May 26, 1894
Czar Nicholas II crowned
The last czar of Russia, Nicholas II, is crowned on May 26, 1894. Nicholas was neither trained nor inclined to rule, which did not help the autocracy he sought to preserve in an era desperate for change. The disastrous outcome of the Russo-Japanese War led to the Revolution of 1905, which Nicholas diffused after signing a manifesto that promised reforms. He soon retracted these concessions, and radical groups won wide support. In 1914, he led his country into another costly war, and discontent grew. In 1917, the army garrison at Petrograd joined striking workers in demanding socialist reforms, and Nicholas was deposed and put under house arrest. Vladimir Lenin assumed power in November, but in July 1918, the advance of counterrevolutionary forces caused the Bolsheviks to fear that the imperial family might be rescued. A death sentence was passed, and on the night of July 16, Nicholas, his wife and children, and several of their servants were gunned down.
May 26, 1977
"Human Fly" Climbs World Trade Center
On this day in 1977, 27-year-old toymaker George Willig from Queens scaled the 415-metre-high, 110-story South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. It was the third largest building in the world at the time.
The incredible feat took Willig a year of careful planning. He made four late night trips to the tower to test his homemade climbing device—a variation of a standard climbing aid called an ascendeur—to allow him to climb up the building’s window washing tracks. During one test, a security guard caught him a few feet up the side of the building, but Willig claimed to be an architectural engineering student and finessed his way out of trouble.
On the big day, Willig took off from work. He had steak and eggs for breakfast, and went to the World Trade Center with his brother and a friend. He began his ascent around 6:30 AM, wearing a weather parka to conceal his climbing equipment, which he dropped once he reached 25 feet.
The police took notice. When they shouted for him to come down, his famous response was: "I'm not coming down. There's only one way to go, and that's up." His brother and friend were promptly arrested as accomplices and submitted to endless paperwork, fingerprinting, and questioning regarding Willig’s sanity. When they insisted that Willig had no political or commercial motivations, the police were confused.
By the time Willig reached the 25th floor, swarms of people and the media had arrived. Around the 60th floor, he came across two policemen on a lowered scaffold. To avoid a forced rescue, Willig performed a climbing manoeuvre called a "pendulum," and swung away from the scaffold. As he swung away, a shadow was cast on the building, causing a collective gasp from onlookers who thought he had slipped and fell. After the police assured Willig they were only there in case he got tired, he returned to his original path, had a bit of polite chitchat, and continued his ascent.
Around 10 AM, after 3 and a half hours of a vertical climb, Willig lifted himself over the building’s ledge. He was greeted by enthusiastic policemen who congratulated him, asked him for photographs, let him sign his name on the building, and then—as it was their duty—handcuffed him.
In the aftermath, the New York Port Authority announced they would sue Willig for $250,000, but with the vast media coverage of the incident, he had turned into a kind of folk hero. He was dubbed the "Human Fly" by The Daily News.
The following day, Willig met the city’s mayor, who decided to fine him $1.10—one penny for each storey—in exchange for Willig not publicising details on his climbing apparatus. Perhaps Willig should have been paid instead: anticipating the need for repairs, he had brought a small hammer and fixed irregularities in the window washing tracks as he climbed.
Credit: NY Daily News via Getty Images
Caption: George Willig during his ascent of the World Trade Center.
May 26, 1828
Kaspar Hauser Is Discovered
On this day in 1828, a young, disheveled boy named Kaspar Hauser was discovered wandering the streets of Nuremberg. Shabbily dressed and filthy, he could barely speak, but carried in his pocket a letter addressed to a Captain von Wessenig. The anonymous letter stated that the boy had been cared for but was never allowed to take “a single step out of my house,” and that the boy would now like to be a cavalryman like his father. It instructed the captain to either take him in or hang him. When given a piece of paper, the boy wrote his name, Kaspar Hauser.
The boy was turned over to the local jailer, who cared for him for several months. It was clear Hauser was both mentally and physically challenged. His diet consisted of bread and water and his mental capacity seemed to be that of a five-year-old. After several months of care, Hauser related his story. He was raised in a small, dark cell, sleeping on a straw mat and being given only bread and water. He was trained to repeat the phrase, “I want to be a cavalryman like my father,” and rarely or never saw fresh air and sunlight. He never saw his caretaker’s face until the day he was brought to Nuremberg.
Hauser’s story spread throughout Europe and people began to try to solve the mystery of his life. Some thought his features looked like those of the former Grand Duke of Baden, who supposedly had no male heir and whose successor was his uncle. They mused that the young boy was actually the heir and that his uncle may have had him hidden from public view.
In October 1829, a cloaked and hooded man armed with an axe tried to kill Hauser, further fueling speculation that he was connected to royalty, but the boy survived. In December 1833 he was attacked again, when he was lured to a garden with the promise of a package, and this time, he died. It was unclear whether Hauser stabbed himself to draw attention to himself, as some speculated, or whether he was stabbed by another.
In 2002, the University of Munster analysed cells that were supposedly collected from Hauser’s belongings and determined that his genetic code was a 95 percent match of descendants of the former Grand Duke of Baden. That medical evidence is contested, however, and his birth, death, and lineage remain a mystery to this day. His gravestone suggests as much: “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth is unknown, his death mysterious.”