Assassinations—the targeted killing of a public figure, usually for political purposes—are incredibly sad, often horrific, and prompt the mourning of entire peoples. Although the tragedy of political assassinations cannot be ignored, neither can their huge impact on history. The courses of whole societies have changed due to the murder of a political leader, and political movements have been both catapulted and quelled. Although the figures who were assassinated are gone, the spots where they perished and where history was immediately changed still exist, and make for incredibly interesting places to visit.
1. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee
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Revered as a true American hero, Martin Luther King, Jr. fought tirelessly as an activist for the African American civil-rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s. Born in Atlanta in 1929, King became a Baptist pastor at twenty-five and went on to fight for racial equality, taking inspiration from Gandhi’s theory on non-violent protest. He was honored in 1964 with a Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
Sadly, on April 4, 1968 a single bullet struck King as he was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The shot struck King in the cheek, went through his spinal cord, and became lodged in his shoulder. After emergency surgery, King was pronounced dead an hour later.
Two months after his death, James Earl Ray, a petty criminal and radical white supremacist was captured and charged with King’s murder. Ray was convicted and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison and died there in 1998.
2. Caesar: Theatre of Pompey, Rome, Italy
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Known as one of the most infamous politicians in history, Julius Caesar is credited with taking the Roman Republic and turning it into the Roman Empire. After emerging as the ultimate leader of the Roman world in 49 BCE, Caesar proclaimed himself “dictator in perpetuity” and began centralizing bureaucratic power of the state into his own hands. Fearing the loss of the Roman Republic, a group of senators assassinated Caesar on the Ides of March (the 15th), 44 BCE.
Caesar was attacked at he entered the Theatre of Pompey and was beaten and stabbed twenty-three times before dying. Although popular mythology quotes Caesar’s last words as, “Et tu, Brute?” (Latin for, “And you, Brutus?”) texts more accurately record his last words as, “Kai su, tekon?” (Greek for, “You too, child?”).
Although after a few thousand years the Theatre of Pompey has seen a little wear-and-tear, you can still visit the ruins.
3. JFK: Texas School Book Depository, Dallas, Texas
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John F. Kennedy was elected the thirty-fifth president of the United States in 1961 when he was only forty-three years old, making him the second youngest US president in history. Although JFK was young, during his short presidency he dealt with huge political issues including the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Civil Rights Movement. Although his politics were too liberal for many Americans, his progressive, young attitude also made him hugely popular. Unfortunately, JFK was not able to complete his term as president because he was assassinated only two years after taking office.
The murder of John F. Kennedy is surrounded, to this day, with unanswered questions and conspiracy implications. As JFK was driving in a presidential motorcade in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 with his wife Jackie, shots rang out as the two were passing the Texas School Book Depository. Two bullets hit Kennedy, one in the throat and another in the head, immediately killing him.
Although his suspected murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald was captured, Oswald himself was murdered by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby on live television in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters two days after JFK’s death. Ruby claimed he killed Oswald because he was distraught over JFK’s death, but because Oswald never had a trial; many questions surrounding JFK’s murder were left unanswered.
Originally published on NileGuide
4. Tsar Alexander II: Church of the Savior on Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia
Photo courtesy of Jim Buchholz (cc)
Although Tsar Alexander II was considered quite liberal, (he imposed social reforms including the emancipation of the serfs in 1861) the Russian terrorist group People’s Will believed social reform could not be complete unless political reform came first. And so after two failed assassination attempts on the Russian king, they finally succeeded in their attempt to kill Alexander II in February of 1880.
While the tsar was on a routine trip in a closed carriage, a member of the People’s Will threw a bomb into the road ahead of Alexander II. The explosion didn’t damage the carriage, since it had been given to Alexander II by Napoleon III and was bulletproof. Alexander II was then ushered out of his carriage to leave immediately when a second bomb went off, severely wounding twenty people, and fatally wounding Alexander II. He was rushed to the Winter Palace but was too badly injured (his legs had been blown off and stomach torn open) for any real medical treatment.
