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Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Levi Strauss, The Man Who Changed Fashion

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

If you can look at your behind right now and see a little red tag attached to the back pocket of your jeans, you have Levi Strauss to thank.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1848, the Bavarian-born Strauss moved from Germany to New York to help his older brothers with their dry-goods business, J. Strauss Brother & Co. Like many other folks seeking to make their fortunes, he decided to head west when he heard "there's gold in them thar' hills"—but it wasn't the mineral he was after. Figuring that all of the '49ers would need access to more supplies, Levi established a branch of the family business in San Francisco.

Strauss was successful enough that, in 1872, Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno who often purchased bolts of denim from Strauss, contacted him about an idea he had for stronger clothing [PDF]. The future, he figured, was rivets. His customers went through pants at an alarming rate, and Davis had noticed that wear and tear often occurred at the same points, regardless of the wearer or the pant. To reduce the amount of stress placed on these points, Davis had started putting rivets at each of the commonly torn locations. He wanted to patent the idea, but needed a partner to help him get up and running. Strauss was onboard, and on May 20, 1873, he and Jacob received the patent for blue jeans.

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Though the jeans were originally worn by blue collar workers looking to extend the life of their clothing, Levis quickly grew beyond just utilitarian use. From the pair of 501s Marlon Brando donned in 1953's The Wild One to the trusty leather jacket Albert Einstein wore almost everywhere, the Levi brand became a worldwide phenomenon. "It was the kind of clothing that represented the American West and it was this cachet and this sort of magical thing," Lynn Downey, archivist and historian at Levi Strauss & Co., told the BBC.

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Though Strauss didn't make it quite long enough to see his company become the global mainstream success it is today, it did flourish, leaving him a multimillionaire when he died in 1902. Perhaps that's why he "cheerfully fell into [his] last sleep," according to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times. "Death came most suddenly to the old gentleman, and he passed away just as if he were going asleep. He replied cheerfully to a question from his nurse, and the next moment he was dead." Strauss had no children, so he left the business to his four nephews, who had previously been made partners in the company.

If you want to pay your respects to the man who helped change the face of fashion, you can find him at the Home of Peace Cemetery and Emanu-El Mausoleum in Colma, California.

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History
The Curse on Shakespeare's Grave
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images

It's a pretty good practice to avoid incurring the wrath of the dead in general, but if there's a ghost you really don't want to upset, it's probably William Shakespeare's. Just think of the many inventive ways he killed people in his plays. That's why the curse on his grave at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon should be taken seriously:

"Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones."

It's thought that the warning was penned by Shakespeare himself. In his day, it was common for bodies to be exhumed for research purposes or even just to make room for more burials, and the Bard did not want that to happen to his remains. So far, his warning seems to have worked. Even when the grave received some repairs in 2008, workers said the stones would not actually be moved and the bones certainly would not be disturbed. 

It has recently been suggested that Shakespeare's remains be exhumed and studied using the same techniques that allowed us to learn more about King Richard III, so we may soon find out how effective that curse really is. Professor Francis Thackeray from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who wants to exhume the bones, seems to be pushing his luck. "We could possibly get around [the curse] by at least exposing the bones and doing high-resolution, non-destructive laser surface scanning for forensic analyses without moving a single bone," he said. "Besides, Shakespeare said nothing about teeth in that epitaph."

Will it be enough to avoid the Bard's wrath? Only time will tell.

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politics
Grave Sightings: Hubert Humphrey
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

With the state of politics lately, it’s hard to imagine a generous act of kindness from one political rival to another. But if Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon were capable of burying the hatchet, there’s hope for anyone.

Humphrey, a senator from Minnesota, ran for president several times. In 1952, he lost the Democratic nomination to Adlai Stevenson. In 1960, of course, he faced a charismatic young senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy. In 1968, Humphrey, who was vice president at the time, came closest to the presidency—but Nixon triumphed by a little more than 500,000 popular votes.


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Though he graciously admitted defeat and pledged to help the new president-elect, Humphrey wasn’t shy about criticizing Nixon. Just 10 months after Nixon took office, Humphrey stated that the administration had done “poorly—very poorly” overall, citing the increase in interest rates and the cost of living. Nixon and his team, Humphrey said, had “forgotten the people it said it would remember.” He was still making his opinions known four years after the election, turning his eye to Vietnam. “Had I been elected, we would now be out of that war,” he told the press on January 10, 1972.


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The Watergate scandal broke later that year, and Humphrey no doubt felt validated. He mounted another unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. Humphrey briefly considered trying one more time in 1976, but ultimately nixed the idea. "It's ridiculous — and the one thing I don't need at this stage in my life is to be ridiculous," he said. The public didn’t know it at the time but the politician had been battling bladder cancer for several years. By August 1977, the situation had become terminal, and Humphrey was aware that his days were numbered.

When he knew he had just a few weeks left to live, Humphrey did something that would stun both Republicans and Democrats: He called former rival Richard Nixon and invited him to his upcoming funeral. He knew that Nixon had been depressed and isolated in his political exile, and despite the Watergate scandal and the historical bad blood, he wanted Nixon to have a place of honor at the ceremony. Humphrey knew his death would give the former president a plausible reason to return to Washington, and told Nixon to say he was there at the personal request of Hubert Humphrey if anyone questioned his motives.

Humphrey died on January 13, 1978—and when the funeral was held a few days later, Nixon did, indeed, attend. He stayed out of the Washington limelight, emerging right before the ceremony—to audible gasps. Humphrey’s gracious act must have been on Nixon’s mind when he listened to Vice President Walter Mondale sing the fallen senator’s praises: “He taught us all how to hope, and how to love, how to win and how to lose. He taught us how to live, and finally he taught us how to die.”

Nixon wasn’t the only former foe whom Humphrey had mended fences with. Barry Goldwater, who ran against Humphrey in 1964, had this to say:

“I served with him in the Senate, I ran against him in campaigns, I debated with him, I argued with him. But I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a friendship as much as the one that existed between the two of us. I know it may sound strange to people who see in Hubert a liberal and who see in me a conservative, that the two of us could ever get together; but I enjoyed more good laughs, more good advice, more sound counsel from him that I have from most anyone I have been associated with in this business of trying to be a senator.”

After the ceremony in D.C., Humphrey was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. His wife, Muriel, joined him there when she died 20 years later.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.

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