They Went That-a-Way

By Forbes, Malcolm S. | The Saturday Evening Post, May-June 1989 | Go to article overview

They Went That-a-Way


Forbes, Malcolm S., The Saturday Evening Post


From They Went That-a-Way by Malcolm Forbes, Copyright (C) 1988 by Malcolm Forbes. Reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster.

How we come into this world is routine . . . how we leave is very personal.

Editor's note: When Malcolm Forbes, a billionaire magazine mogul and the author of six books, was asked why he would want to write about death, his response was: "This is not . . . about death, but rather about satisfying an oft-expressed curiosity on the part of 'We, the Living.'"

Because death is life's only certainty, and because being against it isn't apt to affect the result, Forbes feels that dwelling on the subject can be a woeful wanton waste of time. However, reflecting on the number of times in casual conversation a well-known name pops up and someone asks, "Whatever became of him/her?" he set about recording the extraordinary "exits" of some of history's most famous and infamous personalities. In doing so, he uncovered some pretty fascinating stuff, including one famous person who died enjoying The Saturday Evening Post.

Benjamin Franklin

January 17, 1706-April 17 1790 Benjamin Franklin said it: "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes." The wise and wisecracking self-made statesman helped lead a revolution over taxes, but when his death was near he welcomed it with characteristic good humor. Franklin celebrated life and ascribed much of his happiness to two simple health tips: hot baths and cold fresh air. He slept with an open window and he said"I rise almost every morning and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but, on the contrary, agreeable."

It might have made him happy, but it didn't keep him well. Franklin had severe lung ailments as a young adult and he suffered gout for decades. While minister to France in 1782, he developed a painful bladder stone that restricted his activity for the rest of his life. After he returned to Philadelphia in 1785, ending 25 years of diplomacy abroad, his pain grew worse so that by 1789 he was almost bedridden. His characteristic chubby form was diminished by the pain-relieving opiates he took. "For my own personal ease, I should have died two years ago," he wrote to George Washington after his inauguration in 1789. "But, though those years have been spent in excruciating pain, I am pleased that I have lived them, since they have brought me to see our present situation"-namely, the new nation.

In early April 1790, Franklin developed an abscess in his left lung that left him barely able to breathe. He continued to write and entertain visitors between fits of pain. During one bad spell he told a visitor, "Oh-, no, don't go away. These pains will soon be over. They are for my good, and besides, what are the pains of a moment in comparison with the pleasures of eternity?" On April 12 the pain suddenly subsided. Franklin got up from his bed and asked that it be made up fresh so he could "die in a decent manner." His daughter told him she hoped he would recover. "I hope not," he replied.

On April 17 the abscess in his lung burst. Someone suggested he shift his position in bed so he could breathe more easily. "A dying man can do nothing easy," Franklin said, then fell into a coma. Death overtook the 84year-old at 11 p.m. as his two grandsons watched. His doctor believed that Franklin himself had caused the fatal lung ailment by sitting for hours before an open window. Franklin might have gotten a kick out of that. After all, his Poor Richard said, "Nine men in ten are suicides."

Warren Harding

November 2, 1865-August 2, 1923

"My God, this is a h-- of a job!" Warren Harding said of his presidency. "I have no trouble with my enemies; I can take care of my enemies all right. …

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