This week in history: Marshall Field I, American merchant, was born in 1834


Portrait of Marshall Field. Credit: Library of Congress

When someone mentions “Marshall Field,” what springs to mind—at least for most Chicagoans—is an image of the city’s world-famous Beax-Arts department store with its landmark twin clocks jutting out a block apart above State Street.

But few people know the story of the man who founded the company that bore his name. Marshall Field I was born on a farm in Conway Township, Massachusetts, probably on Sept. 18, 1834. He came to Chicago in 1856 and obtained a job with a dry goods firm. In 1865, Field bought an interest in merchant Potter Palmer’s rival business. By 1881, Field gained control of the firm, and it became known as Marshall Field and Company.

Field introduced many new merchandising strategies. For instance, he marked prices on the merchandise and let customers exchange goods if they were dissatisfied. The company developed new advertising methods and window displays to attract customers. It was the first store to sell bargain goods in its basement.

Field’s slogan was “Give the Lady What She Wants,” and he made an effort to attract women to his store. He hired young women as salesclerks, opened a restaurant in the store, and offered lounges, restrooms, a library, a nursery, and telephones to customers. Customers could also check their coats, write letters on complimentary Marshall Field stationery, and hold meetings at the store.

Field was also quoted as saying, “I was determined not to remain poor.” By the 1880’s, he was the richest man in Chicago. Although not known for his generosity, Field made important philanthropic contributions later in his life. These included a gift of land as a site for a new University of Chicago. He also contributed about $9 million to establish the Field Museum in Chicago, one of the world’s largest natural history museums. Field died on Jan. 16, 1906. Successive generations of Fields continued the retail merchandising enterprise and expanded into publishing. (In fact, the Fields owned World Book, Inc., the publisher of The World Book Encyclopedia, from 1945 to 1978.)

A year after Field’s death, architect Daniel Burnham completed construction on the southwest corner of the State Street store. Also in 1907, the store’s famous stained glass dome, designed by Louis C. Tiffany, was built. Although the store appears to be one building, it is actually made up of five different structures, which have been seamlessly integrated into a single entity. The original State Street store, which opened in 1868, was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; a second building at that location was also destroyed by fire in 1877. The building that stands today was built in parts between 1893 and 1914, designed by Burnham and Company. The 12-story building is the second-largest store in the world. It was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005.

Marshall Field and Company grew to become a major chain store before being acquired by Federated Department Stores of Cincinnati in 2005. In 2006, the nameplate of Macy’s went up on more than 400 stores across the United States, including the former Marshall Field’s stores.

As the new Macy’s sign went up on the former Marshall Field’s flagship store on State Street, loyal Field’s customers protested, holding signs that read “Field’s is Chicago” and buttons bearing the message “I Want My Marshall Field’s.” To this day, a local group works through its website,, to “bring back Marshall Field’s in quality, service, and name” by holding rallies and distributing leaflets and flyers.


This Week in History: Construction begins on the Berlin Wall in 1961

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

On the morning of Aug. 13, 1961, Berliners awoke to the sounds of a massive construction project. All along the border separating East and West Berlin, streets were ripped up, and temporary barricades and barbed wire fences were emplaced. A few days later, construction of the Berlin Wall began in earnest. The completed wall eventually contained concrete slabs stacked 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 meters) high. Pipes, barbed wire, and other obstacles were installed atop much of the wall. Armed guards were ordered to stop anyone trying to cross from east to west. They began patrolling the wall, aided by guard dogs, barbed wire, electric alarms, mines, and trenches. On August 22, the first of more than 170 people died trying to cross over the Berlin Wall.

At that time, East Berlin was the capital of the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic (East Germany). West Berlin was an isolated state of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). During the 1950’s, travel between the two parts of Berlin had been largely unrestricted. As a result, West Berlin offered an opportunity for many thousands of East Germans to escape Communism. In 1961, East Germany, backed by the Soviet Union, built the Berlin Wall to stop the massive emigration.

For the next few decades, the Berlin Wall—and its major crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie—symbolized the intense nature of the rivalry between Communist and non-Communist nations during the Cold War. In 1989, East Germany became the site of widespread demands for more freedom. In response, the East German government finally ended its restrictions on emigration and travel to the West by its citizens. The East Germans opened the wall in November and soon began to tear it down. In October 1990, East and West Germany were united into the non-Communist country of Germany. Berlin was reunited into a single city. By 1992, nearly all the Berlin Wall had been removed. Several sections remain standing as memorials, but most of the wall was broken up for use in roadbeds and other construction projects. Parts of the wall were sold to museums and private individuals.

