It’s one of those factoids you learned in high school. In wiki words, World War I began with “the assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Yugoslav nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
The shooting occurred at the Latin Bridge, in the old part of the city. The Archduke and his wife Sophie were being driven in a car, not on the bridge itself but at the corner where the bridge meets the street that follows the river. There is a plaque at the intersection now and a small museum dedicated to the assassination in the building opposite.
In 1914, Bosnia had recently been annexed by the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Archduke was here on a state visit. The assassin, Gavrilo Princip, belonged to an organization that wanted to create a combined Serbia-Bosnia-Croatia, like Yugoslavia was to be later in the 20th century. During the Yugoslav era, the Latin Bridge was renamed the Princip Bridge, after the assassin. It is back to its old name of Latin Bridge now.
It seems like these days the Archduke has achieved a kind of mini-meme status.
First there was the John Green young adult novel An Abundance of Katherines, in which the archduke’s final resting place is located in Gutshot, Tennessee.
[spoiler alert] This is not factually true, in case you were wondering; read the book for more details. All is revealed at the end. In reality, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie are predictably entombed in Austria’s Artsetten Castle. I felt compelled to look it up, just to make sure, when a 14-year-old local Bosnian boy mentioned to me that the Archduke is buried in the USA. Timur maintains he has never read An Abundance of Katherines nor has he ever heard of John Green and cannot remember where he got this bit of information. I wonder if Mr. Green knows he’s set off an international urban legend. [end spoiler alert]
Folklore about the assassination has been around for a while. If you’re interested, check out this article in Britain’s Fortean Times.
There is also the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand to consider. A band member says: “I like the idea that, if we become popular, maybe the words Franz Ferdinand will make people think of the band instead of the historical figure.” Hunh. Be that as it may, the band wrote a song about their namesake:
B-side material, for sure, but still it’s more fame than the Archduke might have accrued if he hadn’t been shot on a Sarajevo streetcorner.
The emperor’s last words are said to be “It is nothing, it is nothing.”
Well, it turned out to be something.