Here's What Happened to 15 Key Players in Hamilton After the Duel

Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron
Wikimedia Commons (Portraits) // Public Domain // Collage: Chloe Effron

The death of former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton—murdered by Vice-President Aaron Burr in a duel on July 12, 1804—shocked a young nation and laid bare partisan tensions that make modern politics look like a badly acted reality show. Hamilton’s bitter adversary, President Thomas Jefferson, was chillingly silent (at least publicly) about the death of his fellow Founding Father, while Hamilton’s erstwhile rival in Constitutional disputes, James Madison, was only concerned his death might stir sympathy for the moribund Federalists. The grand old man, George Washington, dead since 1799, would probably have mourned his brilliant young aide-de-camp, along with his own vision of a virtuous, non-partisan Republic.

But what about the other men and women whose paths had crossed with Hamilton’s, inspired by his vaulting ambitions and submerged in the wake of his tragic flaws? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece Hamilton tells their story up to his death—but what happened to them in the aftermath?

1. AARON BURR

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The most controversial (read: “shady”) Founding Father, whatever was left of Burr’s political career went up in smoke with the murder of his former friend-turned-political adversary Alexander Hamilton after their July 11, 1804 duel—which is ironic, considering the duel was meant to restore Burr’s reputation, and with it his political fortunes. While dueling was a common way of settling “affairs of honor”—itself a fairly foreign concept in today’s world—duels very rarely actually got to the point of shooting, with various efforts being made to prevent it from getting that far. Actually killing your opponent was considered bloodthirsty in addition to being illegal (at least in New York; the authorities in New Jersey, where the duel took place, had a reputation for looking the other way).

After the duel, Burr was charged with murder in both New York and New Jersey and fled the area, going into hiding (still as Vice-President!) in Georgia—not quite another country, but close enough in an age when trains were maxing out at 10 miles per hour. Burr then returned to Washington, D.C. to finish his term as Vice-President, where he was immune from prosecution while presiding over the Senate, and benefited once again from his uncanny political luck: After the election of 1804, the victorious Democratic-Republicans and defeated Federalists decided the whole Hamilton affair was a needless political obstruction and the charges were quietly shelved. In fact, as the lame duck, VP Burr enjoyed a political swan song, presiding over the Senate’s impeachment trial of the Federalist Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, stemming in part from his previous handling of the trial of notorious muckraker James Callender (the Senate voted to acquit Chase).

Facing creditors in New York City, like so many other down-on-their luck, disreputable, or plain ol’ murderous men in U.S. history, Burr decided to try to revive his fortunes by heading to the Western frontier—which, at that time, meant Louisiana. In 1805, Burr leased 40,000 acres on the Ouachita River from Baron de Bastrop, a Dutch businessman with connections to the Spanish crown, and recruited scores of followers as he journeyed west. According to one version, Burr, anticipating a war between the U.S. and Spain in the near future, wanted first crack at the vast fertile lands of Texas when the U.S. kicked the Spaniards out, or possibly even planned to precipitate the war with his own private invasion (a practice known as “filibustering”). According to another version, Burr wanted to mount a rebellion against the U.S. government in the Louisiana Territory and form a new nation, perhaps with help from Britain.

Although it’s not clear what Burr’s plans were, what his former boss President Thomas Jefferson saw was a disgraced politician setting up a fiefdom on the borders of the United States with his own private army, and Burr’s notorious opportunism made the charges sound plausible enough—especially after one of his collaborators/“co-conspirators,” Louisiana Territory governor James Wilkinson, ratted him out (ironically, Wilkinson himself was in the pay of the Spanish crown, though this was only discovered after his death). Other statements Burr made to the British ambassador to Washington, Anthony Merry, certainly seem to indicate he was planning to detach the new western territories from the U.S.