This week in history: American statesman, educator, civil rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche was born in 1904

Portrait of Bunche. Credit: Library of Congress

Portrait of Bunche. Credit: Library of Congress

Ralph Bunche (pronounced “bunch”) became internationally famous as the first person of color to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Bunche helped with the formation of the United Nations (UN) and served as a UN diplomat for more than 20 years. His negotiating skills were legendary. As undersecretary for political affairs, he directed peacekeeping operations in Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. He served as undersecretary-general of the organization from 1955 to 1971, the highest-ranking American official in the world body.

Bunche is perhaps best known for negotiating a difficult armistice in 1949 in the bitter conflict between the newly formed nation of Israel and its neighboring Arab countries, which refused to recognize Israel’s existence. It was the most important assignment of Bunche’s career. Bunche was principal secretary of the UN Palestine Commission that carried out the partition of Palestine to create Israel in 1948. The day after Israel’s formation, Arab armies from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Transjordan (today called Jordan) attacked the new Jewish nation to destroy it. Following months of virtually ceaseless negotiations, Bunche obtained a temporary peace in what is dubbed the First Arab-Israeli War. It marked the UN’s first actual success in halting a war. Bunche’s heroic efforts brought him worldwide acclaim, and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950.

Bunche was the first African American to receive the prestigious Peace Prize. For his achievement, Dr. Bunche, as he was called, was widely hailed throughout the United States. He was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City and a “Ralph Bunche Day” in Los Angeles. He appeared on the cover of most of the leading magazines, and he was overwhelmed with constant requests to speak or lecture. Numerous schools nationwide were named after Dr. Bunche. He also received dozens of honorary doctorate degrees (69 in all) and other awards, including the Spingarn Medal in 1949 from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963.

Ralph Johnson Bunche was born in Detroit, Michigan, on Aug. 7, 1904. Bunche was orphaned when he was about 12 and was raised by his maternal grandmother in Los Angeles. Because of his race, Bunche was enrolled in only “practical” courses in intermediate school in preparation for a vocational job, until his strong-willed grandmother demanded that he be given academic courses to prepare him for college. In high school, Bunche was an intelligent, all-around athlete, excelling in football, basketball, baseball, and track, while also excelling in academics. He was the valedictorian of his graduating class. Bunche graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Los Angeles. He earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from Harvard University. While working on his doctorate, Bunche began teaching at Howard University in 1928 and chaired the school’s political science department for more than 20 years. He also taught at Harvard and was a board member or trustee of several colleges and universities. In 1938, Bunche reportedly barely escaped from a lynch mob in Alabama while gathering material for the book An American Dilemma, about U.S. race relations, with the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal.

Although Bunche was generally considered to be a moderate, some people saw him as a radical intellectual during his time at Howard University. He spoke out against racial prejudice and segregation in speeches and publications. He also criticized the social system in the United States. Although he was critical of established black organizations, at the same time, he supported the Urban League and the NAACP and was very active in the civil rights movement. His international fame did not stop him from participating in the 1963 March on Washington or marching in the front line with Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama. As a member of the “Black Cabinet,” Bunche consulted with President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration on minority issues. When he was asked by President Harry Truman to join Truman’s cabinet as assistant secretary of state, Bunche turned the president down, saying Washington, D.C., was a “Jim Crow” town in which he had no desire to live again or subject his children to its racist and segregationist policies. Jim Crow refers to practices, institutions, or laws that discriminated against African Americans. Bunche dealt with racial prejudice throughout his life, despite his high-level position. The experience helped shape the man, educator, and statesman that he became. Bunche retired from the United Nations due to ill health shortly before his death in New York City on Dec. 9, 1971.

The American Astronomer Maria Mitchell was born this week in 1818

Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association

Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association

The pioneering female astronomer and educator Maria Mitchell was born on Aug. 1, 1818, in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Her work included the study of sunspots and of moons around other planets in the solar system. In 1847, she discovered a comet, later called “Miss Mitchell’s Comet,” earning her a prize from the King of Denmark.

