Fun Facts: Lasts
"Last words are for fools who haven't said enough."
—Karl Marx, last words
The earliest known last will was made by Nek'ure
(died circa 2601 B.C.), son of the
Egyptian Pharaoh Khafre. It was carved on his tomb. Beginning by
asserting that Nek'ure had made his decisions about his property "while
living upon his two feet and not ailing in any respect", it goes on to
dispose of 14 towns and two estates to his wife, three children, and
Roman Emperor Nero's last words were
"Qualis artifex pereo"—roughly,
"What an artist dies in me".
Hypatia (ca. 355 or ca. 370–415 A.D.) was
a soaring figure of beauty, eloquence, and learning,
and the last recorded member of the great
Alexandria and the only noted woman scholar of antiquity. She
taught Neoplatonism (hence, she was a pagan) and helped to demonstrate
Although Christian bishops were among her pupils, she was the
subject of violent antagonism on the part of zealots. She was murdered
in 415 by rioting fanatic monks, under the leadership of bishop Cyril, who
brutally sliced her body to pieces with oyster shells gathered from the
Pope Adrian II (also known as Hadrian II), pope from 867 to
872, was the last married pope.
He had married before he was elected pope, and refused to put away his
wife Stephania when he became pope. For a while he, his wife, and a
daughter lived in the Lateran Palace together.
Interestingly enough, several subsequent popes, though unmarried,
The lions used by the Romans in the Colosseum were Barbary lions,
whose manes covered nearly half of their bodies. While the export
of lions to Rome threatened their population, greater damage was
done after Roman times, when they were killed by Arabs,
encouraged by governments that exempted tribes that killed lions from
taxation. The creature's last stronghold was in the Atlas Mountains,
where the last true Barbary lion was killed in 1922.
The passenger pigeon, which became extinct on September 1st, 1914,
when the Cincinnati zoo's specimen, Martha, died, was the most abundant bird in
the world in the nineteenth century and the most abundant ever in North America.
Scottish-American ornithologist Alexander Wilson once watched a
250-mile-long flock pass over his Kentucky home for two whole days.
In 1813, naturalist John James Audubon saw a
flock that flew past at an estimated 300 million birds per hour for
three days, blotting out the sun.
However, due to vigourous hunting and destruction of their habitat, by
the 1860s the birds had disappeared from the American east coast and were
quickly disappearing everywhere else.
The last big pigeon hunt took place in 1878 near Petoskey, Michigan, killing
one thousand million birds.
The last wild passenger pigeon
was shot in St. Vincent, Quebec, on September 23rd, 1907.
In 1909, a reward of $1,500 was offered for information on a nesting
pair, but none were found.
Ludwig Van Beethoven's last words were: "I shall hear in heaven!".
Beethoven was deaf for the last few years of his life.
The last occasion on which professional scientists took any serious notice
of an alchemist's claim to have turned lead into gold happened in 1783.
The Royal Society in London called on one of its Fellows, James Price, to
show how he had achieved the alchemist's dream. But Price failed to replicate
his successful experiment and, before the eyes of three colleagues, drank
prussic acid and died.
Oscar Wilde's last words were, as he was asking for a final champagne,
"I am dying, as I have lived, beyond my means".
In Santos, Brazil, there is a thirty-two-storey tall building
that serves as a cemetery. It is outfitted with over 14,000 tombs.
Great Britain's last battle with the United States took place after the War
of 1812 was concluded with the Treaty of Ghent on December 24th, 1814.
News travelled so slowly in those days that, on January 9th, 1815,
British General Sir Edward Pakenham, unaware of the peace treaty, launched an
assault on American fortifications near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The American defenses were almost unassailable, however, and Pakenham was killed along with several hundred of his men.
Under the command of General Lambert, the British retreated and captured Fort
Mobile in Alabama on February 11th before learning that the war was over.
Slavery ended in the British Empire on August 1st, 1834,
when legislation passed in 1833 took effect. The legislation specified an
apprenticeship scheme for the freed slaves that in some cases resulted in
them being treated harsher than before, but the slavery in
any form in the Empire ended by August 1st, 1838.
The legislation also compensated slave-owners with £20,000,000; the
slaves received nothing besides their freedom.
