Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

King George I of Greece Assassinated

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 61st installment in the series. (See all entries here.)

March 18, 1913: King George I of Greece Assassinated

The Greek conquest of Salonika on November 9, 1912 was a major historical event by any standard. Founded in 315 BCE and captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1430 CE, Salonika (Greek: Thessaloniki) was a crown jewel of the Balkans and the main prize of the First Balkan War. Thus it was a foregone conclusion that King George I of Greece would pay a triumphal visit to glory in his conquest (and cement Greek ownership of the city, which was also claimed by Greece’s ally Bulgaria).

In the afternoon of March 18, 1913, the king was taking his daily walk along the waterfront near the “White Tower,” a famous fortress built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. The king’s advisors had warned him that the mood in the city was unsettled, but George—perhaps trying to demonstrate the common touch for which he was famous—had insisted on taking his stroll without bodyguards. So there was no one to protect the king when, around 5:15 p.m., an anarchist named Alexandros Schinas slipped out of a café, walked up behind him and shot him several times in the back at point-blank range. One of the bullets pierced the king’s heart, killing him instantly.

Like so many other successful assassins, Schinas’ momentous crime dwarfed his modest achievements in life up to that point. Some years before he’d joined the Eastern European exodus to America, where he worked for a time in the kitchen of New York City’s Fifth Avenue Hotel; co-workers recalled his passionate rants against privilege and authority. Failing to make a life for himself as an immigrant in the New World, Schinas returned to his hometown in Greece, where he founded an anarchist school that was quickly shut down by the authorities. At the time of his arrest, the Greek police described Schinas as a homeless alcoholic. On May 6, 1913, he died after “falling” from a police station window; the death was officially recorded as a suicide, though there is obvious reason for doubt.

The assassination came just a few weeks before the 50th anniversary of George’s accession to the throne. Ironically, after his Golden Jubilee celebration the 67-year-old monarch was planning to abdicate in favor of Crown Prince Constantine. Now, as the old king’s body lay in state in Salonika, the new king took the constitutional oath of office in a subdued ceremony in front of the Greek chamber of deputies in Athens on March 21, 1913. In contrast to the somber mood inside parliament, in the surrounding streets large crowds cheered the new king, who’d captured the popular imagination with his victories in the First Balkan War. 

As a young man Constantine had spent a number of years in Germany, where he studied at universities in Leipzig and Heidelberg, and became friends with Kaiser Wilhelm II; in fact in 1889 he married Wilhelm’s sister Sophia. During the coming Great War his German sympathies would put Constantine at odds with the British and French, who helped establish a rival government under Prime Minister Venizelos in Salonika. In 1917, the Allies forced Constantine to abdicate in favor of his son Alexander, who then brought Greece into the war on the side of the Allies.

Sadly political assassinations were all too common during this period, due in part to the spread of violent anarchism, a shadowy international movement which advocated “propaganda of the deed”—terrorism—and posed a threat similar to Islamist extremism today. Anarchist terrorists favored high-profile targets: On September 14, 1911, Russian prime minister Pyotr Stolypin was murdered in front of Nicholas II and his family by the anarchist Dmitri Bogrov; on November 12, 1912, Spanish prime minister José Canales y Méndez was assassinated by the anarchist Manuel Pardiñas; and on April 13, 1913, anarchist Rafael Sancho Alegre tried and failed to kill Spanish King Alfonso XIII.

Of course anarchists weren’t solely responsible for the rash of assassinations: Then, as now, there were also plenty of well-armed lunatics in circulation. On October 14, 1912, a psychotic saloonkeeper named John Schrank was barely foiled in his attempt to kill Teddy Roosevelt at a campaign stop in Milwaukee. Lunacy and ideology often overlapped: Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who murdered President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York in 1901, was clearly mentally disturbed.

As might be expected, many assassinations took place as part of coups and political upheavals. In the Ottoman Empire, war minister Nazim Pasha was killed by the Young Turks during the coup on January 23, 1913, and Grand Vizier Mahmut Sevket Pasha was assassinated by military officers angry about Turkish defeats on June 11, 1913. In Mexico, President Francisco Madero and Vice-President José María Pino Suárez were murdered by coup plotters on February 22, 1913. And in China Song Jiaoren, a founder of the Kuomintang, was assassinated on March 20, 1913, probably at the behest of rival Yuan Shikai.

