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15 Last Survivors of Famous Events

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No matter how many people are involved in an important event, one of them has to be the last to leave this earth. Here are 15 people who not only made history, but got to tell the tale for decades to come.

1. George Robert Twelves Hewes // Last survivor of the Boston Tea party

George Hewes was born in Boston in 1742 and was a poor shoemaker his whole life. We probably wouldn’t even know his name, if it weren't for the fact that his longevity made him a celebrity in the 1800s.

Hewes was injured in the Boston Massacre and later was a part of the group that threw tea into Boston Harbor. During the Revolutionary War he was both a militia member and a privateer. But after the war ended his life went back to normal. Then, in the 1830s, Americans “rediscovered” the Boston Tea Party and looked for any remaining participants. Hewes became a celebrity, had two biographies published, sat for his portrait, and was the guest of honor at a prestigious Fourth of July celebration. He died in 1840, aged 98. (The other candidate is David Kinnison, who—if we’re to believe his account—died in 1851 at 115 years old. But he’s now widely believed to be a fraud.)

2. Aristodemus of Sparta // Last Survivor of the Battle of Thermopylae

Two hundred and ninety-eight of the infamous 300 Spartans died in this battle against the Persians. One messenger, Pantites, was sent to deliver a letter and missed the fight. When he returned and found himself in disgrace, he hanged himself. Aristodemus and Eurytus were excused from fighting when they both came down with eye infections. According to Herodotus (who you have to take with a big grain of salt), Eurytus ran to the battle when he heard his fellow warriors were being slaughtered, but Aristodemus stayed behind. The Spartans were so disappointed in his perceived cowardice that they gave him the ultimate punishment: Keeping him alive to live with the shame.

3. Mary Allerton Cushman // Last Survivor of the Mayflower

While many of the men on the Mayflower hedged their bets and left their families back at home, just in case life in the New World was too difficult, Isaac Allerton not only brought his pregnant wife, he brought his three young children as well. Mary, the youngest, was only four when she was bundled on to the ship and left Europe forever. In America, things seem to have gone well for her. She eventually married and had eight children as well as 50 grandchildren, living to the ripe old age of 83.

4. Daniel F. Bakeman // Last veteran of the American Revolutionary War

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The longest lived veteran of the War of Independence was just a teenager when he signed up to fight, but he lived to see the end of the Civil War, and then some. In 1867, Daniel Bakeman finally applied for a military pension, even though his service had been almost 90 years before. At that point he claimed to be 107, and was 109 when he died two years later. It's also claimed that he was married to his wife for 91 years and 12 days, which, if true, would make it the longest marriage ever recorded.

5. Charles Carroll // Last signer of the Declaration of Independence

Despite being born a bastard and a Catholic (in an overwhelmingly Protestant colony where Catholics couldn't even hold office), Charles Carroll not only signed the Declaration of Independence, he lived longer than anyone else who did. He was involved with the fight for freedom from the very beginning, writing newspaper articles denouncing British rule and taxation, representing Maryland in almost all of the pre-revolutionary councils, and playing a role in setting a ship full of tea on fire. In spite of the danger of his activities, he survived the war, got involved in politics, and died in 1832 at the age of 95.

6. Nicolas Savin // Last veteran of the French Revolution

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When Nicolas Savin died in 1894, he was supposedly 126 years old. This would make him four years older than the oldest verified person ever recorded. However, there is evidence he was born almost 20 years later than he said, which would make his claims of fighting in the French Revolution suspect. He did serve during the Napoleonic wars, though, and was highly decorated. He was captured by the Russians and after the wars were over he decided to stay in that country. If he did fight during the Revolution, he was the longest living veteran by miles.

7. Rebecca Tickaneesky Neugin // Last survivor of the Trail of Tears

Neugin was only four when her people were forcibly removed from Georgia to Oklahoma. Dozens of children died of disease during the journey, and her parents and many others had to walk the whole way. Neugin, who rode in a wagon, brought her pet duck with her for companionship, but it died on the way; she still remembered that pain when interviewed in her 90s. She eventually married, had two children, and died in 1932 at age 98.

8. Eliza Moore // Last Living American to Be Born Into Slavery

It is hard to be sure about this one because so few personal records about slaves were ever kept. But when she died in 1948 aged 105, people believed that Eliza Moore was the last person to have been born into slavery in the U.S. She married another slave and was probably owned by a Dr. Taylor in Alabama. After the war ended, she and her husband became sharecroppers and may have had two children.

