William Tell, Swiss national hero
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Who might the national hero of such a peaceful and wealthy land be? A banker probably. Or maybe Henri Dunant, the Geneva banker and founder of the Red Cross? No, the Swiss have elected a man of the people, William Tell, whose head graces the 5-franc coin. Tell lived in Uri, when it was ruled by the Austrians.

The bailiff Gessler, local representative of the Austrians, used to place his hat on top of a wooden pole in Altdorf so that every passer-by could greet it in a sign of obedience. William Tell and his son passed by without paying their respects. Gessler ordered their arrest and offered him the following deal: “They say you are good with the crossbow. I will put this apple on your son’s head. If you can shoot an arrow through the apple, you will be free. If you refuse or fail, you will be hanged.” The apple was placed on his son’s head and Tell’s arrow pierced right through it. The bailiff, disappointed, noticed that Tell had concealed a second arrow under his shirt. “What is this arrow for?” asked the bailiff. “If I had missed the apple and killed my son, this arrow was for you,” answered Tell. The bailiff’s men arrested Tell and put him on a boat to take him up to a dungeon on the other side of the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake of Lucerne).

In the middle of the lake, the boat was overtaken by a storm (Opera buffs: Rossini’s William Tell Overture). The bailiff unchained Tell, who was an expert boatman, so that he could bring the boat to shore safely. Once again, Tell lived up to his reputation and made it to a safe haven, where he quickly jumped off the boat and kicked it back out into the lake, leaving the bailiff to his fate. Gessler survived and Tell realized that with him alive, neither he nor his family could ever live in peace. He killed the bailiff in an ambush.

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