CLOSE
Original image

15 Last Survivors of Famous Events

Original image

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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'

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
arrow
science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
SECTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES