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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John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz
Murdered

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

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Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
14 Facts About Mathew Brady
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images

When you think of the Civil War, the images you think of are most likely the work of Mathew Brady and his associates. One of the most successful early photographers in American history, Brady was responsible for bringing images of the Civil War to a nation split in two—a project that would ultimately be his undoing. Here are some camera-ready facts about Mathew Brady.

1. HIS EARLY LIFE MIGHT BE AN INTENTIONAL MYSTERY.

Most details of Brady’s early life are unknown. He was born in either 1822 or 1823 to Andrew and Julia Brady, who were Irish. On pre-war census records and 1863 draft forms Brady stated that he was born in Ireland, but some historians speculate he changed his birthplace to Johnsburg, New York, after he became famous due to anti-Irish sentiment.

Brady had no children, and though he is believed to have married a woman named Julia Handy in 1851, there is no official record of the marriage.

2. HE TOOK PHOTOGRAPHY CLASSES FROM THE INVENTOR OF MORSE CODE.

When he was 16 or 17, Brady followed artist William Page to New York City after Page had given him some drawing lessons. But that potential career was derailed when he got work as a clerk in the A.T. Stewart department store [PDF] and began manufacturing leather (and sometimes paper) cases for local photographers, including Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of Morse Code.

Morse, who had learned the early photographic method of creating Daguerreotypes from Parisian inventor Louis Daguerre in 1839, brought the method back to the United States and opened a studio in 1840. Brady was one of his early students.

3. HE SET UP SHOP IN NEW YORK AND BECAME THE GO-TO PHOTOGRAPHER.

Brady eventually took what he learned from Morse and opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844, earning the nickname “Brady of Broadway.” His renown grew due to a mix of his knack for enticing celebrities to sit for his camera—James Knox Polk and a young Henry James (with his father, Henry James Sr.) both sat for him—as well as a flair for the dramatic: In 1856, he placed an ad in the New York Daily Tribune urging readers to sit for a portrait that warned, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”

His rapidly-expanding operation forced him to open a branch of his studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1849, and then move his New York studio uptown to 785 Broadway in 1860.

4. HE ACHIEVED WORLDWIDE FAME.

In 1850, Brady published The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a collection of lithographs based on his daguerreotypes of a dozen famous Americans (he had intended to do 24, but due to costs, that never happened). The volume, and a feature profile [PDF] in the inaugural 1851 issue of the Photographic Art-Journal that described Brady as the “fountain-head” of a new artistic movement, made him a celebrity even outside of America. “We are not aware that any man has devoted himself to [the Daguerreotype art] with so much earnestness, or expended upon its development so much time and expense," the profile opined. "He has merited the eminence he has acquired; for, from the time he first began to devote himself to it, he has adhered to his early purpose with the firmest resolution, and the most unyielding tenacity.” Later that year, at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, Brady was awarded one of three gold medals for his daguerreotypes.

5. HE PHOTOGRAPHED EVERY PRESIDENT FROM JOHN QUINCY ADAMS TO WILLIAM MCKINLEY ... WITH ONE EXCEPTION.

The one that got away was William Henry Harrison—he died only a month after his inauguration in 1841.

6. ONE OF HIS PORTRAITS INTRODUCED HONEST ABE TO THE COUNTRY.

When Abraham Lincoln campaigned for president in 1860, he was dismissed as an odd-looking country bumpkin. But Brady’s stately portrait of the candidate, snapped after he addressed a Republican audience at Cooper Union in New York, effectively solidified Lincoln as a legitimate candidate in the minds of the American populace. (After he was elected, Lincoln supposedly told a friend, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president.”) It was one of the first times such widespread campaign photography was used to support a presidential candidate.

7. HIS STUDIO’S WORK ENDED UP ON TWO VERSIONS OF THE $5 BILL.

A researcher holding one of America's most priceless negatives, the glass plate made by famous civil war photographer Mathew Brady of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 just before he was assassinated.
Three Lions, Getty Images

On February 9, 1864, Lincoln sat for a portrait session with Anthony Berger, the manager of Brady’s Washington studio. The session yielded both images of Lincoln that would go on the modern iterations of the $5 bill.

The first, from a three-quarter length portrait featuring Lincoln seated and facing right, was used on the bill design from 1914 to 2000. When U.S. currency was redesigned that year, government officials chose another image Berger took at Brady’s studio of Lincoln. This time, the president is seen facing left with his head turned more to the left.

According to Lincoln historian Lloyd Ostendorf, when the president was sitting for portraits, “Whenever Lincoln posed, a dark melancholy settled over his features. He put on what Mrs. Lincoln called his ‘photographer’s face.’ There is no camera study which shows him laughing, for such an attitude, unfortunately, was impossible when long exposures were required.”