9. Raymond Pimlott Kaighn // Last Participant in the First Basketball Game

The 1800s were full of people inventing new sports, not all of which caught on. So James Naismith’s students were not too impressed when told they had to learn “another new game.” The 18 players of that first basketball game obviously had a steep learning curve, since the final score was only 1-0. But one of the participants, Raymond Kaighn, loved the game and was instrumental in organizing the first ever college game three years later. He stayed in sports his whole life, playing, coaching, and working for the YMCA. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame for his participation in that first game, and when he died in 1962 aged 92, he was the only one of the original 18 left.

10. Johnny Thomas Moore // Last Witness of the First Flight

Johnny Moore didn’t have anything to do with the development of the airplane, yet he holds a special place in aviation history. When the Wright brothers came to Kitty Hawk to try out their new machine, Moore just happened to be walking along the beach. He came over to see what was going on, thought it sounded interesting, and stuck around. He was only 16, but being in the right place at the right time meant he became one of the first six people to see an airplane fly. He also helped historians mark the exact spot the flight had taken place years later. Unfortunately, he committed suicide in 1952 aged 66.

11. Millvina Dean // Last survivor of the Titanic disaster

If it was “women and children first” when it came to getting off the sinking Titanic, Dean must have been first in line to get in a lifeboat. Not only was she female, but at only two months old, she was the youngest passenger on board. Her family wasn’t even supposed to be on the boat, but was transferred to it when a coal strike kept their original vessel from sailing. While she, her mother, and brother survived, her father went down with the ship.

Obviously, Dean didn’t have any memories of the sinking, and although she became a minor celebrity as a toddler thanks to her ordeal, she didn’t even know she had been on the Titanic until she was eight. She died in 2009 aged 97.

12. Vaso Čubrilović // Last survivor of the Conspiracy to Murder Archduke Franz Ferdinand

You might think that the men who inadvertently started WWI would have died young and violently, but one of them, Čubrilović, made it to age 93. He was only 17 when he was recruited to join the group hoping to assassinate the Archduke and liberate Bosnia. While he never ended up killing anyone, he was arrested for treason and murder and found guilty. Since he was younger than 20 when the crime was committed, he could not be executed and was instead sentenced to 16 years in prison, but was released when the war ended in 1918. After the war he got a PhD, became a professor, and got involved in politics in a way that didn’t involve trying to kill people. He died in 1990.

13. Werner Franz // Last Surviving Crew Member of the Hindenburg Disaster

You wouldn’t think it looking at the famous image, but of the 97 people on board the Hindenburg, 62 of them managed to survive the explosion and fire. One of those was a 14-year-old cabin boy who came away completely unscathed. Franz had gotten the job by chance and it was only his fifth flight on the dirigible. When disaster struck, he happened to be under a water tank that burst over him, helping protect him from the flames. He jumped to the ground through a hatch and ran. When he died last year aged 92, it was believed that two passengers and a member of the ground crew were still alive.

14. Rochus Misch // Last Surviving Occupant of the 'Führerbunker'

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Misch was only 20 when he was called up for service in the German military shortly before WWII started. In 1940, he was part of select group chosen to be Hitler’s personal bodyguards. He stayed in this position for the rest of the war, so when the Führer fled to his bunker in 1945, Misch went with him. He was with the group who discovered the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun after they killed themselves, and stayed in the bunker right to the very end, fleeing only hours before the Soviets got there. He was captured, tortured, and spent nine years in a forced labor camp. After his release, he returned to Berlin, where he became a businessman, wrote his memoirs, and would show up at the site of the bunker from time to time to tell tourists how he had been there. He died in 2013 aged 96.

15. Zelma Henderson // Last Surviving Plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education

Oliver Brown wasn’t the only person who took the Topeka public school system to court over segregation. There were 12 mothers of local students listed as well, and one of them was Henderson. Henderson herself had attended both mixed and segregated schools in her youth. In a later interview, she said her own experiences with integrated schools influenced her to get involved for her own two children, who had to be bussed to an all-black school on the other side of the city. Even though what she was doing was incredibly brave, she said no one involved had any idea how big the case would become. Henderson died in 2008 at the age of 88.

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Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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7 of History’s Most Unusual Riots
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Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Some sociologists theorize that most rioters only join a crowd because the crowd is big enough to justify joining. But there’s always that one person who sparks the violence, and sometimes the reason for doing so can seem pretty baffling. Maybe a work of art scandalizes its audience, like the famous premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Or maybe it’s simply a notable act of disrespect, like history’s first recorded mooning (in Jerusalem in the first century CE). From balloonists to brown dogs to daylight saving time, here are seven weird reasons things just got out of hand.

