Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When Death Didn't Take a Holiday

November 22, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy [71]. Among the flood of commemorations was the article ``A Bad Day to Die'' by Christopher Buckley [48317] recalling that writers C. S. Lewis [327] and Aldous Huxley [1179] died on the very same date, and hence were cheated out of a newspaper headline in the aftermath of the assassination.

This is conjunction was a very impressive coincidence, and motivates a search for what days that were a bad day for getting recognized in the obituaries.    The most prominent obituary victim is John Adams [61], who famously died July 4, 1826, the same day as his friend and rival Thomas Jefferson [10]. Other interesting conjunctions include:

  • Scientists Pierre-Simon Laplace [660] and Alessandro Volta [633] (both on March 5, 1827)
  • Philosopher Gottlob Frege [839] and William Jennings Bryan [699] (both on July 26, 1925)
  • Composer Sergei Prokofiev [1177] and Joseph Stalin [18] (both on March 5, 1953)

Our methodology here involved summing up the significance scores of all the people who died on a given date.  One might quibble whether this is truly the best criteria, for it can turn a larger number of smaller figures into a badder day than a smaller number of bigger figures.

However, it does a terrific job identifying dates which are readily understandable as to why several prominent people died that day.  See if you can guess why just by looking at the date:

  • October 16, 1946  (total significance 31.57) -- This was the day of ultimate judgement at Nuremberg: when nine Nazi war criminals were hung for their crimes against humanity.  The most significant in this batch was Joachim von Ribbentrop [16547], the German Foreign Minister.  He would have taken a back seat to Gestapo founder Hermann Goering, who killed himself the night before to avoid execution.
  • September 11, 2001 (total significance 30.37) -- The attack on the World Trade Center in New York.  Several prominent victims died in these attacks, but much of this total comes from the rankings of the terrorists themselves.
  • April 15, 1912 (total significance 25.31) -- The sinking of the Titanic.  The most prominent single victim was John Jacob Astor IV, one of the wealthiest men in the world at that time.
  • July 17, 1918 (total significance 16.95) -- The execution of the Romanoffs, most prominently Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
  • November 22, 1963 (total significance 15.24) -- The assassination of President Kennedy, with coincidental deaths of C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley
  • June 25, 1876 (total significance 15.79) -- The Battle of the Little Bighorn, a.k.a as Custer's Last Stand.  The most prominent victim was, not surprisingly, George Armstrong Custer [379] himself.
  • July 3, 1863 (total significance 14.95) -- The last day of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. 
  • February 3, 1959 (total significance 13.97) -- The day the music died: the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly [4408], Ritchie Valens [51845], and The Big Bopper [103549].
  • March 5, 1953 (total significance 13.25) -- Coincidental deaths of two prominent Russians:, Joseph Stalin [18] and composer Sergei Prokofiev.
  • June 30, 1934 (total significance 12.83) -- Night of the Long Knives, a purge when Hitler and the Nazis murdered many opposing German political leaders.
  • July 4, 1826 (total significance 12.46) -- 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the well-known coincidental deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

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