Mitchell lived at a time when educational opportunities for women were extremely limited. She was largely self-educated. Mitchell attended primary school, but did not earn a college degree. Her education was furthered while working as a librarian for 20 years. In 1848, she became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She later became a fellow of the society. In 1865, she became the first astronomy professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. She remained at Vassar until one year before her death in 1889.

The 1800’s saw great changes in thinking on human rights. Among these changes were a number of gains for women’s rights. Maria Mitchell helped to bring this movement into the scientific world. When she learned her male colleagues at Vassar made more money, she demanded equal pay and got it.

This Week In History: U.S. civil rights symbol Emmett Till was born in 1941

If Emmett Till were alive today, he would be 73 years old—two decades older than Barack Obama, who became in 2009 the first African American president of the United States. As fate would have it, the racially motivated murder of the black teenager in 1955 helped launch the civil rights movement that many believe helped make Obama’s historic election possible.

Till was born on July 25, 1941, in Chicago. On Aug. 24, 1955, while visiting relatives in Mississippi, Till and several other black teenagers went to a country store in Money. A white couple, Roy and Carolyn Bryant, owned the store. Witnesses reported that Till spoke to Carolyn Bryant and may have whistled at her. On August 28, two men kidnapped Till from his great-uncle’s home. His body was found in the Tallahatchie River three days later. He had been badly beaten and shot in the head. A metal fan had been fastened to his neck with barbed wire, apparently to weigh the body down.

At Till’s funeral in Chicago, his mother, Mamie Till, insisted that her son’s coffin be left open. She said, “Let the world see what I have seen.” The funeral attracted thousands of mourners. Newspapers and magazines aimed at African American readers published photographs of the funeral.

Two white men were charged with the murder, but they were acquitted by an all-white jury. The men later admitted to the crime.

Nearly 60 years later, in 2012, when neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager returning from a Florida convenience store, many people compared the incident to the Till murder case. Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, claimed self-defense and was acquitted of manslaughter in 2013. The verdict ignited civil rights protests around the country and fueled debate about racial profiling and vigilante justice.

Soon after the shooting, President Obama attracted attention when he commented that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” After the ruling, Obama further commented that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.”

Although Obama’s election to the presidency stood as an example of the progress that came from the civil rights movement sparked by the Till case, the Martin shooting was an indication to many people that racial tensions still linger in many areas of American society today.

This Week In History: The first Spanish mission was established in California in 1769

San Diego de Alcalá

Picture: San Diego de Alcalá

In late March 1769, the Franciscan friar Junípero Serra left the Royal Presidio at Loreto, Baja (Lower) California, in what was then Spanish Mexico. At the start of a three-month overland journey to what is now San Diego, Serra felt a sense of excitement as he prepared to heed what he felt was his true calling—to bring the word of God to unbaptized Native Americans.

Serra, a 55-year-old priest from the Spanish island of Majorca, had come to Mexico 20 years earlier. He had directed the Roman Catholic missions in Baja California since 1767. But Serra found his two decades in Mexico to be somewhat of a disappointment. He had hoped to preach among Indian groups with no knowledge of Christianity, but the people he encountered had already received the sacrament of baptism. Serra longed to bring about Christian conversion firsthand to the Indians, whom he sometimes referred to as “infidels” or “gentiles.”

The Spanish had colonized Baja California in the 1530’s. Their explorers first sailed into San Diego Bay in 1602. Now, with the British and Russians increasing their trading activities along the Pacific Coast, Spanish authorities sought to establish settlements in Alta (Upper) California. Their policy toward the region’s Indians was one of “pacification”—that is, to rule by peaceful persuasion rather than outright conquest.

The Spanish explorer and provincial governor Gaspar de Portolá led Serra’s expedition. Two groups, including soldiers, missionaries, mission Indians, and pack animals laden with supplies, set off for San Diego in March. The first party, led by military officer Fernando Rivera y Moncada and missionary Juan Crespí, departed ahead of the group that included Serra and Portolá. Two ships carrying personnel and supplies for the endeavor arrived at San Diego Bay in April.

