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How Archduke Ferdinand Spent His Final Days

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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 August, 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 124th installment in the series. 

June 24, 1914: The Archduke’s Forebodings

While fact and fiction often blend in retrospect, according to various accounts in his final days, Archduke Franz Ferdinand expressed forebodings about his journey to Bosnia to observe the empire’s annual military maneuvers, scheduled for June 26 and 27, 1914, followed by an official visit to Sarajevo on June 28.

After leaving his estate at Konopischt ,the Archduke and his wife Sophie traveled together as far as Vienna, where they would part ways, with the Archduke heading to Trieste to board the new battleship Viribus Unitis (indulging his naval obsession, below) while Sophie continued to Bosnia by rail. But there were a few minor mishaps along the way.

On June 24, one of the axles on their private carriage began overheating, forcing them to switch to another carriage and provoking a sarcastic remark from the acerbic Archduke: “Well, well, this journey is getting off to a really promising start… You see, that’s the way it starts. At first the carriage running hot, then a murder attempt in Sarajevo and finally, if all that doesn’t get anywhere, an explosion on board the Viribus.” Later, on the way to Trieste, the electric lights in the Archduke’s carriage failed and the servants brought out candles, prompting him to ask one of his attendants: “How do you find this lighting? Like a grave isn’t it?”

Apparently these weren’t his first premonitions. According to his nephew Karl (who would become the last emperor of Austria-Hungary in 1916), in May Franz Ferdinand had confided: “I know I shall soon be murdered. In this desk are papers that concern you. When that happens, take them, they are for you.” A superstitious man, the Archduke also noted that the family crypt at their estate in Arstetten had recently been completed.

But through it all he was resolved not to live in fear. During a previous visit to Trieste, he dismissed worries about Italian assassins: “We are at all times in God’s hands. Look, some rogue could have a go at me now, coming out of that brushwood. Worry and caution paralyze life.”

Serbian Government Dissolved, King Peter Steps Down

As the plotters made their final preparations in Sarajevo, the neighboring Kingdom of Serbia was in political turmoil following an abortive military coup. After dissolving his cabinet on June 2, on June 24 Prime Minister Nikola Pašić called for new elections for parliament, which he hoped would confirm public support for his policies, including his attempts to put the army in its place. This meant he would have to devote the next two months to campaigning in the countryside, but the energetic elder statesman felt up to it (as it happened the elections were canceled following the outbreak of hostilities). It also meant there was only a caretaker government in place to handle the coming crisis.

Indeed, even the monarchy was in a state of flux: on June 24 King Peter, who was accused of siding with the military faction during the coup attempt, stepped down (supposedly on grounds of poor health, but probably under Russian pressure) in favor of his son, the Crown Prince Alexander, who would now serve as regent. However Peter would return to lead the battered Serbian army, along with huge numbers of civilian refugees, as they fled the attacking Central Powers during the horrible retreat of late 1915.

Royal Navy Pays a Friendly Visit to Germany

In 1913 and 1914, it seemed like relations between Britain and Germany, long strained by Kaiser Wilhelm II’s determination to challenge British naval supremacy, might finally be on the mend. Germany had tacitly agreed to accept British superiority on the seas, and Britain was accommodating Germany with colonial agreements and a deal on railroad construction in the Middle East.

Topical Press Agency, via Gutenberg.org 

To demonstrate the new friendly relations, the Germans invited the Royal Navy to participate in the Kiel Regatta (above), an annual naval exhibition and sailing competition hosted by the Kaiser at the port city of Kiel in northern Germany. On June 23, 1914, the British Second Battle Squadron dropped anchor in the harbor at Kiel, kicking off a week of festivities when officers and sailors from the two navies fraternized (occasionally to excess). Although First Lord of the Navy Winston Churchill didn’t end up attending, he was hopeful that the regatta might be a symbolic turning point in Anglo-German relations.

Not everyone was so optimistic. The June 1914 regatta was especially significant because it celebrated the opening of the newly deepened Kiel Canal across the foot of the Danish peninsula (Jutland), which would allow the German High Seas Fleet to shuttle back and forth between the Baltic Sea and North Sea without fear of interception by the Royal Navy. In 1908 Admiral Jackie Fisher, the architect of the modern Royal Navy, predicted that Germany would launch its war with Britain in the summer of 1914, following the completion of the canal.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Pop Culture
5 Bizarre Comic-Con News Stories from Years Past
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At its best, Comic-Con is a friendly place where like-minded people can celebrate their pop culture obsessions, and each other. And no one can make fun of you, no matter how lazy your cosplaying might be. You might think that at its worst, it’s just a series of long lines of costumed fans and small stores crammed into a convention center. But sometimes, throwing together 100,000-plus people from around the world in what feels like a carnival-type atmosphere where anything goes can have less than stellar results. Here are some highlights from past Comic-Con-tastrophes.

