to convert again, this time to Protestantism.
He traveled to New York, where he became a bit of a sensation among well-to-do Protestant clergy. An ex-Catholic priest, who edited a journal called The Converted Catholic, saw the Baron as “a brand snatched from the burning” and arranged for the him to give speeches about his religious journey. According to the New York World, the Baron’s “chief stock in trade” was a photograph of a priest dressed in Orthodox vestments. The photo was supposed to be of the Baron himself, and it did look just like him, even in little details, such as the small mustache and bowed eyeglasses.
But it wasn’t a photo of the Baron — it was Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky, rector of the Russian church in New York. Apparently, the Baron showed the photo to one person too many: one lady recognized it as Hotovitzky, and when the Baron was confronted with this charge, he vanished. Hotovitzky and an Episcopal Church leader (who himself had been duped by the Baron) issued a joint letter, warning New Yorkers that the purported Baron was a fraud. As far as I know, the Baron was never heard from again.
Several years later, another fraudulent nobleman appeared in New York, and this time, he wasn’t a mere “baron” — he was supposedly a Serbian prince. The purported Prince Stefan Nemanjich-Dushanjich and his family first showed up in a fashionable Long Island town in 1906, but it wasn’t until 1909 that he revealed his “true” identity as a member of the Serbian royal family. He convinced an impressive list of people, including Bishop Raphael Hawaweeny, Bishop Alexander Nemolovsky, Fr. Alexander Hotovitzky, and Fr. Methodios Kourkoulis, the longtime priest of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New York. In 1910, the Prince induced these four prominent Orthodox clergymen to travel to Long Island to serve a memorial Divine Liturgy for his reputed royal ancestors — quite the “pan-Orthodox” affair!
As with the earlier Baron, the Prince’s ultimate downfall was a result of a lecture tour. The First Balkan War broke out in the fall of 1912, and the Prince began giving speeches, ostensibly on behalf of the Serbian Red Cross. This caught the attention of Michael Pupin, a Columbia professor and Serbia’s honorary consul general. Professor Pupin immediately saw through the Prince’s charade, and it quickly came to light that the Prince was neither royal nor Serbian, but rather a con man named Jimmy “Alphabet” Andrews.
Decades earlier, Andrews had made headlines by eloping with a prominent Chicago woman, who divorced him when Jimmy started an affair with his stenographer. It was the same stenographer who later posed as the Prince’s wife, and even their kids were in on the act.
I don’t know what became of either the purported Baron or “Prince” Jimmy Andrews. As usual, if you have any clues, let us know.
Main sources: New York World (Jan. 27, 1900) and New York Times (Nov. 27, 1912).