The Only 4 Private Citizens to Lie in Honor at the U.S. Capitol

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Billy Graham, the most famous Christian preacher of the past century, died in his home on February 21 at age 99. As a noted spiritual advisor of U.S. presidents, he held a special position of influence in American history. Now, he's being granted another privilege extended to very few Americans: This week, his body will lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

From February 28 to March 1, members of the public will be invited to visit the Capitol and pay their respects to the late reverend. It's an honor that has been bestowed upon only 33 Americans since the tradition began with Henry Clay in 1852. Of the distinguished citizens who have "lain in state," 11 were U.S. presidents. Several elected officials and military officials have also been commemorated under the rotunda, but only three private citizens—and with Graham, four—have their names among their ranks.

The first two private citizens to lie in honor were Capitol Police officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson. Both were killed in the line of duty during the Capitol shooting incident in 1998.

The third private citizen to receive the distinction was Rosa Parks. She died in 2005, 50 years after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger, thus helping set the civil rights movement in motion. So far, she's the only woman whose body has lain in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

Congress chooses which individuals get to receive the honor, either by passing a resolution or having congressional leadership obtain permission from the surviving family. When Graham's body arrives at the Capitol this week, it will be displayed on the same platform used to support Lincoln's body and that of every person (except the two police officers) who has lain in the rotunda since 1865.

[h/t AL.com]

6 Inventors Killed by Their Own Inventions

Franz Reichelt is now remembered as the "flying tailor."
Franz Reichelt is now remembered as the "flying tailor."
Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Not all inventions lead to glory. Some fail, while others tragically end in death. Here are six inventors who were killed by the very contraptions they created.

1. Franz Reichelt

On February 4, 1912, Austrian-born French tailor Franz Reichelt climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower in a wingsuit of his own design. The tailor had told French authorities he planned to test the suit using dummies, but upon his arrival at the tower, he announced that he would make the jump himself. His friends tried to dissuade him, citing wind speed and other factors—including previously unsuccessful attempts with dummies—but Reichelt was not moved. He would not use a safety rope or any other precautions. “I want to try the experiment myself and without trickery, as I intend to prove the worth of my invention,” he told journalists.

Newspapers described the suit as “only a little more voluminous than ordinary clothing” that, when extended, resembled "a sort of cloak fitted with a vast hood of silk." To release the parachute, which had a surface area of 320 square feet and a height of 16 feet, Reichelt merely had to extend his arms out so his body was in a cross position.

By 8:22 a.m., Reichelt was at the top of the Eiffel Tower. He adjusted the suit, and, facing the Seine, tested the wind direction by tossing a scrap of paper off the edge. Then, he placed one foot on the guardrail, and—observed by 30 journalists, two cinematographers (one up top, and one of the ground), and crowds gathered below—jumped (You can watch his fall here, but take note: it may be unsettling for some people.)

The parachute folded around Reichelt almost immediately; he plummeted for a few seconds before hitting the ground 187 feet below, leaving a crater 5.9 inches deep. His injuries were gruesome—in its April 1912 issue, Popular Mechanics reported that "his body was a shapeless mass when the police picked it up"—and the tailor was dead by the time onlookers reached him. An autopsy later determined he died of a heart attack during his fall.

2. Thomas Midgley, Jr.

Black and white image of a man wearing glasses
Some of Thomas Midgley Jr.'s inventions wound up causing quite a bit of harm.
Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Midgley, Jr., an American engineer and chemist, developed additives for gasoline as well as CFCs, and was awarded over 100 patents in his lifetime. When he contracted polio at age 51, he applied that inventor’s spirit to his impairment, creating a system of strings and pulleys that would make it easier for others to lift him out of bed. In 1944, when he was 55, Midgley became entangled in the ropes and was strangled by them.

3. Henry Smolinski

Engineer Henry Smolinski wanted to create a commercially viable flying car, so he quit his job at Northrop and started Advanced Vehicle Engineers. In 1973, the company built two prototype vehicles, called AVE Mizars, by fusing the rear end of a Cessna Skymaster airplane—which could be attached and detached from the car—with a Ford Pinto. The chimera vehicles were due to go into production in 1974, but on September 11, 1973, Smolinski and his friend and business partner Harold Blake were killed when the wing strut detached from the vehicle during a test flight. Bad welds were responsible for the crash.

4. Karel Soucek

A giant sports stadium on a cloudy day
The site of Karel Soucek's tragic demise.
Bukowsky18, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1984, Czechoslovakian-born stuntman Karel Soucek went over Niagara Falls in a custom-built, shock-absorbent barrel that was 9 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. He emerged, alive but bleeding, at the bottom, and decided to build a museum dedicated to his stunting equipment in Niagara Falls, Ontario. To finance the project, he convinced a company to sponsor another crazy stunt: Dropping the barrel, with Soucek inside, 180 feet from the top of the Houston Astrodome into a tank of water as part of a Thrill Show and Destruction Derby to be held on January 20, 1985.

Even daredevil Evel Knievel tried to talk Soucek out of the stunt, calling it “the most dangerous I’ve ever seen,” but the stuntman proceeded anyway. When the barrel was released, it began to spin dangerously, hitting the rim of the water tank instead of landing in the center. The 37-year-old’s chest and abdomen were crushed and his skull was fractured; he died at a hospital while the show was still going on.

5. William Nelson

On October 3, 1903, 24-year-old General Electric employee William Nelson took the new motorized bicycle he had invented out for a test spin. He fell off the bike on a hill and died instantly. According to the New York Times, “Nelson was regarded as an inventor of much promise.”

6. Valerian Ivanovich Abakovsky

Valerian Abakovsky was just 25 when he invented the Aerowagon, a high-speed railcar equipped with an aircraft engine and propeller traction, which was designed to take Soviet officials to and from Moscow. On July 24, 1921, a group of Communists—including Abakovsky, revolutionary Fyodor Sergeyev, and four others—took the Aerocar out for a test run. The vehicle successfully made the trip from Moscow to Tula, but on the way back, it derailed at high speed, killing six of the 22 people on board.

Konami Code Creator Kazuhisa Hashimoto Has Died

Hashimoto used the Nintendo controller to give game testers an advantage.
Hashimoto used the Nintendo controller to give game testers an advantage.
William Warby, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Kazuhisa Hashimoto, the video game developer responsible for making video games a little easier on players of the 1980s, has died at age 79. (Some reports, however, place his age at 61.) The news comes from video game manufacturer Konami, which posted about his death on Twitter Wednesday morning.

Hashimoto created the “Konami Code,” a button-pressing sequence on the Nintendo Entertainment System controller, that granted users advantages in games like Contra. The sequence (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start) was originally put in the 1986 NES port of the arcade game Gradius, because Hashimoto realized the difficulty level was high, and he wanted a way to make it easy to play through to check for bugs during testing. The code gave the user a full cache of weapons.

No one bothered to take the code out of the game when it shipped, and word eventually leaked that the sequence could make playing through it easier. The code subsequently showed up in other games, most notably 1988’s NES release of Contra, where it granted players 30 extra lives. Hashimoto said he used the sequence because it would be almost impossible to input it by accident while handling the controller.

Hashimoto joined Konami in the early 1980s and worked on circuit boards for coin-operated games. When he began developing games, like 1984’s Track and Field, he was prone to inserting Easter eggs. In Track and Field, a player tossing a javelin too high might discover they've hit a passing UFO.

The Konami Code has entered pop culture in a major way, appearing everywhere from other games to movies like 2012's Wreck-It Ralph.

[h/t Geek.com]

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