History often focuses on firsts. For example, the first man on the moon, or the “shot heard round the world.” But often the lasts are equally, if not more, interesting.
The final act of a piece of technology or the last of a species can show how we're progressing, and regressing, as a society. These events can force us to pause and take a good look back at history. From there, we might shake our heads at our primitive medical practices; or we might marvel at our ability to fully eradicate a disease.
Some lasts even create firsts for something else, something better. So allow yourself some introspection as you read these lasts - and whether you'd like to visit the places where they met their final, indisputable ends.
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Volary, Czechoslovakia - Where The Last Allied Soldier Was Killed In WWII
When World War II was drawing to a close, there were still soldiers on both sides fighting to the very end.
This included Private First Class Charley Havlat of the 803rd Tank Battalion, who was on a dirt road 12 miles into Czechoslovakia (near Volary) with his platoon. Out of nowhere, they started receiving heavy machine gun fire - so Havlat and his fellow troops started fighting back.
However, only a few moments after the attack started, Havlat was shot in the head and killed. As the other soldiers carried on fighting, a radio operator received a transmission stating that a ceasefire was in place. In fact, it had gone into effect nine minutes before the ambush.
It turns out that the Germans were unaware of the ceasefire as well, and apologized for Havlat's death. Roughly six hours later, Germany surrendered.
There is a memorial you can visit that marks where Havlat was killed.
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The Island Of Mauritius - The Last Dodo Bird
You'd almost be forgiven if you thought that dodo birds weren't real - enough people do. They're sometimes lumped in with magical creatures like unicorns or dragons.
But dodo birds were not simply a piece of legend. They were a real, walking bird several hundreds of years ago. They were thriving, in fact, on their uninhabited island of Mauritius, not far from Madagascar.
This all changed in the 16th century, when sailors first landed on the island. The men documented a strange kind of bird “twice as big as swans" that they had never seen; so, naturally, they tried to eat it.
Turns out that dodo meat tastes really bad. So the seamen left the birds be and turned their hunting to other fowl. But the damage had already been done - this ship, along with the ones that followed, brought stowaways to the island. Rats, dogs, pigs - and of course, more nefarious humans - devoured the dodo's eggs.
By 1681, less than two hundred years after humans discovered the fluffy birds, they were gone - wiped off the face of the Earth.
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Columbia Hills, Mars - The Final Transmission From The Spirit Rover
As far as space-faring rovers, there are perhaps none quite as famous as Spirit and her twin sister, Opportunity.
Launched into space on June 10, 2003, Spirit was supposed to last only 90 days in Mars's harsh climate - and that was assuming she got to the planet in the first place. With the eyes of the world to the sky, we watched as these small robots (launched about a month apart) hurtled through the solar system. Finally, Spirit touched down in January 2004 onto the dusty planet - and her mission began.
She quickly passed her 90-day goal, and then the team of scientists decided to have her explore more and more. Both Spirit and Opportunity far surpassed any expectations Earth dwellers had, with NASA solving technical issues as they arose and allowing both units to continue to thrive for years.
But, during a harsh Mars winter, Spirit got stuck in a sand trap next to the Columbia Hills. As much as she tried, she couldn't ever escape - and she sent her last transmission on March 22, 2010. Opportunity, however, ended up living an additional nine years - eventually turning off her lights for good in 2019.
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Bend, OR - The Last Blockbuster
Ah, the nostalgic feeling of perusing through shelves of movies - whether they were DVDs or even VHS tapes back in the day. There was a fairly good chance they wouldn't have what you wanted - so when you did find that specific film, it made your heart soar.
This was the scene at the height of movie rental stores, most notably Blockbuster stores. The blue and yellow brand was the go-to choice for renting movies, and everyone knew it.
Then came the rise of technology - specifically a young upstart called Netflix. Blockbuster even had the chance to buy Netflix for only $50 million in 2000 (chump change for Blockbuster) - but they didn't. And they didn't follow Netflix's lead when they started mailing movies to their subscribers; and eventually, offered the streaming service we're all familiar with today.
But there's been one hold-out all these years - in the small city of Bend, OR. But this Blockbuster did something that most of the failed stores didn't - they leaned into the times. Now, the store acts as almost more of a tourist stop - allowing Gen Z to see an in-person Blockbuster for the first time.
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Cleveland High School, MS - The Last School To Be Desegregated
The Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that the racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional, after Thurgood Marshall represented five families in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. So you might be thinking the final school to be desegregated did so in the ‘60s? Maybe even the ’70s?
Nope. The final school to end segregation did so in 2016 - 62 years after the original court ruling.
So where was this holdout? In Cleveland, Mississippi. Despite a case originally being filed against the school district back in 1965, the town got around the law with loopholes - building new schools in specific locations designed to keep white children in certain schools, and Black children in separate ones.
Finally, a federal judge forced the district to combine their two high schools into one large school in 2016 - with the middle schools following suit.
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3 Savile Row, Apple Corps Headquarters, London - The Beatles' Final Live Performance
The tumultuous end of The Beatles has been well documented, with much of the blame popularly directed at John Lennon's partner, Yoko Ono. But the group was dividing along musical lines long before her involvement, and each member was under the intense pressure of belonging to the most well-known band in the world.
The Beatles' last official tour ended on August 29, 1966, in San Francisco's Candlestick Park. After that, the group was strictly a studio band. But they would play live one more time before their dissolution in 1970.
In late January 1969, after months of disagreements about new material and conflicting opinions regarding a new documentary they were starring in (later released as Let It Be), the four members of The Beatles were seemingly at their wits' end. So, instead of doing some big shebang for the climax of the documentary, they were going to stay close to home - quite literally.
They went to the rooftop of their studio and started playing their new music. Since people on the street couldn't see who was playing and didn't recognize the new songs, many didn't even realize they were listening to history in the making.