Convinced that Burr was plotting rebellion in the Louisiana Territory, planning an illegal invasion of Spanish territory, or both, Jefferson ordered him arrested in 1806, and the next year, Burr was hauled back to Virginia to stand trial on charges of treason and high misdemeanor. Burr denied the accusations categorically and noted his long patriotic service to his country; meanwhile, Wilkinson was shown to have altered a key piece of evidence for the government’s case, a letter from Burr supposedly detailing the plans for rebellion. With no evidence beyond the fact that Burr was headed somewhere with a band of armed men, Chief Justice John Marshall found Burr not guilty in spite of overwhelming pressure from Jefferson, an important early statement of judicial independence.

After the trial, Burr spent several years in Europe, perhaps plotting another invasion of Mexico with help from Britain or France, and then in 1812 returned to New York City, where he worked as a lawyer and suffered the loss of his beloved daughter Theodosia at sea in 1813. After practicing law for two decades, in 1833, at the age of 77, Burr married Eliza Jumel, reputedly the wealthiest widow in America. She accused him of mismanaging her finances and filed for divorce not long after (her lawyer: Hamilton's second son, also named Alexander). Their divorce was finalized on September 14, 1836—the same day Burr died in a boardinghouse in Port Richmond, Staten Island, age 80. Shortly before his death Burr heard that American colonists in Texas had rebelled against the Mexican government, is said to have exclaimed: “What was treason in me 30 years ago is patriotism now!” He is buried in Princeton, New Jersey.

2. ELIZABETH SCHUYLER HAMILTON, A.K.A ELIZA OR BETSEY

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Hamilton’s devoted and long-suffering wife, Eliza, endured a barrage of losses around the time of the duel, including the deaths of her mother Catherine, and, three years before, the deaths of her sister Peggy and her son Philip, who was also fatally wounded in a duel. The strong-willed widow, who never remarried, now found herself scrambling to manage her late husband’s substantial debts (the former Secretary of the Treasury and the force behind the First Bank of the United States was not so great with his own money). Friends and family tried to help out, but she was forced to give up their house, The Grange—which was completed just two years before Hamilton’s death—in a public auction. Not long after, she was able to repurchase it because of yet another tragedy, the death of her father Philip just four months after her husband, which left her a modest bequest.

Although Eliza had secured their family home, she would spend most of the rest of her life in (relative) poverty. Nonetheless, she played a major role in securing her husband’s legacy and contributing to the young country’s civic life. Over the next five decades, she corresponded with all the leaders of the Federalists as well as their associates and descendants, flattering, coaxing and pleading with them to turn over important papers and letters written by Alexander over the years, most of which are now held by the Library of Congress. Among the items curated by Eliza was a letter from her husband to George Washington, proving his authorship of part of the first president’s famous Farewell Address.

Eliza also helped found the first public orphanages in New York City and Washington, D.C., serving as the director of the New York orphanage from 1821 to 1848. She also successfully lobbied Congress to have Alexander’s army pension, which he had waived, reinstated. She spent the last six years of her life living in Washington, D.C. with her widowed daughter, also named Eliza, where she helped another Revolutionary widow, Dolley Madison, raise funds for the Washington Monument. After her death in 1854 she was buried alongside her husband in the Trinity Church cemetery in New York City.

3. ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH

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Eliza’s older sister Angelica—who dazzled New York society, carried on a lifelong flirtation (and possibly affair) with her brother-in-law Alexander, and was a close friend of both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette—lived only 10 more years after Hamilton’s death. During that period, her husband, John Barker Church, had received 100,000 acres of land on the Genesee River in western New York State as repayment of a loan to Robert Morris, famous as “the Financier of the Revolution.” Her son Philip founded a town on the land, which he named Angelica in her honor; John built the family mansion, Belvidere, there. She divided her time between Belvidere and New York City until her death at the age of 58 in 1814; she is buried in the Trinity Church cemetery in New York City.

