#ThrowbackThursday – 14 July
They say that the key to immortality is by living a life worth remembering. As history shows us, certain acts – whether it be for the common good or for malevolent purposes – will see certain persons cementing their place in the public imagination for years to come.
But the big question is: do we want to be defined by those actions, or are they the only ways for being remembered forever?
On that note, here are three events that went down in history on 14 July:
1789 – Happy Bastille Day!
Today marks the 233rd anniversary of one the most important events that took place during the 1789 French Revolution: the fall of the Bastille.
Located in Paris, the Bastille served as both a prison and a fortress, a massive stone structure that sometimes housed thousands of prisoners at a time, many of whom were placed there by the reigning monarchs (who saw them as threats to their rules) – adding to this, they were held there without trial, which meant they could not even defend themselves the accusations, real or imagined, that they faced.
As such, the Bastille was regarded as a potent symbol of the corruption, oppression and blood-soaked tyranny of the Ancien Régime, which had dominated the Kingdom of France for hundreds of years … that is, until the morning of 14 July.
The French Revolution saw citizens among the oppressed population rising up against the Ancien Régime, and it started when mobs of these citizens stormed the Bastille. They first gathered outside, calling for the release of the arms and gunpowder stored inside.
After rounds of negotiations and skirmishes between the soldiers and the mobs, Governor Bernard-René Jordan de Launa gave in to the demands of the mob that evening. Alas for him, he was beaten and decapitated after the mob had overrun the Bastille, leading to its proverbial fall.
The Bastille was eventually demolished by the Revolutionist government. Now, the name is synonymous with Bastille Day, a public holiday celebrated in France and in other countries around the world to not only remember this particular event, but also to remind us of the ideals of liberty that those citizens sought … and which many of us are still seeking.
1881 – Death of The Kid, Birth of a Legend
After life comes death, but in the cases of some people, they’re afforded a special immortality that raises their stock, or at least renders them unforgettable in the public imagination.
That’s what happened to infamous American outlaw, William Henry “Billy the Kid” McCarty Jr, after he was shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
By the age of 21, Billy the Kid had established himself as something of petty thief-turned-notorious gunslinger, who had 17 murders under his belt (legend has it that he actually killed 21 people, one for each year of his young, short life).
After escaping from jail in April for killing a sheriff, he went on the run, with posses of lawmen and civilians out to claim the $500 bounty placed on his head by New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace.
Three months later, on the evening of 14 July, the Kid’s luck ran out: he was killed by Garrett in one of the bedrooms at Maxwell Ranch, where the outlaw was rumoured to be hiding out.
Accused of ambushing the Kid, Garrett sought to tell his side of the story by writing, “The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid”, which was released in April 1882. Ironically, the young outlaw’s legend grew as a result of this publication, which historians used as a basis to fill in the holes of his life.
These days, Billy the Kid is considered one of the most recognisable icons of the Wild West – and we have his executor, Pat Garrett, to thank for it.
1988 – Suspicious Minds, Bring Forth Elvis!
Even 45 years after US crooner Elvis Presley passed away from heart failure at the age of 42, his legacy continues to live on, particularly in the hearts and minds of his devoted fans (and not least in the form of Elvis impersonators).
But there are conspiracy theorists out there who believe that the King of Rock and Roll is still alive and kicking – indeed, by 1988 (11 years after his untimely death), people from all around the globe from Michigan to Germany claimed to have spotted him carrying out everyday activities.
As such, a radio station in Nashville, Tennessee – known as Y107 – decided to put these rumours to rest by putting out an announcement: they said it it would pay $1 million “to anyone who can bring the real, one and only Elvis Aaron Presley to Y107’s studio … for a one-hour exclusive interview.”
“Elvis may be alive as many people believe,” the station said. “Hopefully, the $1-million reward will persuade Elvis to surface or put to rest all the controversy over his death.”
Alas, Presley never did surface (either out of hiding or from his Graceland grave), and the reward was never claimed. Nevertheless, it hasn’t stopped the public from believing that he’s still out there somewhere, a living and breathing legend waiting to be discovered.