8. OTHER PEOPLE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SOME OF HIS BEST-KNOWN WORK.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Brady decided to use his many employees and his own money to attempt to make a complete photographic record of the conflict, dispatching 20 photographers to capture images in different war zones. Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O’Sullivan were both in the field for Brady. Both of them eventually quit because Brady didn’t give individual credit.

Brady likely did take photos himself on battlefields like Bull Run and Gettysburg (although not necessarily during the actual battle). The photographer later boasted, “I had men in all parts of the army, like a rich newspaper.”

9. HE HAD BAD EYESIGHT.

Brady's eyes had plagued him since childhood—in his youth, he was reportedly nearly blind, and he wore thick, blue-tinted glasses as an adult. Brady's real reason for relying less and less on his own expertise might have been because of his failing eyesight, which had started to deteriorate in the 1850s.

10. HE HELPED REVOLUTIONIZE COMBAT PHOTOGRAPHY.

War photographer Mathew Brady's buggy was converted into a mobile darkroom and travelling studio, or, Whatizzit Wagon, during the American Civil War.
Mathew B Brady, Getty Images

The group of Brady photographers that scoured the American north and south to capture images of the Civil War traveled in what became known as “Whatizzit Wagons,” which were horse-drawn wagons filled with chemicals and mobile darkrooms so they could get close to battles and develop photographs as quickly as possible.

Brady’s 1862 New York gallery exhibit, "The Dead of Antietam,” featured then-unseen photographs of some of the 23,000 victims of the war’s bloodiest day, which shocked American society. “Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war," a New York Times reviewer wrote. "If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

11. HE USED A FREEBIE TO CONVINCE GENERALS TO LET HIM PHOTOGRAPH THE WAR.

Brady and his associates couldn't just wander out onto the battlefield with cameras—the photographer needed to obtain permission. So he set up a portrait session with Winfield Scott, the Union general in charge of the Army. The story goes that as he photographed the general—who was posed shirtless as a Roman warrior—Brady laid out his plan to send his fleet of photographers to tell the visual story of the war unlike any previous attempts in history. Then the photographer gifted the general some ducks. Scott was finally convinced, and he approved Brady’s plan in a letter to General Irvin McDowell. (Scott's Roman warrior portrait is, unfortunately, now lost.)

12. HE WAS BLAMED FOR UNION BATTLE LOSSES.

Brady’s first foray into documenting the Civil War was the First Battle of Bull Run. Though he had approved of Brady's plan, General McDowell did not appreciate the photographers' presence during the battle.

Brady himself was supposedly near the front lines when the fighting began, and quickly became separated from his companions. During the battle, he was forced to take shelter in nearby woods, and slept there overnight on a bag of oats. He eventually met back up with the Army and made his way to Washington, where rumors swelled that his equipment caused a panic that was responsible for the Union’s defeat at the battle. “Some pretend, indeed, that it was the mysterious and formidable-looking instrument that produced the panic!” one observer noted. “The runaways, it is said, mistook it for the great steam gun discharging 500 balls a minute, and took to their heels when they got within its focus!”

13. HE DIDN’T JUST PHOTOGRAPH THE UNION SIDE.

Before, after, and occasionally during the Civil War, Brady and Co. also photographed members of the Confederate side, such as Jefferson Davis, P. G. T. Beauregard, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Pike, James Longstreet, James Henry Hammond, and Robert E. Lee after he returned to Richmond following his surrender at Appomattox Court House. “It was supposed that after his defeat it would be preposterous to ask him to sit,” Brady said later. “I thought that to be the time for the historical picture.”

14. HIS CIVIL WAR PHOTOS ALSO MADE HIM POOR.

Union troops with a field gun during the American Civil War.
Mathew Brady, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“My wife and my most conservative friends had looked unfavorably upon this departure from commercial business to pictorial war correspondence,” Brady told an interviewer in 1891. Their instincts were right.

Brady invested nearly $100,000 of his own money in the Civil War project in hopes that the government would buy his photo record of the war after it was all said and done. But once the Union prevailed, a public reeling from years of grueling conflict showed no interest in Brady's grim photos.

After the financial panic of 1873 he declared bankruptcy, and he lost his New York studio. The War Department eventually bought over 6000 negatives from Brady’s collection—which are now housed in the National Archives—for only $2840 total.

Despite being responsible for some of the most iconic images of the era, Brady never regained his financial footing, and he died alone in New York Presbyterian Hospital in 1896 after being hit by a streetcar.

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