I’ve been thinking about how important Neil Armstrong’s death is politically and globally, ie. important for the human race as a whole, as it marks the endpoint of an era and a beginning of a new one. The first person who went to the moon has died; that is now in our history, and we are in a new era, one where space travel is a part of the human identity.
It got me thinking about other people whose deaths are those sorts of mega cultural milestones, and I’ve compiled a short list, in reverse-chronological order:
- Harry Patch (1898-2009) the last surviving person who fought in WW1. Revered in England in curious official ways (for instance, the city of Wells granted him freedom of the city in 2008) for a time he was the third-oldest man in the world*.
- Clarence Madison Dally (1865-1904) victim of the first fatal case of radiation poisoning, poisoned directly by Thomas Edison. See wiki for really gruesome death deets feat. much amputating
- Mary Ward (1827-1869) the first person to be killed in a motor vehicle accident. She was an Irish scientist, and a passenger on an experimental steam-powered car** in the late 19th Century when she was flung out of the car and under the wheels. More widely recognised is Henry H. Bliss, the first person to be involved in a car accident as we would know it today (cool photo of him on the wiki page)
- Thomas Young (1773-1829) the last person on the planet to “know everything”. This one’s a sort of spurious claim; from the beginning, books were being made all over the world concurrently so there was never really anyone who could had gleaned the entirety of human knowledge. Young, though, is one of two people generally considered to be the last person to have known everything, along with the excitingly-named German scholar Athanasius Kircher.
- Omo remains (circa 195,000 years ago, ie. 192,988 BC) are the first known remains of anatomically modern humans. This is going into slightly different territory than the rest of this list, but it’s a nice way to recontextualise it as an evolutionary concept.
*actually, our reverence towards the Oldest Living People (not to mention the overwhelming thought that on a planet of 8 billion people we have the administrative coherency to KNOW that) is really interesting and you should check that wiki page out too
**in my head I can’t help but picture it as a big shiny steamroller, with Mary being slowly and cartoonishly squished flat, but it probably had wheels like a normal motor vehicle.