March 26, 2015

It Happened on March 26th

Ludwig van Beethoven

Death of Ludwig van Beethoven, 1827

Ludwig van Beethoven died on March 26th, 1827. It was a Monday, and there was a thunderstorm, and one of his friends claimed that a peal of thunder sounded at the moment of his death. He had been ill for several months, and had had many visitors during that time.

An autopsy was performed, which revealed serious liver damage. We don't know exactly why: it may have been alcohol-related, or it may have been lead poisoning from some of the medical treatments he received. Other causes that have been suggested are hepatitis, syphilis, sarcoidosis, and Whipple's disease.

Beethoven was well-known and appreciated during his lifetime, and 20,000 people turned up to honor him at his funeral.

Walt Whitman photograph by Mathew Brady

Death of Walt Whitman, 1892

Walt Whitman's funeral was also well attended, with over a thousand people visiting his body within a three hour period. His casket was scarcely visible for the flowers and wreaths heaped upon it. A public ceremony was held at his graveside.

Whitman had not been in good health since a stroke in 1873. In his final years he was bed-ridden, and attended to first by neighbors, and then by Mary Oakes Davis, a neighbor who moved in to care for him in exchange for free room and board. She brought her cat, dog, birds, and other assorted pets.

Whitman spend the last part of his life revising Leaves of Grass, and preparing what is now sometimes referred to as the "Deathbed Edition." A few days before his death he wrote the comment, "I suffer all the time: I have no relief, no escape: it is monotony -- monotony -- monotony -- and pain."

Death of Raymond Chandler, 1959

Raymond Chandler explored several careers before settling down to writing. He was a British civil servant, a journalist, a tennis racket stringer, a fruit picker, and a bookkeeper. He also served in the military in World War I, in both the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the RAF.

Chandler is one of the foremost mystery writers of all time. His character, Philip Marlowe, is an icon, both in the detective novel genre and in film noir. He said that he had taught himself the craft by deconstructing Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason stories. He was also known as a screenwriter, and worked with such greats as Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock.

Chandler had a problem with depression and alcoholism throughout most of his life. After his wife, Cissy, died in 1954, both afflictions intensified. He never got around to having Cissy buried after her death, and her remains were found in a storage locker, and finally buried with her husband in 2010. He attempted suicide at least once, but died of natural causes in 1959.

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