During the first weeks of the journey, Serra’s group stopped at several established Baja California missions. In May, Serra and his companions crossed into lands where the Indian residents had not been exposed to Christianity. Serra’s journey was hampered by foot and leg inflammation brought on by an infected insect bite. His group encountered Indians who were curious and friendly, and others who were more suspicious. There existed an ever-present potential for miscommunication. On one occasion, soldiers accompanying the expedition fired warning shots to quiet boisterous and friendly Indians who had joined the party on a trek along a precarious mountain pass. “The Indians … became frightened and stopped,” Serra wrote in a diary. “That put an end to the racket. I feared, however, that this radical action would leave the Indians doubting the sincerity of our love for them.”

The first party of Spaniards had experienced considerable hostility from native peoples as it passed through the lands south of San Diego. But Serra’s party was treated with greater kindness—probably for diplomatic reasons, given the Spaniards’ advanced weaponry and the likelihood that more of the interlopers would follow. Serra, for his part, tended to view each kindness from the Indians as evidence of their eagerness for conversion.

The group helmed by Rivera y Moncada reached San Diego in May. Serra arrived on July 1. Spanish soldiers soon completed a presidio (fort) on a hill overlooking San Diego Bay. On July 16, Serra dedicated a mission there, naming it for Saint Didacus of Alcalá, Spain. Serra went on to found 8 more of California’s 21 missions before his death in 1784. Thousands of Indians would make their homes at the missions, some of which became thriving agricultural and manufacturing centers.

This Week in History: Ferdinand von Zeppelin was born in 1838

Ferdinand von Zeppelin was a German aircraft pioneer whose name became synonymous with rigid airships. His “zeppelins” were lighter-than-air vehicles that floated because they contained huge bags of light gas, like balloons. But unlike balloons, zeppelins could be propelled forward and steered with an engine. Zeppelins also contained a rigid metal or wooden framework that supported the craft. These rigid airships were once the largest and grandest type of aircraft.

Zeppelin was born on July 8, 1838, in Constance, Baden, and was trained to be an army officer. He visited the United States during the American Civil War. During this time, Zeppelin took balloons up into the sky with Union forces. He became convinced of the value of aircraft. In 1870, Zeppelin served in the Franco-Prussian War. After he retired, he spent most of his time and savings on developing aeronautics. Kaiser Wilhelm II eventually offered Zeppelin financial support. Zeppelin died on March 8, 1917.

In 1937, one of the largest zeppelins ever built—the Hindenburg—exploded as it approached its destination in New Jersey. Thirty-six people were killed in the disaster, and the use of airships for passenger transport came to an abrupt end. While some airships are still used today, airplanes have largely replaced zeppelins. Airplanes can fly much faster than zeppelins, making them more useful in both passenger transport and in warfare.

This Week in History: Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Quebec on July 3, 1608

Monument to Samuel De Champlain, founder of the Quebec City with the old Post Office tower in the back, Place D'Armes, Quebec City, Canada. Credit: © Shutterstock.

Monument to Samuel De Champlain, founder of the Quebec City with the old Post Office tower in the back, Place D’Armes, Quebec City, Canada. Credit: © Shutterstock.

Today, Quebec City is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and an important port and tourist center. The city proper has a population of more than 500,000, and its metropolitan area is home to more than 760,000 people. However, the city nicknamed the Cradle of New France was not always quite so prominent. It began as a small trading post along the St. Lawrence River.

In 1608, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed from France to what is now eastern Canada with a group of about 25 to 30 companions to establish a fur-trading post. It was not Champlain’s first journey to the Americas. From 1599 to 1601, Champlain had visited Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Panama on a French trading ship. From 1603 to 1606, he explored the St. Lawrence River and the New England coast for France. Champlain helped establish the French settlement of Port-Royal in what is now Nova Scotia in 1605. (Port-Royal later was reestablished as the nearby community of Annapolis Royal.)

In 1608, Pierre du Gua, Sieur de Monts, sent Champlain back to New France, the French colonial empire in North America, to set up a trading post and further explore the region. Du Gua had been among the group that established Port-Royal. Du Gua never returned to New France after 1605, but he remained involved in the North American fur trade.

When Champlain returned to New France in 1608, he entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sailed southwest along the St. Lawrence River until he reached the present-day site of Quebec City. Champlain recognized the site’s geographical advantages. It offered a natural harbor, a cliff from which to keep an eye on the surrounding area, and a river with tributaries that provided access inland. Today, the cliff is known as Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond), and the river is called the St. Charles. The area also was home to First Nations (American Indians) with whom the French settlers could trade. Champlain named the settlement Quebec, from an Algonquian word meaning the river narrows here.