1. MAN IN HARRY POTTER T-SHIRT STABS ANOTHER MAN IN THE FACE—WITH A PEN

In 2010, two men waiting for a Comic-Con screening of the Seth Rogen alien comedy Paul got into a very adult argument about whether one of them was sitting too close to the other. Unable to come to a satisfactory conclusion with words, one man stabbed the other in the face with a pen. According to CNN, the attacker was led away wearing handcuffs and a Harry Potter T-shirt. In the aftermath, some Comic-Con attendees dealt with the attack in an oddly fitting way: They cosplayed as the victim, with pens protruding from bloody eye sockets.

2. MEMORABILIA THIEVES INVADE NEW YORK

Since its founding in 2006, New York Comic Con has attracted a few sticky-fingered attendees. In 2010, a man stole several rare comics from vendor Matt Nelson, co-founder of Texas’ Worldwide Comics. Just one of those, Whiz Comics No. 1, was worth $11,000, according to the New York Post. A few years later, in 2014, someone stole a $2000 “Dunny” action figure, which artist Jon-Paul Kaiser had painted during the event for Clutter magazine. And those are just the incidents that involved police; lower-scale cases of toys and comics disappearing from booths are an increasingly frustrating epidemic, according to some. “Comic Con theft is an issue we all sort of ignore,” collector Tracy Isenhour wrote on the blog of his company, Needless Essentials, in 2015. “I am here to tell you no more. It’s time for this garbage to stop."

3. CATWOMAN SAVES THE DAY

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Adrianne Curry, winner of the first cycle of America’s Next Top Model, has made a career of chasing viral fame. Ironically, it was at Comic-Con in 2014 that Curry did something truly worthy of attention—though there wasn’t a camera in sight. Dressed as Catwoman, she was posing with fans alongside her friend Alicia Marie, who was dressed as Tigra. According to a Facebook post Marie wrote at the time, a fan tried to shove his hands into her bikini bottoms. She screamed, the man ran off, and Curry jumped to action. She “literally took off after dude WITH her Catwoman whip and chased him down, beat his a**,” Marie wrote. “Punched him across the face with the butt of her whip—he had zombie blood on his face—got on her costume.”

4. MAN POSES AS FUGITIVE-SEEKING INVESTIGATOR TO GET INTO VIP ROOM

The lines at Comic-Con are legendary, so one Utah man came up with a novel way to try and skip them altogether. In 2015, Jonathon M. Wall tried to get into Salt Lake Comic Con’s exclusive VIP enclave (normally a $10,000 ticket) by claiming he was an agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and needed to get into the VIP room “to catch a fugitive,” according to The San Diego Union Tribune. Not only does that story not even come close to making sense, it also adds up to impersonating a federal agent, a crime to which Wall pleaded guilty in April of this year and which carried a sentence of up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In June, prosecutors announced that they were planning to reduce his crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

5. MAN WALKS 645 MILES TO COMIC-CON, DRESSED AS A STORMTROOPER, TO HONOR HIS LATE WIFE

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In 2015, Kevin Doyle walked 645 miles along the California coast to honor his late wife, Eileen. Doyle had met Eileen relatively late in life, when he was in his 50s, and they bonded over their shared love of Star Wars (he even proposed to her while dressed as Darth Vader). However, she died of cancer barely a year after they were married. Adrift and lonely, Doyle decided to honor her memory and their love of Star Wars by walking to Comic-Con—from San Francisco. “I feel like I’m so much better in the healing process than if I’d stayed home,” he told The San Diego Union Tribune.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between an Opera and a Musical?
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They both have narrative arcs set to song, so how are musicals different from operas?

For non-theater types, the word “musical” conjures up images of stylized Broadway performances—replete with high-kicks and punchy songs interspersed with dialogue—while operas are viewed as a musical's more melodramatic, highbrow cousin. That said, The New York Times chief classical music critic Anthony Tommasini argues that these loose categorizations don't get to the heart of the matter. For example, for every Kinky Boots, there’s a work like Les Misérables—a somber, sung-through show that elicits more audience tears than laughs. Meanwhile, operas can contain dancing and/or conversation, too, and they range in quality from lowbrow to highbrow to straight-up middlebrow.

According to Tommasini, the real distinguishing detail between a musical and an opera is that “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first.” While listening to an opera, it typically doesn’t matter what language it’s sung in, so long as you know the basic plot—but in musical theater, the nuance comes from the lyrics.

When it comes down to it, Tommasini’s explanation clarifies why opera stars often sing in a different style than Broadway performers do, why operas and musicals tend to have their trademark subject matters, and why musical composition and orchestration differ between the two disciplines.

That said, we live in a hybrid-crazy world in which we can order Chinese-Indian food, purchase combination jeans/leggings, and, yes, watch a Broadway musical—like 2010's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark—that’s billed as “rock opera.” At the end of the day, the lack of hard, fast lines between opera and musical theater can lead composers from both camps to borrow from the other, thus blurring the line even further.

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