How Queen Victoria Turned Switzerland Into a Vacation Hotspot

A postcard of Lucerne circa 1870
A postcard of Lucerne circa 1870
Swiss National Library, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The reason that many people associate Switzerland with vacations and relaxation isn't entirely due to the European country's spectacular natural vistas, incredible skiing opportunities, and even more incredible cheese. In the English-speaking world, at least, it has a lot to do with one important figure: Queen Victoria.

In 1868, the British monarch was still struggling with the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, seven years earlier. She was depressed and sickly, as swissinfo explains, having withdrawn from the world to mourn. She kept out of the public eye for years, remaining in extreme isolation; she wore black for the rest of her life.

To get away from it all, she decided to take a trip. She chose Switzerland, in part because Albert had had a deep fondness for the country—in 1855, he had even imported a replica Swiss chalet to Britain for their children to play in.

The trip took years to plan, and Victoria traveled with three of her children under the name the Countess of Kent. But it was difficult for monarchs to travel incognito—by the time she finally arrived at the railroad station in Lucerne, Switzerland, there were hundreds of fans there waiting for her.

During her time staying at Pension Wallis (now the site of a castle known as Chateau Gütsch), she did the typical sightseeing rounds, visiting monuments and local landmarks, buying souvenirs, and painting watercolors of the scenery. Thanks to her German skills—both her mother and Albert were German—she didn't need an interpreter, and despite her self-imposed isolation, she did interact with the locals. At one point, she visited a nearby farm, inquiring with the farmer about Swiss cattle practices, later writing in her diary that she was surprised to hear that Swiss cows were given names.

Though it might seem like a standard royal vacation today, at the time, it was groundbreaking. Victoria was a trendsetter, and being associated with the queen was great press for Switzerland. The country was largely an upper-class destination at the time, but as it became easier to travel across Europe, the queen's vacation choice proved influential, sending Brits in particular flocking to the Alps.

Suddenly, Victoria was a brand in Switzerland. The name "Victoria" was associated with luxury and quality, and plenty of businesses and towns catering toward tourists took note. There were hotels named after her, town squares named after her, buildings named after her. There was a steam boat with her name on it.

Her five-week trip affected the Swiss tourism industry so deeply that it's still memorialized today—it was recently the subject of an exhibition at the Historisches Museum Luzern, the history museum in Lucerne. And you can still find plenty of tourist destinations named after her. There are more than 20 hotels called Victoria across Switzerland today, museum director Christoph Lichtin told swissinfo.

DNA Links Polish Barber Aaron Kosminski to Jack the Ripper Murders, But Experts Are Skeptical

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Many people have been suspected of being Jack the Ripper, from author Lewis Carroll to Liverpool cotton salesman James Maybrick, but the perpetrator of the grisly crimes that gripped Victorian London has never been identified. Now, one of the case's first suspects is back in the news. As Smithsonian reports, Aaron Kosminski, a barber from Poland, has been linked to the Jack the Ripper murders with DNA evidence—but experts are hesitant to call the case closed.

The new claim comes from data now published in the Journal of Forensic Science. Several years ago, Ripperologist Russell Edwards asked researchers from the University of Leeds and John Moores University in Liverpool to analyze a blood-stained silk shawl thought to have belonged to Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. The item, which Edwards owns, has been a primary piece of evidence in the murder investigation for years. In 2014, Edwards published a book in which he claimed Aaron Kosminski's DNA had been found on the garment, but his results weren't published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Five years later, the researchers have released their findings. Using infrared and spectrophotometry technology, they confirmed the fabric was stained with blood and discovered a possible semen stain. They collected DNA fragments from the stain and compared them to DNA taken from a descendent of Eddowes and a descendent of Kosminski. The mitochondrial DNA (the DNA passed down from mother to offspring) extracted from the shawl contained matching profiles for both subjects.

Kosminski was a 23-year-old Polish barber living in London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders. He was one of the first suspects identified by the London police, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him in 1888.

Following the newest study, many Jack the Ripper experts are saying there still isn't enough evidence to definitively pin the murders on Kosminski. One of the main issues is that a mitochondrial DNA match isn't as conclusive as matches with other DNA; many people have the same mitochondrial DNA profile, even if they're not related, so the forensic tool is best used for ruling out suspects rather than confirming them.

The shawl at the center of the study is also controversial. It was supposedly picked up by a police officer at the scene of Eddowes's murder, but that version of the story has been disputed. The shawl's origin also been traced back to multiple eras, including the early 1800s and early 1900s, as well as different parts of Europe.

Due to many factors complicating the Jack the Ripper case, the murders may never be solved completely. The crimes spurred a flurry of hoax letters to the London Police department in the 1880s, and even the letters that were thought to be authentic, like the one that gave Jack the Ripper his nickname, may have been fabricated.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Medgar Evers’s Mississippi Home Is Now a National Monument

Milt T, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Milt T, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Mississippi home where civil rights leader and World War II veteran Medgar Evers lived at the time of his assassination has just been declared a national monument, the Clarion Ledger reports. The new designation was part of a sweeping bill signed by President Donald Trump that also established four other national monuments: one in Utah, one in California, and two in Kentucky.

The three-bedroom house in Jackson was already a national historic landmark as well as a stop on the Mississippi Freedom Trail. However, it now has the distinction of being known as the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument. Evers and his wife, Myrlie, moved into the home with their two children after Evers became Mississippi’s first NAACP field secretary in 1954. As an outspoken activist, he also staged boycotts and voter registration drives, and helped desegregate the University of Mississippi.

The couple welcomed their third child into the world while living in their Jackson home, but due to Evers’s high profile, they had to take extra precautions. The home doesn’t have a front door because Evers believed this small barrier would help protect his family (the door was located on the side of the house instead). It wasn’t enough to protect him, though. On June 12, 1963, Evers was shot in his driveway by Klansman Byron De La Beckwith. A bullet hole can still be seen in a kitchen wall.

Evers’s murder helped prompt the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to historians. Myrlie Evers also went on to play a crucial role in the movement, serving as national chairwoman of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998. “Medgar and Myrlie Evers are heroes whose contributions to the advancement of civil rights in Mississippi and our nation cannot be overstated,” said U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who co-sponsored the proposal for the national monument.

Under this new change of management—from former owners Tougaloo College to the federal government—the home will receive more funds for its preservation. Currently, the home can only be toured by appointment.

[h/t Clarion Ledger]

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