WTF Fun Fact 13282 – The Ides of March

March 15th is known as the Ides of March. It’s a day that has become synonymous with betrayal and tragedy.

What is the Ides of March, and why is it infamous?

The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to March 15th.

After changing their calendar system multiple times, the ancient Romans eventually divided into three parts:

– The Kalends (the 1st day of all months).
– The Nones (the 7th of March, May, July, and October, and the 5th of other months).
– The Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months).

Today, we associate the Ides of March with Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE. Interestingly, they were also a day set aside for settling debts in ancient Rome.

On that day, a group of senators, including Brutus and Cassius, stabbed Caesar 23 times. He died on the steps of the Roman Senate.

The senators believed he had become too powerful and, as a result, posed a threat to Roman Republican rule. One of the “offenses” Casear committed was to further change the calendar. While he theoretically redesigned it to match up better with the seasons and moon cycles, it also benefitted him politically.

Why choose March 15th?

According to JSTOR Daily (cited below, and which provides more popularized accounts of academic articles):

“While it’s commonly believed that the date of Caesar’s assassination was one chosen based on expediency and proximity—he would be leaving three days later for a potentially long military campaign against Parthia, and the Senate would meet on the Ides, thus putting Caesar within reach of the conspirators—one scholar argues that the date was also one that held symbolic meaning for Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins, and that the calendar reform may have been a “last straw” for them, symbolizing the rejection of the sacred traditions of Rome, the mos maiorum, not unlike if a US president were to sit during the National Anthem.”

What is the legacy of March 15th, 44 BCE?

Julius Caesar’s assassination was certainly a turning point for Rome and changed its political future. It may remind us that even the most powerful leaders are not invincible. Or that ambition can lead to tragic outcomes. It has long served as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unchecked power and the consequences of betraying one’s ideals.

You likely know that William Shakespeare immortalized the Ides in his play “Julius Caesar.” It famously warns us to “beware the Ides of March” and the danger they represent.

Of course, depending on how you look at it, the Ides of March can also represent the resilience of the human spirit. After all, despite the tragedy of Caesar’s assassination, Rome continued to grow.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Beware the Ides of March. (But Why?)” — JSTOR Daily

WTF Fun Fact 12929 – Dr. Roswell Park and President William McKinley

Roswell Park is a well-known, world-class cancer research and care center in Buffalo, New York. It’s named after Dr. Roswell Park, whose backstory involves his duty to his patients and the death of a U.S. president. Despite the way it may have changed history, the story of Dr. Roswell Park and President William McKinley isn’t well-known.

President William McKinley shot in Buffalo

In 1901, the Pan-American Exposition took place in Buffalo. The months-long event is known mostly for its dark moment in presidential history though.

On Friday, September 6, 1901, President William McKinley visited the Expo and was shot in the Exposition’s Temple of Music by 28-year-old anarchist Leon Czolgosz. As the young man walked up to the president who was shaking hands with guests, he pulled out a .32-caliber handgun and shot McKinley twice – once in the chest and once in the abdomen.

The bullet aimed at his chest bounced off a bullet and merely grazed the president. But the bullet in his abdomen was the one that would end up killing him.

Before Czolgosz could do more damage or get away, he “was tackled by James B. Parker, an African-American man who had been standing behind him in line, and members of the security staff quickly subdued the gunman,” according to Roswell Park Cancer Center (cited below).

Dr. Roswell Park and President William McKinley

The president was still alive when he was transported to the Pan Am Emergency Hospital on the fairgrounds.

There was one doctor in town who was highly qualified to treat the president’s injury, which was complicated by President William McKinley’s weight. Dr. Roswell Park was a trauma surgeon who had experience treating abdominal wounds. However, he wasn’t at the hospital that day. He was (not far away) in Niagara Falls operating on a lymphoma patient.

A messenger was sent to fetch Dr. Park and ran into the operating room to alert him that he was needed in Buffalo. As one of Park’s assistants later recalled, Park replied “Don’t you see that I can’t leave this case, even if it were for the president of the United States?”

The messenger then informed him: “Doctor, it is for the president of the United States.”

Too late

While finishing up on his patient, Dr. Park sent a fellow surgeon to the railroad station to “make the necessary arrangements for a special engine or train” to get him to Buffalo as quickly as possible, but it didn’t work out that way. The train station was a mess when he got there and he had to wait 15 – 20 minutes for a regularly scheduled train to arrive.

In the meantime, the physicians who were present at the hospital started without him since the only source of light in the operating room was the sun, which was setting fast.

McKinley had been shot at 4:07 pm and Dr. Park arrived at 6:50 pm. By then, the surgery was nearly finished.

According to the cancer center now named after Dr. Park: “Matthew D. Mann, M.D., a gynecologist with no surgical experience involving the upper abdomen, had performed the operation. His work was complicated by the fact that the president was a heavy man with a very large abdomen, and consequently Dr. Mann was unable to locate the bullet. When Park walked into the operating room, he noticed that neither Mann nor any of the other surgeons wore surgical gloves, caps, or gowns, nor had they taken steps to disinfect the surgical area. Perspiration from one of the attending surgeons dropped into the president’s open wound. The wound was closed without a drain in place. With the surgery complete at 7:32 p.m., the president was transferred by electric ambulance to the home of John Milburn, chair of the Pan Am Board of Directors, to recover. Dr. Park and another physician rode in the ambulance with the president.”

It took over a week for McKinley to succumb to his injuries, and he died on September 14th. His autopsy showed that the cause of death was gangrene, almost certainly a result of the sloppy surgery. Dr. Park suffered from the disappointment of not getting there in time throughout the rest of his life.

But aside from a delay that he couldn’t prevent at the train station, Park was also delayed by his commitment to care for the patient he was operating on at the time.  WTF fun facts

Source: “One day in September” — Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

WTF Fun Fact 12552 – Mithridates’ Poison Plan

King Mithridates VI of Pontus (aka Mithridates the Great) ruled what is now eastern Turkey from 120-63 BCE. The ruled while the Roman Empire was in its prime, but was its sworn enemy. His goal was to build his own empire, which required taking parts of Rome.In fact, according to the ancient writer Plutarch, in 88 BCE, Mithridates’ armies slaughtered 150,000 Roman and Italian noncombatants in one day in his quest for land.

More recently, Mthridates VI has been referred to as The Poison King. His predecessor Mithridates V had been assassinated with poison and he became obsessed with studying toxicology. There is plenty of proof of this, but what we’re not entirely sure about is the story that he microdosed an elixer of toxins to build up an immunity to poisons in case someone tried to assassinate him.

Ancient writers attest to the story, but modern historians aren’t so sure. Still, historians admit that there are enough sources with stories of some of his public attempts to ingest poison that it’s partly true.

It’s also likely that he conducted experiments on potential poison remedies by using prisoners as his subjects.

Ancient writer Pliny the Elder wrote that Mithridites VI created his own elixer made up of toxins he thought would make him immune to poisoning. It became known mithridate (or mithridatium).

But if the legends are true, all of these plans backfired on the king. Eventually, Rome came for him and on the eve of his capture, he did try to poison himself with the lethal dose of poison he kept hidden in his sword’s hilt. But it didn’t work. Some believe that it was because he shared it with his daughters (who both died) and there wasn’t enough left for him. But this only adds to the theory that he may have, in some way, made himself immune to poison. Of course, he didn’t save the recipe.

In the end, Mithridates VI convinced a servent to slay him with a sword to avoid being captured by the Romans. And there’s really no antidote for that. –  WTF fun fact

Source: “Mithridates’ Poison Elixir: Fact or Fiction?” – World History Encyclopedia