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A Brief Historical Index of Projectiles Thrown at Public Figures

Hurling objects at people in the public eye crosses cultural barriers and dates back millennia.

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13th Century to 18th Century: Criminals are hit with rotten vegetables and horse feces while locked into a pillory, a form of corporal punishment that later evolved into the whipping post. After being sentenced to this for seditious libel in 1703 for publishing the satirical pamphlet “The Shortest Way with the Dissenters,” Daniel Defoe is instead showered with roses by the crowd in a show of support. Delaware would become the last U.S. state to abolish the whipping post in 1972.

1774: During service, a rock crashes through a window, missing Universalist Church Founder John Murray in Boston, Massachusetts. He is quoted as saying after the incident, “Not all the stones in Boston, except they [that] stop my breath, shall shut my mouth or arrest my testimony.” Pavement vocalist Stephen Malkmus would prove less patient when struck in the chest by one during a 1995 performance in West Virginia.

1883: In the first modern record of such an activity, The New York Times reports on a play in a Long Island theater where audience members, displeased with the work, threw rotten tomatoes at actor John Ritchie during his stage debut. Despite assumptions that tomatoes were thrown at Shakespearean actors in the Elizabethan Theatre, the fruit is uncommon in England until 1752.


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