1881 — Modest Mussorgsky dies

Modest Mussorgsky was a member of the Russian Romantic composer’s group known as ‘The Five’ – the other four being Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. They set out to produce music that was specifically Russian. Mussorgsky in particular drew inspiration from Russian folk tales, notably in his best known work, the tone poem ‘Night on Bald Mountain’.

After 1874, Mussorgsky’s career was clearly past its prime. The composer drifted out of touch with old friends, or fell out with them entirely – both largely the result of years of alcohol consumption catching up with him. In early 1881, he was hospitalised after suffering a number of seizures. He died a week short of his 42nd birthday, and was buried in St Petersburg, where he had lived for thirty years.

Referenced in:

Decomposing Composers — Monty Python

1881 – Anna McNeill Whistler dies

Known to history as “Whistler’s Mother”, after the painting she was the subject of, Anna Matilda (née McNeill) Whistler was 76 when she died. It had been nearly ten years since she sat for her son James, becoming the subject of his eponymous and best-known painting – which was actually titled “Arrangement in Grey & Black No.1” by her son.

Ironically, for such a quintessentially American painting, it was painted while she and her son were both living in England. Anna Whistler later died, still in England, and was buried in Hastings Cemetery.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

1881 – Billy the Kid is killed by Pat Garrett

Billy the Kid – better known to history as William H. Bonney, although his real name was actually Henry McCarty – was actually something of a non-entity in his lifetime. Although he claimed to have killed 21 people, one for each year he was alive, it’s likely he killed less than half that number.

He was betrayed and killed by Pat Garrett under circumstances which are still a matter of debate. In fact, Billy wasn’t even famous until a year after his death, when his killer Pat Garrett published a sensationalistic biography titled The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid. This was what made Billy famous. He became a legend of the Old West, later fighting Dracula and traveling through time.

Referenced in:

Billy the Kid – Marty Robbins
Return of the Gunfighter – Marty Robbins
The Skies of Lincoln County – Dave Starney

Okay, so he didn’t really travel through time or fight Dracula. The movies where he did are not that much more historically inaccurate that Pat Garrett’s book (which was, admittedly, ghostwritten).