4. MARIA REYNOLDS

After Hamilton’s ill-advised affair with Maria Reynolds—which her husband James used to blackmail Hamilton before the whole thing blew up with the Reynolds Pamphlet scandal—Maria paid the heavy penalty of any woman of “ill fame,” in keeping with the double standard of the time. Before the affair became public knowledge, Maria divorced her husband (her lawyer: Aaron Burr), and married James’ co-conspirator, Jacob Clingman, before divorcing him in 1800. Reviled as a prostitute, she lost her daughter Susan, who was taken away by the courts to be raised in foster care, although this doesn’t seem to have helped much: In 1803, Susan eloped with a certain Francis Wright, who dumped her a few weeks later, and she wound up in a brothel, another victim of her mother’s infamy. Maria herself died in 1832 at the age of 64.

5. JAMES REYNOLDS

Not much is known about Maria’s lowlife husband, who pretty much disappears from the pages of history after the publication of the Reynolds Pamphlet in 1797. It’s not hard to imagine James Reynolds assuming a new identity and disappearing into the crowd, aided by the lack of official records, identity papers, photographs, or electronic communication of any sort in early 19th century America. The young Republic was a good place to be a career criminal.

6. SAMUEL SEABURY

The Anglican bishop—who, in the musical, Hamilton memorably mocks in "The Farmer Refuted"—initially opposed independence but later played a central role in the founding of the Episcopal Church in America. By the time of his death in 1796, Seabury had helped craft the Episcopalian liturgy and established continuity between the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, healing the religious rupture caused by the Revolution and thus maintaining the direct line of succession running back to the early Apostles. Among other contributions, Seabury persuaded the American Episcopal Church to adopt the Scottish Prayer of Consecration rather than its shorter English counterpart. Today the anniversary of his consecration in Aberdeen, Scotland, on November 14, 1784, is a feast day in the Episcopal Church.

7. GEORGE EACKER

The New York City lawyer who killed Alexander Hamilton’s son Philip in November 1801 only ended up outliving him by a few years. Eacker, a supporter of Burr, insulted Hamilton senior in a speech by implying he was open to treason against the Jefferson administration, causing Philip and his friend Richard Price to demand satisfaction (a.k.a. an apology). Instead, Eacker cussed them out, an insult to their honor that could not be overlooked. The fracas resulted in two duels on November 22 and 23, 1801, both held at the same popular dueling ground in Weehawken, New Jersey, where Burr and Hamilton would later duel. First Eacker faced off against Price, with the expected result—two shots fired, no injuries, honor maintained. The next day, Eacker killed Philip in the second duel. Eacker didn’t get to savor his victory for long, however: He died, likely of consumption (tuberculosis), on January 4, 1804, six months before Burr killed Alexander Hamilton.

8. CHARLES LEE

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Considered by some a traitor to the Revolutionary cause, the hard-drinking Lee (who sings "I'm a General, wee!" in Hamilton) never achieved the notoriety of Benedict Arnold because his attempt at treason (if that’s what it was—he wrote to William Howe about the best way to defeat the Americans) never really went anywhere. After his capture by British forces in 1776, Lee was freed in a prisoner exchange and returned to service in 1778. He led—or rather, failed to lead—the Continental attack at the Battle of Monmouth later that year, when he ordered his troops to retreat and left Washington to sort it all out.

Some historians claim his disobedience was a deliberate gambit hatched with the British during his captivity, while sympathetic biographers note that Washington’s orders were vague and Lee’s troops outnumbered 2-to-1. Whatever the truth was, Washington was furious and relieved Lee of command on the spot. Lee demanded a court martial to clear his name. He was found guilty, and retreated to live in his Virginia (now West Virginia) estate Prato Rio—then earned himself even more disfavor by attacking Washington’s character, resulting in a duel with Washington’s aide John Laurens.

While at his estate, he drew up plans for a utopian society without clergy, in which citizens would cultivate virtue through music, poetry, and philosophy. He died of fever in Philadelphia in 1782. In his will, Lee—a Deist who made no secret of his scorn for organized religion—specified: “I desire most earnestly, that I may not be buried in any church, or church-yard, or within a mile of any Presbyterian or Anabaptist meeting-house; for since I have resided in this country, I have kept so much bad company when living, that I do not chuse [sic] to continue it when dead.” So they buried him in the churchyard of Christ Church in Philadelphia. Fort Lee in New Jersey is named after him.

9. THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE

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The elegant, idealistic young French nobleman led an equally adventurous life after the American Revolution, including a star role in another, far more violent uprising across the Atlantic. After returning to France a military hero for his role in the American Revolution, in 1791, during the first, moderate phase of the French Revolution, Lafayette helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen with help from Thomas Jefferson, elaborating on the idea of universal rights set forth in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.

When the Revolution took a radical turn, however, Lafayette’s noble status became a liability, as the Jacobins led by Robespierre accused him of secret monarchist sympathies for defending the royal family from a mob. In 1792, he fled to the Austrian Netherlands (today Belgium), where he was promptly arrested by the Austrians as an anti-monarchist, proving sometimes you just can’t win (if anyone cared to ask, he wanted a moderate constitutional monarchy).

After spending five years in an Austrian prison, during which the Revolution burned itself out, Lafayette was freed at the request of Napoleon Bonaparte—then busily laying the groundwork for (another) dictatorship—in 1797. Disagreeing with Napoleon’s authoritarian tendencies, Lafayette wisely sat out most of the Napoleonic era, grieving the death of his wife Adrienne in 1807 and only returning to public life in 1815 to help force the emperor to abdicate after his second, short-lived return to power.

In 1824, at the age of 68, Lafayette returned to the United States with his son Georges Washington to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of independence. Riding an unprecedented wave of public adulation, Lafayette reunited with Revolutionary War veterans and undertook a 16-month grand tour of the nation he helped create, including a visit to the aging Jefferson and Madison at Monticello, and a separate visit to John Adams in Boston. Before he left, Congress awarded him the stupendous sum of $200,000 along with land in Florida. When Lafayette returned to France, he carried with him a case of American soil, which was later spread on his grave after his death in 1834 at the age of 78.

10. HERCULES MULLIGAN

One of Hamilton’s best friends during his footloose youth in New York City, the Irish-born Mulligan, 17 years Hamilton's senior, helped convert him to the Revolutionary cause and continued to play a central role organizing resistance to British rule in New York during the Revolution, using his position as a tailor for British officers to gather key information which his slave Cato then passed to the rebels. After the Revolution, many Patriots, ignorant of Mulligan’s secret wartime service, accused him of being a British collaborator and wanted to tar and feather him—usually a fatal procedure. Thankfully, George Washington intervened by visiting Mulligan in New York the day after the British evacuated the city in 1783, later employing him as his personal tailor. This endorsement by the Father of the Country was enough to bring Mulligan lifelong fame and prosperity, and presumably a bunch of awkward apologies.

In 1785, Mulligan joined Hamilton in founding the New York Manumission Society, one of the first official organizations devoted to ending slavery, and a predecessor to William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. He continued working as a tailor until his retirement at age 80 in 1820, his business doubtless benefiting from the sign reading “Clothier to Genl. Washington” out front. He died in 1825 and was buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, along with his old friend Hamilton.

11. KING GEORGE III

King George III, the “tyrannical” monarch (who was actually fairly conciliatory before Parliament pushed him into open confrontation with the colonists) had his good days and bad days after the colonies went their own way, the latter mostly due to his habit of going nuts for long periods of time. (The lyrics in "You'll Be Back" are a subtle nod to his fits of madness: "When you're gone / I'll go mad ..." he sings.) The king’s madness has often been attributed to porphyria, a genetic condition that also causes the victim’s urine to turn blue, but historians and medical experts have also suggested that he suffered from a mental illness like bipolar disorder, while others point to arsenic poisoning.

Whatever the cause, George III’s bouts of insanity began almost three decades into his 60-year reign from 1761-1820, with the first episode of prolonged derangement recorded in 1788. From then on, he would alternate between periods of apparent normality and increasingly bizarre behavior—talking for hours on end until foam starting coming from his mouth, for example (the story that he shook hands with a tree is a myth, though).