1. THE MELBOURNE DART RIOT

The Darts Invitational Challenge, an international tournament held in Melbourne, attracted international gawking in January 2015 during the finals match between Michael "Mighty Mike" van Gerwen and Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock. The dart players weren’t making a scene, though: Rather, hundreds of spectators, many of them drunk and in costume, began throwing plastic chairs as they watched (pictured above). The reasons for the fight remain unclear; footage and photos show police trying to control adults dressed as Oompa-Loompas, numerous superheroes, and, in one instance, in a ghillie suit (heavy camouflage meant to resemble foliage).

2. THE LEICESTER BALLOON RIOT

In 1864, balloonists were the great daredevils of their time, and a major draw for eager audiences. That summer, Henry Coxwell, a famous professional aeronaut, was set to make an appearance for 50,000 paying ticketholders in Leicester, England. Unfortunately, a rumor spread that he hadn’t brought his biggest and best balloon to the event. After heckling from the crowd, Coxwell deflated his balloon, and attendees rushed it, ripping it to shreds, setting it on fire, and threatening to visit the same fate on Coxwell. Rioters even paraded the remains of the balloon through the streets of town, which briefly brought residents a new nickname: Balloonatics.

3. THE TORONTO CLOWN AND FIREFIGHTER RIOT

Toronto was still a pretty rough place in the 1850s, but not so rough that the circus wouldn’t come to town. As it turns out, circus entertainers were also a tough lot back then, so when a group of off-duty clowns spent an evening at a brothel popular with the city’s firefighters on July 12, 1855, tensions came to a head. Accounts differ as to who started the fight, but after one firefighter knocked the hat off a clown things escalated into a full-on rabble intent on chasing the circus out of town. Only the mayor calling in the militia put an end to the uproar, an incident Torontonians credit with kicking off much-needed local police reforms.

4. THE BELGIAN NIGHT AT THE OPERA RIOT

A painting by Charles Soubre of the Belgian Revolution
Charles Soubre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many nations can claim their independence started with an aria, but for 19th-century Belgians sick of living under Dutch rule, an opera was just the right fuse for a revolution. To honor the birthday of King William I of the Netherlands, a theater in Brussels put on La Muette de Portici, about an uprising in Naples against Spanish rule. One song, "Amour Sacre de la Patrie" ("Sacred Love of the Fatherland"), aroused nationalistic passions so much that after the opera ended, the crowd began destroying factories and occupying government buildings. That was August 25, 1830; Belgium declared independence on October 4.

5. THE NEW YORK DOCTORS' RIOT

Hamilton fans, take note: Everyone’s favorite Founding Father once tried to quiet a mob bent on burning corpses. For centuries, anatomists and medical students relied on gruesome means to learn about the human body. Cadavers for dissection class often came from grave robbers, since the corpses of executed criminals were the only legal source—and they were in limited supply. In New York in 1788, rumors abounded that medical students were digging up paupers’ graves and black cemeteries. When one mob came after the doctors responsible, Alexander Hamilton tried, and failed, to restore the peace. The crowd swelled to about 5000 before militiamen intervened, leading to up to about 20 deaths.

6. THE BROWN DOG RIOTS

Photo of an anti-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, to protest the removal from Battersea Park of the Brown Dog statue
The Anti-Vivisection Review, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Riots against the dissection of dead human bodies were not rare in the United States at one time. But on December 10, 1907, a thousand Britons marched in support of vivisection, or surgery on live animals. At the center of the controversy was a small terrier allegedly vivisected without anesthetic in 1903 during a class at London’s University College. Animal rights activists erected a statue to the dog in 1906, which enraged area medical students, and protesters tried to destroy the statue using crowbars and hammers. For the 1907 march, 400 mounted police were deployed to contain marchers. The statue became such a flashpoint (and an expense to local authorities) that in 1910, it was removed and melted down.

7. THE EEL-PULLING RIOT

Palingtrekken (eel-pulling) was once a popular contest in Amsterdam, in which a writhing eel was suspended over a canal and hopefuls on boats would leap to snatch it as they passed beneath (usually landing in the water instead). However, “eel-pulling” was also illegal—the government deemed it a “cruel popular entertainment”—and in July 1886, police intervened at a particularly large gathering in the city’s Jordaan district. Civilians threw stones and bricks at police, and when some nearby socialist protestors joined them, a riot broke out that lasted for several days. The army finally intervened and opened fire on the protestors. All in all, 26 people died and 136 were wounded, but somehow, the eel itself at the center of the riots was allegedly saved and auctioned off in 1913.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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