Most people tend to be obsessed with historical firsts. Firsts are usually obvious, but we can never be sure when an event will be the last one of its kind. History can always repeat itself, but the following 10 events will almost certainly never be seen again.
10. Eugene Cernan – Last Apollo Astronaut to Walk on the Moon
Eugene Cernan first went to space aboard Gemini 9, with a mission to do one of the very first American spacewalks. He next flew into space on Apollo 10 on May 22, 1969 to pave the way for America’s first moon landing just two months later. Cernan came within eight nautical miles (about 50,000 feet) of the moon’s surface.
Finally, in December 1972, Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene Cernan returned to space for the last time and became the last person to walk on the moon. The final Apollo mission included geological surveying and material sampling in the Taurus-Littrow region. Before going back to the lunar module, he wrote his daughter’s name, Tracy, in the dust. His last words before leaving were, “As we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
9. Janet Parker – Last Person to Die From Smallpox
Smallpox is one of the deadliest viruses to have roamed the earth, killing an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone. But by the late 1970s, with the help of the World Health Organization, the disease had been eradicated in most parts of the world. Unfortunately, Janet Parker, an English medical photographer, was exposed to the virus in a laboratory accident. On August 24, 1978, Parker was hospitalized and diagnosed with the deadliest strain of smallpox, and she subsequently died on September 11 of the same year.
On May 8, 1980, the World Health Organization declared that the smallpox virus has been eradicated. When scientists destroy the samples still being kept in laboratories in Atlanta and Moscow, the smallpox virus will become the first life form to have been intentionally wiped from the face of the earth.
8. Charles Carroll – Last Surviving Signer of the Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence is the ultimate symbol of American liberty. It was originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson, signed by 56 delegates to the Continental Congress and then ratified on July 4, 1776. The last of the 56 signatories to die was Charles Carroll. Carroll served in the Congress and was elected to represent Maryland on the 4th of July before being elected to the Maryland Senate in 1781. He died in 1832 at the age of 95.
7. Rainey Bethea – Last Person to be Executed in Public in the United States
On August 14, 1936, the last public execution in the United States took place in Owensboro, Kentucky when a black man named Rainey Bethea was hanged. Bethea had been convicted of the murder of a 70 year-old white woman. The fingerprints on the victim’s throat was the evidence that ultimately lead to his arrest. By five o’clock in the morning of the day of his execution about 20,000 people, including over 200 sheriffs from around the country, were present to witness the hanging. Bethea marched toward the execution stand after sunrise, where he was hanged and pronounced dead at around 5:45 a.m. Public outrage over Bethea’s manner of execution, which involved numerous errors and a general media circus, made him the last person to be hanged in public in the country.
6. Cleopatra VII – Last Egyptian Pharaoh
Often depicted as a very beautiful lady, Cleopatra VII was just 18 when she inherited the throne of Egypt. An intelligent woman who could speak multiple languages, she was actually the first pharaoh of the Ptolemy dynasty who spoke Egyptian. Due to a conflict with the Romans, Cleopatra was removed from her throne and was forced to live in exile. It was on her return that she met Julius Caesar, who had taken control of Alexandria and fell in love with her at first sight.
Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15, 44 BC, and shortly afterwards, Ptolemy XVI was allegedly poisoned by Cleopatra. Knowing she was in danger, she left the city for Tarsus (modern-day Turkey) where she met Mark Antony. When Antony committed suicide after defeat in battle, Cleopatra was determined to die as well. She died on 30 BC, where it is believed that she intentionally had herself bitten by poisonous asps, due to the markings found on her arm when she died. Later studies, however, suggest that she was killed by drinking a mixture of poisons. After her death, Egypt became a Roman province.
5. Adrian II – Last Married Pope
During the Council of Nicea in 325, a decree was issued that after ordination, a priest could not marry. Coming from a Roman family, Pope Adrian II was nevertheless the last married Catholic pope over 500 years later, from 867 to 872. He initially refused the papacy twice before being elected in 867 following the death of his predecessor, St. Nicholas I. He was married and had a daughter before he became pope, but refused to adopt celibacy or give up his wife when he ascended the papal throne. Like his predecessor Nicholas I, Pope Adrian was forced to submit in temporal affairs to the interference of Roman Emperor Louis II.
4. Last Prisoner to Leave Alcatraz
Alcatraz Federal Prison, also known as “The Rock,” was first used as a military prison during the Civil War and then as a federal prison from 1933 until it closed in March of 1963 due to the high cost of maintenance. Its first prisoners were two soldiers and two naval officers that refused to take an oath of loyalty to the United States. It housed several notorious inmates over the years, most notably Al Capone. Not a single prisoner successfully escaped The Rock, although there have been many attempts. Frank Wathernam was the last prisoner to leave Alcatraz on March 21, 1963. He was quoted as saying, “Alcatraz was never no good for nobody.”
3. Last Day of the USSR
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, formerly one of the world’s superpowers, was founded in 1922 by the leaders of the Russian Communist Party and was a successor to the Old Russian Empire which had collapsed in 1917. The Soviet Union played a huge role in the Second World War, driving Nazi Germany back in an almost uninterrupted offensive which led to the fall of Berlin and the ultimate surrender of Germany.
On December 21, 1991, the Alma-Ata Protocol was signed by representatives of 11 of the 12 former republics (excluding Georgia) which confirmed the dissolution of the Union and formally established the Commonwealth of Independent States. The USSR was finally dissolved on December 26, 1991, a day after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned.
2. Last Death in WWI
The First World War started in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and ended in 1918 after about 37 million more deaths. The signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 am marked the end of the war. The last soldier killed was Pvt. Henry Gunther of the American Expeditionary Forces. Gunther’s platoon encountered a German roadblock as it advanced. Gunther charged the Germans with a bayonet after the Germans fired warning shots. While the enemy, aware of the impending armistice, tried to warn him off, they were eventually forced to shoot him through the left temple at 10:59. While no one is entirely sure what inspired his suicidal charge, his comrades speculated that he was obsessed with proving his worth after being demoted from the rank of Sargent. Gunter succeeded — the rank was reinstated posthumously.
1. Elizabeth Dean – Last Titanic Survivor
Elizabeth Gladys Dean, better known as Milvina, was a third-class passenger and the youngest of all the passengers of the RMS Titanic at only 10 weeks old. She was supposed to travel with her parents and two year old brother Bert to America, where they hoped to open a tobacco shop, aboard another ship, but was transferred to the Titanic following a coal strike. Moments after the ship hit the iceberg, her father hustled the family out of their quarters and into the lifeboats. Her father is among the 1517 that perished in the disaster, but the rest of her family survived. She died on May 31, 2009 at age 97.