Given the primitive state of medicine in general and mental healthcare in particular, it’s no surprise the treatments tried out on the king proved more or less useless, including harsh chemical applications and forcible restraints. In 1789, Parliament attempted to pass a bill to create a regency, which would allow his son, the future King George IV, to carry out royal duties in his place. But George III recovered before the bill was passed, and the idea was shelved. George III relapsed in 1801 and 1804, and a final relapse in 1810 (possibly aggravated by the stress of the wars with Napoleon) led to the formal creation of the Regency in 1811, which continued until George III’s death in 1820. Despite his madness, King George III was remembered in England as a kind, considerate monarch who was concerned for the welfare of his people.

12. ANGELICA HAMILTON

In Hamilton, the Treasure secretary's oldest son, then 9, raps that he "has a sister but I want a little brother!" That sister was Angelica, the Hamiltons' second child, who was destroyed by Philip's 1801 death. Grief drove her insane, and she remained institutionalized until her death at the age of 73 in 1857. For the rest of her life, she continued to speak about Philip as if he were still alive even as she sometimes failed to recognize her own family members. Her one pleasure was playing the piano, as her father had taught her when she was a girl.

13. AND 14. WILLIAM P. VAN NESS AND NATHANIEL PENDLETON (THE "SECONDS")

Van Ness, who served as the second to Aaron Burr in the famous duel, and Pendleton, who served as the second to Hamilton, became respected judges in later years, despite technically being complicit in the criminal affair of the duel, as they freely admitted. In fact, hours after the duel, they cooperated to write a joint statement giving their combined eyewitness account, which they submitted to the court on July 17, 1804. The statement reads, in part:

The pistols were discharged within a few seconds of each other and the fire of Col: Burr took effect; Genl Hamilton almost instantly fell. Col: Burr then advanced toward Genl H——n with a manner and gesture that appeared to Genl Hamilton’s friend to be expressive of regret, but without Speaking turned about & withdrew… No farther communications took place between the principals and the Barge that carried Col: Burr immediately returned to the City. We conceive it proper to add that the conduct of the parties in that interview was perfectly proper as suited the occasion.

15. DAVID HOSACK

The physician who attended both Alexander Hamilton and his son Philip after their duels (and who served as the physician for Aaron Burr and his daughter) continued a long and successful medical and scientific career after their deaths. Motivated by the death of his son Alexander in 1792 and the death of his first wife Catharine during childbirth in 1796, Hosack made the care of pregnant women the subject of lifelong study; he was also an early advocate of the smallpox vaccination, in addition to advancing the treatment of yellow fever. In addition to previous appointments as a professor of natural history and botany at Columbia University, he was named Professor of Surgery and Midwifery, the precursor to obstetrics, in 1807. From 1801 to 1805, Hosack created America’s first botanical garden, Elgin Botanical Garden, in New York City (it was eventually given to New York State, which gave it to Columbia College, who would ultimately lease it to the Rockefellers—who turned the site into Rockefeller Center). He later founded the New York Horticultural Society and recruited a number of luminaries to join it, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette. In 1821, Hosack was honored with membership in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which today hands out Nobel Prizes—kind of a big deal. Following the death of his second wife Mary in 1824, Hosack married a wealthy widow, Magdalena Coster, and eventually purchased a large estate in Hyde Park on the Hudson River Valley in addition to their Manhattan townhouse. He died in 1835 at the age of 66, apparently due to shock after a disastrous fire destroyed much of his beloved New York City.

14 Revolutionary Facts About Bastille Day

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On July 14, 1789, Parisian revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress, where Louis XVI had imprisoned many of his enemies—or those whom he perceived to be enemies of the state. For many, the place had come to represent nothing short of royal tyranny. Its sudden fall foretold the French revolution—along with a holiday that’s now celebrated throughout France and the world at large with cries of “Vive le 14 Juillet!