Today, the Church of the Savior on Blood stands on the spot where Alexander II was assassinated. It was commissioned by Alexander III for his father and took nearly twenty-four years to be completed.
5. Assemblyman Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone: City Hall, San Francisco, California
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San Francisco’s City Hall is a grand setting for the assassinations of two beloved political leaders, Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in the state of California, and he paved the way for gay rights in the city of San Francisco, setting an example for the rest of the country. While Milk was elected City Supervisor, George Moscone was the mayor of San Francisco. Both men were shot and killed by Dan White, a disgruntled former San Francisco Supervisor, who had given up his office after butting heads politically with Milk, but then begged Moscone for his position back after changing his mind.
On November 27, 1978, White propositioned Moscone one last time to be reinstated as a Supervisor, and when Moscone refused, White shot him in his private office in City Hall. Moscone then reloaded his gun and made his way to Milk’s office, where he shot him execution style and then fled the building.
In a controversial ruling, White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter not murder (the defense claimed White was clinically depressed) and he was released only six years later. White committed suicide shortly thereafter.
6. Gandhi: Birla Bhavan, Birlas Gardens, New Delhi, India
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Mahatma Gandhi’s work as the spiritual and political leader of the Indian Independence Movement changed the way political movements were fought in the twentieth century. Gandhi’s total commitment to nonviolence and civil disobedience influenced leaders from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Nelson Mandela. Known for his devout religious beliefs, Gandhi championed vegetarianism, simplicity, and faith along with his peaceful political ideals.
Between 1934 and 1948 there were four unsuccessful assassination attempts on Gandhi, but he was unable to escape death for a fifth time. Gandhi was shot at point blank range while walking through the Birlas Gardens by Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse who blamed Gandhi for making India weak.
Today the Birlas Gardens are open to the public and a Gandhi museum is located nearby.
7. John Lennon: Dakota Apartments, New York, New York
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After a hugely successful career as a founding member of The Beatles, one of the most influential bands of all time, John Lennon became a passionate political activist for peace, fighting to end the war in Vietnam, and strongly supporting civil rights. In 1980, Lennon was living with his second wife, Yoko Ono, in the Dakota Apartments in New York City while working on his solo career.
On December 8, 1980 Lennon and Ono were walking into their apartment when Mark Chapman, a mentally unstable security guard from Honolulu, stepped out from behind a post and shot Lennon four times, killing him. Chapman didn’t flee the scene, but instead sat on the sidewalk in front of the Dakota and waited for police to arrive. He claimed the reason for killing Lennon was in the novel The Catcher in the Rye.
8. President Lincoln: Ford’s Theater, Washington DC
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Known most famously for leading America out of its most severe internal crisis, preserving the union, and outlawing slavery, Abraham Lincoln is retrospectively revered as one of America’s finest presidents. Although at the time, there were many who didn’t believe in Lincoln’s liberal politics, including John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor and Confederate spy. Initially Booth claimed he wanted to kidnap the president and hold him for ransom in exchange for confederate prisoners, but after hearing a passionate speech made by Lincoln concerning freedom for slaves, Booth became so enraged he decided he had to kill the president instead.
During the second act of a performance of the play Our American Cousin Lincoln was attending at the Ford’s Theater in Washington DC., Booth used a Philadelphia Derringer pistol to shoot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then jumped down to the stage and yelled, “Sic semper tyrannus!” meaning, “Thus always to tyrants!” Lincoln never regained consciousness and died the next morning.
9. Yitzhak Rabin: Tel Aviv, Israel
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Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister from 1974 to 1977 and then again in 1992. During his second time in office, Rabin was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize along with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after the two signed the historic Oslo Accords, a peace agreement that gave Palestinians more control over the West Bank and Gaza.
Although many revered Rabin for the strides he took toward peace in the Middle East, some fervent Zionists, including Orthodox Jewish law student Yigal Amir, believed giving up control would lead to Israel’s destruction. Enraged at Rabin’s political action, Amir shot and killed Rabin after a peace rally on November 4, 1995 in Tel Aviv.
The square where he was killed is now called Rabin Square and a prominent memorial remains there dedicated to Rabin.