5 Fascinating ‘Lasts’ from History
If we’re talking about contests, sporting events or lines for the antidote, last is a pretty bad place to be. In the context of history, though, it can carry a lot more acclaim. A person, item or event that puts the capstone on an era or tradition can live on as a central piece of a pivotal moment of history. If it’s a catastrophic event, especially, the last one around is probably the luckiest of all.
Along those lines, here are five fascinating “lasts” from history…
Last Survivor of the Titanic
The Titanic remains forever one of the world’s worst vacations. Sure, your overzealous confidence in the drinking water of a foreign country might have relegated you to nothing more than a seated sightseeing tour from the toilet, but you’re still roughly 1,500 deaths behind the horrific holiday Titanic passengers experienced. The ship most famous for not floating sank in the year 1912, and remains one of history’s great disasters.
Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, however, some didn’t succumb to the icy sea, and led remarkably long lives after surviving the incident. Longest among those was a woman named Millvina Dean, who doesn’t remember the ship at all, since she was only 9 months old during the (incomplete) voyage. She, her brother and her mother survived, but sadly, her father wasn’t as lucky. After the Titanic sank and they were rescued, they returned home to England on another ship, which you would have had to pay me a small fortune to agree to. She lived to be 97 years old, passing away in 2007. She also, understandably, refused to ever watch James Cameron’s blockbuster, not wanting to think about what her father went through.
Last Movie Released on VHS
Speaking of Titanic, if you saw it during a certain time period, there’s a good chance you pulled it out of an iconic double-wide VHS case, the movie stretching across two tapes given that its runtime was almost as gargantuan as the ship itself. Well, for the era at least. Nowadays, you wouldn’t be surprised if the origin tale of some C-List Marvel hero cracked three hours. Massive modern movie lengths are lucky for, or arguably a result of, the death of the VHS tape as the movie medium of choice.
As VHS gave way to DVDs, the value of producing those nostalgic blocks of plastic dwindled until disappearing with less than a whimper. Of course, that means that there had to be one final movie spooled onto them for distribution before they shut the presses down. That movie — the last ever major motion picture ever distributed on VHS — was David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence. It’s at least a nice farewell to the format that it was actually a good movie. I’d rather go out with something that earned a couple Oscar nominations versus a season of Barney or some failed Rob Schneider vehicle.
Last Woolly Mammoths
The tidbit here has a little less to do with who or what specifically was the last, and more with when it happened. After all, it’s not like woolly mammoths had names and I could be like, “John Trunksovich, last of his kind.” What I find fascinating about the last of the woolly mammoths is how much further along into world history it happened than you might think.
If somebody asked you when the last woolly mammoth died out, you’re probably immediately rolling back to the Ice Age plus a grace period. In the filing cabinets of our brain, they’re usually stored squarely next to dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers. But there was still a small population of the big fuzzies kicking around in the Arctic up until 2000 B.C.E., meaning that there are Egyptian pyramids that were completed before the woolly mammoths’ time on earth was.
Last Guillotine Execution
The guillotine, everybody’s favorite neck-focused execution method, is no longer in use. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on your personal beliefs in economic equality and attitudes toward oligarchy, but we can at least agree it’s pretty messy. The death penalty is enough of a debate as it is without anyone having to watch heads get toted around in a basket like wet laundry.
But when was the last official SHUNK of the device heard? And whose spine provided the percussion? That would be more recently than you’d expect — in the year 1977, in the execution of a man named Hamida Djandoubi. It’s hard to shed too many tears, as Djandoubi was, as Norm Macdonald would put it, a real jerk. He was sentenced to death after torturing and murdering his girlfriend, but however deserved it might have been, it proved to finally cross the line into a little too barbaric of a display for modern times. It didn’t help that he was apparently still responsive for 30 seconds after his head and body had ceased cohabitating.
Last Veteran of the Crimean War
The Crimean War was fought from 1853 to 1856, mainly between the Russians and the allied forces of the British, French and Turkish. The last veteran of this war died in 2004. If you’ve just given those two sentences a closer read, you might be noticing that they imply the veteran in question lived to be at least 150 years old, which is well past the golden years and into “government testing” territory. Unless some soldier was truly on their Methusaleh shit, it seems a little unlikely.
Well, that’s only true if you’re imagining a human soldier. Instead, the veteran is question was the mascot of the HMS Queen during the Crimean War, a tortoise named Timothy. After surviving the Crimean War and another couple tours as various ships’ mascot, Timothy eventually retired to a castle in England in 1935, where they lived until passing away in 2006, reportedly enjoying the occasional strawberry in the meantime.