The last battle ever fought on British soil took place on May 31st,
1838, when John Nicholl Thom, who had proclaimed himself to be the Messiah and
led a group of disaffected farm labourers to rebel, fought the 45th Regiment of Foot in
Bosenden Wood near Canterbury. While the rebels initially killed the commanding officer and were able to fight off the much better equipped soldiers, they
were eventually outclassed and overwhelmed. Thom himself was killed and the
The last person to be publicly guillotined in France was Eugene Weidmann,
who had been found guilty of strangling Jean De Koven, an American tourist.
Although the execution was held at 4:50 on a Saturday morning (June 17, 1939),
it attracted a large crowd. The guillotine was so
efficient that few saw anything, but photographs that found their way to
the front page of French newspapers so outraged the public that, the next
week, a law was passed forbidding public executions.
Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian Calendar in 1582.
To correct the time error in the Julian calendar, which had been in
use since 46 B.C., it was decreed that ten days (October 5–14,
1582) were to be omitted and it was ordained that, thereafter, years
divisible by 100 but not divisible by 400 would not be leap years.
Most Roman Catholic countries accepted these changes immediately.
Protestant countries delayed for a while (for example, England waited until 1752).
Other countries delayed even longer. For example, Greece didn't adopt
the Gregorian calendar until 1912, and the last country to change over was
Turkey, in 1927.
Albert Einstein's last words will never be known. He spoke them
in German, but the attending nurse didn't know German and so couldn't
recall what was said.
The last person on the moon was Eugene Cernan. He and fellow explorer
Harrison Schmidt left the moon at 5:40 A.M. GMT, December 13th,
1972. No humans have visited the moon since then.
When Thomas Edison died in 1931, his friend Henry Ford trapped the inventor's
last breath in a bottle. Ford counted it among his most prized possessions until
his own death in 1947.
Babe Ruth's last home run was hit in 1946, when the owner of the
Veracruz Blues of the Mexican League hired the 51-year-old Ruth for $10,000 to
bat once in a game against the Mexico City Reds. The pitcher, Ramon
Brazana, threw three balls before being replaced with a relief pitcher.
The reliever threw his first pitch straight down the middle, and Ruth
hit the pitch into the right-field bleachers.
The last person to contract smallpox through natural transmission was
Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Somalia who contracted it after coming into contact with an
infected child in 1977. Maalin survived. In 1978, Janet Parker, an English
medical photographer, was exposed to smallpox through a laboratory
accident, and subsequently died. The laboratory's virologist felt so
guilty that he later committed suicide. On May 8th, 1980,
the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated, although
some samples remain in laboratories in Atlanta and Moscow.
The last United States president to be born in a log cabin was James
Garfield, born on November 19th, 1831, in Orange, Cuyahoga
Witchcraft was not legalised in Great Britain until 1951.
The last person in Great Britain to be convicted under the Witchcraft Act
was Jane Rebecca Yorke, who was convicted in September 1944. She received
a lenient sentence and a fine.
The last American pirate to be hanged was Nathaniel Gordon, who was
hanged in "the Tombs" in New York City on February 21, 1862.
Previously, while captain of the ship Erie, his ship was
captured by the American ship Mohican. An inspection revealed
967 blacks aboard who were to be sold into slavery. Conditions were so
bad aboard that 300 died before they could be returned to Africa.
Gordon was charged with piracy and found guilty.
In addition to being the last American pirate to be hanged, he was the first,
and only, American slave trader to be executed for being engaged in the slave trade.
Possibly the shortest last will ever was written by Karl Tausch, a German
businessman who died in 1967.
Its contents are "Vse zene", Czech for "all to wife".
The last auroch, the cow's wild ancestor, was killed in 1627
by a poacher on a Polish hunting preserve.
The last hand-cranked, party-line telephone system in the United States
was retired on July 12th, 1990, when it was replaced by private-line,
touch-tone technology. This system had served eighteen residents of Salmon River
Canyon, near North Fork, Idaho.
The last execution in the Tower of London occurred on August 14th,
1941, when Josef Jakobs, a captured German spy, was shot by a firing squad.
The last shot fired in World War II was a torpedo, not a bullet. It was
fired from the U.S. submarine Torsk at 9:17 pm, August 14th,
1945 (just before the official end of the war at 11:00 pm), during a battle
against several Japanese ships. The shot sank a Japanese coastal defense frigate.