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Russian ghosts appear in North Carolina during Halloween

You may ask, why are 300 Russian ghosts walking around tiny Elizabeth City, North Carolina, during the Halloween season? Particularly since 80 percent of Russians think October 31 is “a decadent holiday invented by Americans which teaches young people to disrespect our traditions,” said an aging Muscovite.

The Sleepy Hollow of Elizabeth City

The answer is rather simple and surprisingly non-political. Some 75 years ago, President Roosevelt and Premier Stalin created a top-secret mission called Project Zebra and selected sleepy, patriotic Elizabeth City (population 12,000) as the mission’s “world headquarters”. There 12 hand-selected U.S. Naval Officers trained 300 Soviet airmen to fly 185 huge state-of-the-art amphibious warplanes built by 1,500 production workers in Philadelphia, PA.

Why has almost no one ever heard of the mission? Because the mission remained top-secret until finally declassified on December 31, 2012, which was about the time I met the last living Zebra (in Russia or America), Gregory Gagarin. He is an M.I.T. graduate, fluent in Russian, and, as I was to discover, “the glue” that held the mission together, as the Allied Powers moved to finish Nazi Germany off, once and for all.

Allied Solidarity

Incredibly the Russians and Americans lived, slept and fraternized together for two years without a single negative incident. In the process, these soldiers from very different cultures arrived with stereotypes and misunderstandings and left with a mutual respect, lifelong friendships, and indelible memories.

Thanks to the assistance of Greg, his treasure trove of memorabilia, and many, many other people, I proudly introduce the first book ever written about the 18-month mission called simply, Project Zebra. The reader will also find the book replete with 200 pieces of never-before-seen memorabilia. (The book is now available at online stores everywhere in e-book, paperback and hardcover versions).

Russian Super Heroes in American Roles

And, so we get to the Halloween connection. The friendly residents of Elizabeth City kept the government’s secret while opening their arms to the visitors from a distant shore. The Russians experienced a freedom of speech that left them amazed, the luxuries of shopping for goods of all types, vacationing in warm locales, and American traditions such as the Fourth of July and Halloween. “My sources tell me a few Russians even trick or treated as Batman and Superman in October 1944,” said Gagarin.

Halloween is also a time when people are able to take on strange identities, even if it is only for a night. Project Zebra is not only an enthralling story about a top-secret mission, but also a story of cultural identities overcoming their typecast roles, and the amazing ability of proud people from faraway countries working together for a common cause. With tensions running high between America and Russia in today’s world chessboard, it is valuable to look back just a few generations to a time in which our best and brightest collaborated on a grand scale.


I Left My Heart in Elizabeth City

In his diaries, the Russian commander, Maxim Chibisov, wrote, “When the war ends, I hope we will meet again.” Needless to say, times changed, and Maxim never returned, although one of his daughters, Emilia, did visit Elizabeth City in 2009. She wanted to see “where her father left his heart.”

As for me, researching and writing Project Zebra taught me much about the fierce sense of Russian determination, good humor, and also their quiet generosity. That’s why I’m certain the spirit of Maxim, and many of his buddies, are getting ready to participate in Elizabeth City’s Halloween festivities this year, and for many years to come.

As always, thanks for taking the journey with me, and feel free to peruse my anthology of eBooks today within the world of M.G. Crisci.


DATE: Oct.23.2017 | CATEGORY: Archived