1. In France, nobody calls it "Bastille Day."

The day is referred to as la Fête Nationale, or “the National Holiday.” In more informal settings, French people also call it le Quatorze Juillet (“14 July”). "Bastille Day" is an English term that’s seldom used within French borders—at least by non-tourists.

2. Originally, the Bastille wasn't designed to be a prison.

The name “Bastille” comes from the word bastide, which means “fortification,” a generic term for a certain type of tower in southern France until it was eventually restricted to one particular Bastille. When construction began on the building in 1357, its main purpose was not to keep prisoners in, but to keep invading armies out: At the time, France and England were engaged in the Hundred Years’ War. The Bastille, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoinewas conceived as a fortress whose strategic location could help stall an attack on Paris from the east.

Over the course of the Hundred Years' War, the structure of the building changed quite a bit. The Bastille started out as a massive gate consisting of a thick wall and two 75-foot towers. By the end of 1383, it had evolved into a rectangular fortress complete with eight towers and a moat.

Such attributes would later turn the Bastille into an effective state prison—but it wasn’t actually used as one until the 17th century. Under King Louis XIII, the powerful Cardinal de Richelieu began the practice of jailing his monarch’s enemies (without a trial) inside; at any given time, the cardinal would hold up to 55 captives there.

3. The Bastille was loaded with gunpowder. 

In July 1789, France was primed for a revolt. Bad weather had driven food prices through the roof, and the public resented King Louis XVI’s extravagant lifestyle. To implement financial reforms and quell rebellion, Louis was forced to call a meeting of the Estates-General, a national assembly representing the three estates of France. The First Estate was the clergy, the Second Estate held the nobility, and all other royal subjects comprised the Third Estate. Each estate had a single vote, meaning two estates could defeat the other estate every time.

The Estates-General met in Versailles on May 5, 1789. Arguments between the Third Estate and the other two boiled over on June 20. King Louis responded by physically locking the common people’s representatives out of the room. The third estate, now calling themselves the National Assembly, reconvened on an indoor tennis court and pledged to remain active until a French constitution was established.

The King sanctioned the National Assembly on June 27, but then sent troops into Paris to deal with growing unrest. He made his problems worse by dismissing finance official Jacques Necker, who supported the Third Estate. The National Assembly and everyday citizens began to take up arms. On July 14, 1789, revolutionaries burst into a soldiers’ hospital in Paris and seized 3000 guns and five cannons. Then, they broke into the Bastille where a stockpile of gunpowder lay. 

4. The July 14 "storming" freed only a handful of prisoners ...

The French revolutionaries who broke into the Bastille expected to find numerous inmates. In reality, the prison was almost empty except for seven captives who seemed to be in relatively good health. We may never be certain of their identities. Some accounts claim that four of the prisoners had committed forgery, two were regarded as lunatics, and one was a disgraced nobleman. Other sources are less specific. A report penned on July 24 agrees that four were forgers and another came from an aristocratic family—but that the other two vanished before anyone could definitively identify them.

5. ... and the Marquis de Sade was almost among them.

You probably know him as the man whose conduct and erotic writings gave rise to the word sadism. In 1784, the aristocrat was transferred from another prison to the Bastille, where he languished for the next five years. Within those walls, de Sade penned several books—including his notorious novel One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom.

He surely would have been freed when the Bastille was stormed. But on June 2, de Sade started yelling at the passersby beneath his window, claiming that people were being maimed and killed inside and begging the people to save him. The episode got de Sade transferred once again—this time to an insane asylum outside Paris. His removal from the Bastille took place on July 4, 1789. Ten days later, rebels stormed inside.

6. Thomas Jefferson donated money to the families of the revolutionaries.

As America’s minister to France (and a big fan of revolution), Jefferson took a lively interest in the Bastille incident—which broke out while he was living abroad in Paris. Although Long Tom didn’t witness the event firsthand, he eloquently summarized everything he’d learned about the siege in a detailed letter to John Jay. On August 1, 1789, Jefferson wrote in his diary, “Gave for widows of those killed in taking Bastille, 60 francs.”