Another prominent cause of political violence during this period was nationalism—and nowhere was more seriously afflicted than Austria-Hungary, a dynastic empire whose multinational composition was particularly ill-suited to the modern era. Here nationalism mixed with anarchism to produce an especially dangerous brew—and fire-breathing Slavic nationalists in neighboring Serbia were eagerly stirring the pot, hoping to liberate their ethnic kinsmen in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Click to enlarge.

On June 15, 1910, a Slavic nationalist and anarchist named Bogdan Zerajic made an unsuccessful attempt on the life of General Marián Varešanin, the Hungarian military governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina; Zerajic killed himself and was venerated as a heroic martyr by Slavic nationalists. On June 7, 1912, a Hungarian nationalist named Gyula Kovács tried and failed to kill the Hungarian speaker of the house, István Tisza, whom he accused of collaboration with Hungary’s Austrian oppressors. A day later, on June 8, 1912, the ban (imperial governor) of Croatia, Slavko Cuvaj, barely escaped assassination by a Bosnian Croat, Luka Jukić, who managed to kill several other officials. On August 18, 1913, Stjepan Dojčić, a Croatian house painter who had emigrated to America and then returned, failed in his attempt to assassinate Iván Skerlecz, Cuvaj’s successor as governor of Croatia. And on May 20, 1914, a second plot against Skerlecz’s life was foiled by police in the nick of time; a “Yugoslav” nationalist, Jacob Schafer, was arrested, and the investigation soon traced the plot back to Serbia.

Back in February 1912, Jukić (who would try to kill the Croatian governor in June of that year) had helped organize nationalist protests by students in Sarajevo, the provincial capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, together with a fellow Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip; Princip—a small, wiry 17-year-old with intense blue eyes—had threatened students who didn’t want to participate in the protests with brass knuckles. In March 1913, Princip, now 18 years old, arrived in the Serbian capital Belgrade, supposedly to attend high school. Here he would come into contact with a secret Serbian nationalist group called “Unity or Death”—better known as “The Black Hand.”

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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NASA // Public Domain
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History
On This Day in 1983, Sally Ride Made History
NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

Thirty-five years ago today, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She flew on the space shuttle Challenger on a six-day mission. She had previously helped build the shuttle's robot arm, and now she operated it in space. Not only was she the first American woman to go to space, she was the youngest astronaut in space, at age 32.

(As with many space-related firsts, that "American" qualifier is important. The Soviet space program had sent two women cosmonauts into space well in advance of Ride. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova flew all the way back in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. They also sent various younger people to space, including Tereshkova.)

Ride represented a change in the previously completely male astronaut program. Although NASA had unofficially tested women in the late 1950s as part of the Mercury program, the idea of sending women into space was quickly discarded. NASA policy for decades was that only men would be considered as astronauts. It took until 1978 for NASA to change the policy—that year, six women became astronauts: Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon, and Shannon Lucid.

Ride and her colleagues were subject to an endless barrage of sexist media questions, curious how women might fare in space. They also encountered institutional sexism at NASA itself. Ride recalled:

"The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. ... You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit."

Ride held a Ph.D. in astrophysics, two bachelor's degrees (English and physics), and had served as CapCom (Capsule Communicator) for the second and third shuttle flights, STS-2 and -3. She was an accomplished pilot and athlete, as well as a Presbyterian elder. She was closely connected to Challenger, performing two missions on it and losing four fellow members of her 1978 class when it exploded.

After her astronaut career concluded, Ride served on both the Challenger and Columbia disaster review panels. During the former, she leaked vital information about the Challenger disaster (o-ring engineering reports), though this wasn't broadly known until after her death. She wrote educational books and founded Sally Ride Science. She was asked to head up NASA by the Clinton administration, but declined.

Ride died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Her obituary made news for quietly mentioning that she was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. Although Ride had come out to her family and close friends, the obituary was the first public statement that she was gay. It was also the first time most people found out she'd suffered from pancreatic cancer at all; she asked that donations in her memory be made to a fund devoted to studying that form of cancer.

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