Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Few monarchs in history reigned as long as Austria's Franz Josef, or endured quite as much heartache.  During his nearly seven decade rule, the emperor saw his wife, Elisabeth, stabbed to death by an anarchist; his son, Rudolf, commit suicide with his mistress in a lurid sex scandal; his brother Maximilian, the puppet emperor of Mexico, executed by firing squad; his nephew Franz Ferdinand assassinated in Sarajevo; and countless other relatives bring shame upon the glorious House of Habsburg--including another brother, Ludwig Viktor, a flamboyant cross-dresser known as Lutziwutzi, whose public shenanigans forced the emperor to finally banish him from Vienna, along with his nephew Otto, a syphilitic prone to public nudity.

Longevity alone would explain at least some of the emperor's seemingly endess stream of sorrows, but a supposed curse by a Counte4ss Karolyi, whose son was executed during the Hungarian uprising at the beginning of Franz Josef's reign, may have made things that much worse.  "May heaven and hell blast your happiness," the countess reportedly shrieked at the young sovereign at a state ball in Vienna; "may your family be exterminated; may you be smitten in the persons of those you love beat; may your children be brought to ruin and your life wrecked; and yet may you live on in lonely, unbroken, horrible grief, to tremble when you recall the name of Karolyi!"

So effective was the countess's curse-- or maybe it was just cruel fate--that even in death poor Franz Josef couldn't catch a break.  After succumbing to pneumonia on November 21, 1916, at age 86, the emperor was embalmed using a newfangled technique that distorted his features to such an extent that his coffin had to be kept closed--depriving his grieving subjects of one last look at the sovereign who had ruled over them for so many years, and perhaps providing Countess Karolyi with her final triumph."

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On this date in Mesoamerica, the ancient Mayan people held a joyous festival honoring Kukulcan, "the feathered snake whose path is the waters."  Later merged with Quetzalcoatl, "the plumed serpent," and identified with the planet Venus, Kuklcan was a god of wisdom and fertility and the inventor of agriculture and the Mayan calendar. 

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