Champlain and his companions soon built a wooden structure, called the Abitation or Habitation, which served as lodgings, a fort, and a trading post. Today, the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires Church stands where the Abitation once stood. Its altar resembles a fort. The first winter proved to be extremely cold, and only about one-third of Champlain’s group survived. Champlain became friendly with the Algonquin and Huron peoples living near Quebec. He believed that friendship between the French and First Nations peoples would prevent First Nations attacks on the settlement, improve trade, and make it easier to explore the surrounding country.

In time, Champlain’s settlement grew and prospered as a trading center. Louis Hébert, the first Canadian farmer, established a household at Quebec in 1617. In 1620, Champlain built Fort St. Louis where the Château Frontenac, a castlelike hotel, now stands.

In 1791, Quebec City became the capital of Lower Canada, a British colony that included what is now southern Quebec province. Quebec City also served as the capital of the Province of Canada, a larger British colony, twice during the 1800’s. When the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867, the area that had been Lower Canada became the province of Quebec. Quebec City, with a population of nearly 60,000, was chosen as the provincial capital.

This Week in History: Victoria became queen of the United Kingdom

At 5 o’clock in the morning on June 20, 1837, the lord chamberlain of the royal household and the archbishop of Canterbury hurried to the gates of Kensington Palace in London. They rang and knocked until they roused a porter to admit them. They said they had an urgent message for an 18-year-old girl who lived at the palace. Nevertheless, they were left to cool their heels a while longer, because the young woman’s mother did not want to wake her so early.

Shortly after 6 o’clock, the men finally met with Princess Alexandrina Victoria, the person they had come to see. They told the princess that her uncle, King William IV of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, had died a few hours earlier. The young princess was now queen.

Alexandrina Victoria chose to rule under the name Victoria. She would reign for 63 years, 7 months, and 2 days—longer than any British monarch before her.

14.06.16 Queen Victoria

Victoria had been born on May 24, 1819. She was the only child of Edward, Duke of Kent (the fourth son of King George III), and Victoria Maria Louisa, a German princess. Victoria’s father died when she was only 8 months old. King George III died less than a week later. Between 1820 and 1837, two of Edward’s older brothers reigned, in turn, and all three older brothers died without leaving behind a surviving child of his own who could inherit the throne.

Meanwhile, Victoria grew up away from court at Kensington Palace. Her mother oversaw her strict upbringing, successfully giving the princess a strong sense of responsibility. However, once Victoria was queen, her mother never again decided who she would see, when she would see them, or any other matter of importance.

The British people anticipated Victoria’s succession with high hopes. Victoria’s lifelong dedication and hard work would fulfill their expectations. On her first day as queen, Victoria wrote in the journal that she had kept since age 13:

Since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station, I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more real good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have.

On June 28, 1838, Victoria was crowned in a five-hour ceremony at Westminster Abbey. An estimated 400,000 people flocked to London for the event. Overwhelmed by the support and loyalty of the crowds, Victoria wrote in her journal, “I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a Nation.”

In 1840, Victoria married the love of her life, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The couple had four sons and five daughters. Because Victoria’s children and grandchildren married into so many European royal families, she became known as the “matriarch of Europe.”

Victoria built up the prestige of the British monarchy, even as the institution of monarchy became less political and more symbolic. Her long reign from 1837 to 1901 saw British government and society become more democratic. The United Kingdom was transformed from a mostly agricultural country to an industrial giant. The British Empire reached its peak, expanding to include about a quarter of the world’s territory and a quarter of its people. These years of dramatic political, economic, and social change have since become known as the Victorian Age.


This Week In History: The Roman Emperor Nero committed suicide in A.D. 68

99217737The notoriously brutal Roman Emperor Nero took his own life on June 9, A.D. 68. At that time, military commanders in some Roman provinces had revolted against Nero, and the Roman Senate had declared him a hostis publicus (public enemy).

