4 'Bystanders' Who Changed History Forever

Sometimes you're just in the right place at a significant time
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2015 2:44 PM CDT
Updated Sep 26, 2015 4:00 PM CDT
4 'Bystanders' Who Changed History Forever
In this 1979 file photo, author Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is shown in New York City.   (AP Photo/Marty Reichenthal, file)

The people who were actively involved in historical events are important, of course—but in many cases, so are the bystanders, the witnesses, the people who just so happened to be in the right place at the right, or at least a significant, time. Ozy looks at six such people who changed history:

  • Abraham Zapruder: The women's clothing maker happened to catch John F. Kennedy's assassination on video; he sold the rights to the very famous film to Life magazine for $150,000. When they returned the film and rights to his family for just $1, the family sold it to the US government for more than $16 million.

  • Pliny the Younger: The Roman politician witnessed the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius that covered Pompeii in volcanic ash. He chronicled it in two letters years later, which accounts for much of our knowledge of it today.
  • Kurt Vonnegut: As a prisoner of war, imprisoned underground in a former slaughterhouse, Vonnegut was there for the 1945 Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany; he emerged to a scene of charred corpses. The experience shaped much of his work, including Slaughterhouse-Five.
  • Alistair Cooke: The British broadcaster saw Robert Kennedy assassinated, and described the scene in an account on the air, lamenting the "squalid, appalling scene in a hotel pantry that I’d been a part of, and would always be a part of."
Click for the complete list, including a man who had a front-row seat to the assassinations of three US presidents. (More history stories.)

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