7. A huge festival was held exactly one year after the Bastille was stormed. 

By July 14, 1790, the Bastille had been destroyed, its pieces scattered across the globe by souvenir collectors. France now operated under a constitutional monarchy, an arrangement that divided power between King Louis XVI and the National Assembly. Meanwhile, hereditary nobility was outlawed.

To honor these advances, the government organized a huge event called the “Festival of the Federation,” which was to take place on the first anniversary of the Bastille showdown. As July 14 approached, French citizens from all walks of life came together and set up some 40,000 seats in preparation. When the big day finally arrived, King Louis arrived with 200 priests and swore to maintain the constitution. The Marquis de Lafayette—who’d famously helped orchestrate America’s revolution—stood by the monarch’s side. Later on, Queen Marie Antoinette got a huge cheer when she proudly showed off the heir apparent. Among the spectators was dramatist Louis-Sébastien Mercier, who later said, “I saw 50,000 citizens of all classes, of all ages, of all sexes, forming the most superb portrait of unity." 

8. Several different dates were considered for the French national holiday.

Here’s a trick question: What historical event does Bastille Day commemorate? If you answered “the storming of the Bastille prison,” you’re both right and wrong. In 1880, France’s senate decided that their homeland needed a national holiday. What the French statesmen had in mind was an annual, patriotic celebration dedicated to the country and her citizens. But the matter of choosing a date turned into an extremely partisan ordeal: Every available option irked somebody in the senate on ideological grounds. For instance, conservatives were dead-set against July 14 (at least at first) because they felt that the 1789 Bastille incident was too bloody to merit celebration.

Alternatives were numerous. To some, September 21 looked attractive, since the original French Republic was created on that day in 1792. Others favored February 24, which marked the birth of France’s second republic. Another option was August 4, the anniversary of the feudal system’s abolishment.

Ultimately, though, July 14 managed to win out. After all, the date marks not one but two very important anniversaries: 1789’s attack on the Bastille and 1790’s peaceful, unifying Festival of the Federation. So by choosing July 14, the senate invited all citizens to decide for themselves which of these events they’d rather celebrate. As Senator Henri Martell argued, anyone who had reservations about the first July 14 could still embrace the second. Personally, he revered the latter. In his own words, July 14, 1790 was “the most beautiful day in the history of France, possibly in the history of mankind. It was on that day that national unity was finally accomplished.”

9. Bastille Day features the oldest and largest regular military parade in Western Europe.

This beloved Paris tradition dates all the way back to 1880. In its first 38 years, the parade’s route varied wildly, but since 1918, the procession has more or less consistently marched down the Champs-Elysées, the most famous avenue in Paris. Those who watch the event in person are always in for a real spectacle—2015’s parade boasted some 31 helicopters, 55 planes, 208 military vehicles, and 3501 soldiers. It’s also fairly common to see troops from other nations marching alongside their French counterparts. Two years ago, for example, 150 Mexican soldiers came to Paris and participated.

10. In France, firemen throw public dances.

On the night of July 13 or 14, people throughout France live it up at their local fire departments. Most stations will throw large dance parties that are open to the entire neighborhood (kids are sometimes welcome). Please note, however, that some fire departments charge an admission fee. Should you find one that doesn’t, be sure to leave a donation behind instead. It’s just common courtesy.

11. The Louvre celebrates by offering free admission.

If you’re in Paris on Bastille Day and don’t mind large crowds, go say bonjour to the Mona Lisa. Her measurements might surprise you: The world’s most famous painting is only 30 inches tall by 21 inches wide.

12. Bastille Day has become a truly international holiday.

Can’t get to France on Bastille Day? Not a problem. People all over the world honor and embrace the holiday. In eastern India, the scenic Puducherry district was under French rule as recently as 1954. Every July 14, fireworks go off in celebration and a local band usually plays both the French and Indian national anthems. Thousands of miles away, Franschhoek, South Africa, throws an annual, two-day Bastille celebration—complete with a parade and all the gourmet French cuisine you could ask for.