Perhaps suicide was a fitting end for a man who already had killed so many other people. By the time of his death, Nero had committed or was suspected of committing fratricide (killing one’s brother), matricide (killing one’s mother), uxoricide (killing one’s wife), and just plain old murder. Nero had two of his wives, Octavia and Poppaea Sabina, put to death. He also had many Roman senators and aristocrats killed, including his former tutor, Seneca. He sometimes forced his opponents to commit suicide. In addition, Nero’s mother, Agrippina the Younger, was suspected of mariticide (killing one’s spouse) for Nero’s sake. Many historians believe that Agrippina poisoned her husband, the Emperor Claudius, so that Nero could succeed him. Add to Nero’s actions the rumored burning of Rome, and the persecution of Christians for allegedly setting the fire, and he had quite a rap sheet. The Roman biographer Suetonius (A.D. 69?-140?) wrote of Nero that “He had an insatiable desire to immortalize his name, and acquire a reputation which should last through all succeeding ages.” It would seem that Nero accomplished his goal with flying colors.

Nero was born in Antium (now Anzio, Italy) on Dec. 15, A.D. 37. His mother, Agrippina the Younger, was the great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus. After Nero’s father died, Agrippina married the Emperor Claudius, in A.D. 49. Claudius adopted Nero as his eldest son. Claudius died in A.D. 54, and Nero became emperor at the young age of 16. Claudius also had a biological son, Britannicus, who died from poisoning soon after Claudius’s death.

The young Emperor Nero had a greater passion for the arts and performing than for government. At first, Nero was guided by his tutor, Seneca, a well-known philosopher and writer, and by Burrus, the commander of the emperor’s personal bodyguard. Nero’s mother also had a strong influence over him, until he had her killed in A.D. 59. Sources indicate that his early reign was moderate, prudent, and fair. Later, after Agrippina and Burrus had died and Seneca had retired from political life, intolerance, self-indulgence, and cruelty became more prominent aspects of Nero’s rule. Although Nero enjoyed some popular support, he alienated upper-class Romans, some of whom conspired against him. Eventually, the Senate turned on Nero, declaring him a public enemy. Nero fled Rome and killed himself at a freedman’s (former slave’s) country villa.

An excerpt from Suetonius’s The Lives of the Twelve Caesars recounts Nero’s death as follows:

All who surrounded him now pressing him to save himself from the indignities which were ready to befall him, he ordered a pit to be sunk before his eyes, of the size of his body, and the bottom to be covered with pieces of marble put together, if any could be found about the house; and water and wood, to be got ready for immediate use about his corpse; weeping at every thing that was done, and frequently saying, “What an artist is now about to perish!” Meanwhile, letters being brought in by a servant belonging to Phaon, he snatched them out of his hand, and there read, “That he had been declared an enemy by the senate, and that search was making for him, that he might be punished according to the ancient custom of the Romans.” He then inquired what kind of punishment that was; and being told, that the practice was to strip the criminal naked, and scourge him to death, while his neck was fastened within a forked stake, he was so terrified that he took up two daggers which he had brought with him, and after feeling the points of both, put them up again, saying, “The fatal hour is not yet come.” One while, he begged of Sporus to begin to wail and lament; another while, he entreated that one of them would set him an example by killing himself; and then again, he condemned his own want of resolution in these words: “I yet live to my shame and disgrace: this is not becoming for Nero: it is not becoming. Thou oughtest in such circumstances to have a good heart: Come, then: courage, man!” The horsemen who had received orders to bring him away alive, were now approaching the house. . . . he drove a dagger into his throat, being assisted in the act by Epaphroditus, his secretary. A centurion bursting in just as he was half-dead, and applying his cloak to the wound, pretending that he was come to his assistance, he made no other reply but this, “‘Tis too late;” and “Is this your loyalty?” Immediately after pronouncing these words, he expired, with his eyes fixed and starting out of his head, to the terror of all who beheld him. He had requested of his attendants, as the most essential favour, that they would let no one have his head, but that by all means his body might be burnt entire. And this, Icelus, Galba’s freedman, granted.

He died in the thirty-second year of his age, upon the same day on which he had formerly put Octavia to death; and the public joy was so great upon the occasion, that the common people ran about the city with caps upon their heads. Some, however . . . for a long time decked his tomb with spring and summer flowers. Sometimes they placed his image upon the rostra, dressed in robes of state; at another, they published proclamations in his name, as if he were still alive, and would shortly return to Rome, and take vengeance on all his enemies.