High Windows

My interest in people falling out of windows goes back a few years. Here’s a bit I inserted into the 1998 edition of the Let’s Go Eastern Europe guidebook, which I had the pleasure of helping to put together over seven weeks in the Summer of 1997:

High Windows

At decisive moments in European history, unlucky men fall from Prague’s window ledges. The Hussite wars began after Catholic councillors were thrown to the mob from the New Town Hall on Karlovo n�m., July 30, 1419. The Thirty Years’ War devastated Europe, starting when Habsburg officials were tossed from the windows of Prague Castle’s Bohemian Chancellery into a heap of steaming manure, May 23, 1618. These first and second defenestrations echo down the ages, but two more falls this century continue this somewhat macabre tradition. Fifty years ago, March 10, 1948, liberal foreign minister Jan Masaryk fell to his death from the top floor of his ministry just two weeks after the Communist takeover, and murder was always suspected but never proved. And then on February 3, 1997, Bohumil Hrabal, popular author of I Served the King of England and Closely-Observed Trains, fell from the fifth floor of his hospital window and died in his pajamas aged 82. Nothing unusual here – except that two of his books describe people choosing to fall – out of fifth-floor windows.

(Seeing the word “pajamas” in its American spelling irresistibly calls to mind Groucho Marx’s remark from Animal Crackers: “Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas and how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.)

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