Then there’s the United States, where dozens of cities organize huge festivals on this most French of holidays. New Orleans hosts a doggie costume contest in which pet owners are encouraged to dress up their pooches in handsome French garb. Or maybe you’d like to visit Philadelphia, where, at the Eastern State Penitentiary museum and historic site, Philly citizens re-enact the storming of the Bastille while guards keep the rebels at bay by hurling Tastykakes at them.

13. A huge solar flare once took place on Bastille Day.

NASA won’t be forgetting July 14, 2000 anytime soon. On that particular day, one of the largest solar storms in recent memory caught scientists off guard. An explosion caused by twisted magnetic fields sent a flurry of particles racing toward Earth. These created some gorgeous aurora light shows that were visible as far south as El Paso, Texas. Unfortunately, the particles also caused a few radio blackouts and short-circuited some satellites. Astronomers now refer to this incident as “The Bastille Day Event.”

14. You can find a key to the Bastille at Mount Vernon.

The Marquis de Lafayette, 19, arrived in the new world to join America’s revolutionary cause in 1777. Right off the bat, he made a powerful friend: George Washington instantly took a liking to the Frenchman and within a month, Lafayette had effectively become the general’s adopted son. Their affection was mutual; when the younger man had a son of his own in 1779, he named him Georges Washington de Lafayette.

The day after the storming of the Bastille, the Marquis de Lafayette became the commander of the Paris National Guard. In the aftermath of the Bastille siege, he was given the key to the building. As a thank-you—and to symbolize the new revolution—Lafayette sent it to Washington’s Mount Vernon home, where the relic still resides today

This story originally ran in 2016.

The Washington Monument Is Transforming Into a Full-Scale Saturn V Rocket for the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

The Saturn V rocket takes off on July 16, 1969.
The Saturn V rocket takes off on July 16, 1969.

Where better to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing than in front of a revered national monument that also happens to resemble a giant rocket?

Next week, DCist reports, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum will project an image of the 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket that launched Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins into space on July 16, 1969, onto the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument. Underneath the monument, flanked by screens playing a 17-minute program about the Moon landing, will be a 40-foot-wide replica of the iconic Kennedy Space Center countdown clock that NASA has called “one of the most-watched timepieces in the world.”

Illustration of the Saturn V rocket projected onto the Washington Monument
An illustration of what the Saturn V projection will look like on the Washington Monument.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Projecting an image onto an irregular object is a little more complicated than doing so on a run-of-the-mill, rectangular movie screen. The process is called projection mapping, which uses augmented reality to conform the projection to the object, making it seem like the projection is actually just part of the object. 59 Productions, the company behind this program, also created the video design for London’s 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony and won a 2015 Tony Award for the video design of Christopher Wheeldon’s stage revival of An American in Paris.

So who exactly has to approve transforming one of our nation’s most famous monuments into a really tall, skinny optical illusion? In this case, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the secretary of the interior, and the president himself. Both houses of Congress unanimously passed the bipartisan resolution, H.J. Res. 60 [PDF], in mid-June, and the president signed it on July 5.

According to Ellen Stofan, director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the larger-than-life nature of the setting befits the occasion. “The Washington Monument is a symbol of our collective national achievements and what we can and will achieve in the future,” she told DCist. “It took 400,000 people from across the 50 states to make Apollo a reality. This program celebrates them, and we hope it inspires generations too young to have experienced Apollo firsthand to define their own moonshot.”

You can see the Saturn V projection from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on July 16, 17, and 18. The best view is on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as the “Castle”) between 9th and 12th streets. The entire program, titled “Apollo 50: Go for the Moon,” will run at 9:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m., and 11:30 p.m. on Friday, July 19, and Saturday, July 20.

[h/t DCist]

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