Uri and Wilhelm Tell

IMG_1948You know that William Tell (known as Wilhelm in German-speaking land) shot the apple off of his son’s head. You know the theme song to the Lone Ranger which is the William Tell Overture to Rossini’s opera.

Apparently I did not go to school in Switzerland because that is all I knew about him. More well-known than even beloved Roger Federer, Wilhelm Tell symbolizes the essence and identity of the Swiss people.

Legend in a nutshell – Tell would not take off his hat to the Habsburg duke as an act of defiance against the encroaching authority. As a punishment, he was made to use his crossbow to shoot an apple off of his son’s head. After successfully saving his own life by hitting his mark, he made an additional comment to the bailiff (Gessler) that he had a second arrow to kill him had he missed. Gessler did not take kindly to that remark, so he had Tell taken in a boat across Lake Lucerne to be put in a dungeon. During a violent storm on the lake, Tell was released from his chains to save the boat, but saved himself instead and jumped safely to shore. He guessed where Gessler would come through the woods and waited in ambush and killed him with that second arrow. Then Tell went to the Rütli meadow for the famous pact that is now considered the founding document of the Confederatio Helvetica (Switzerland). I wrote about our visit to that museum here.

Just a few problems with this story include the fact that most historians doubt the actual existence of Herr Tell, including the fact that the dates for the pact in the Rütli meadow and the apple-shooting incident are off by around 15 years. The Smithsonian has a very interesting article about this.

What IS true about Wilhelm is that he embodies the spirit and sense of identity of the Swiss people, especially in regards to remaining independent of outside rule.

Therefore, it seemed fitting that we visit our final canton, Uri, to pay our respects to the legend. First stop was the town of Altdorf, the place of the apple-shooting incident and to see the statue of Tell and son. We noticed a man taking a photo of his son at the monument, then the son taking a photo of the dad, and finally we were asked to take a photo of them together.


After a 10-minute bus ride to Bürglen, IMG_6323Tell’s hometown, we entered the Wilhelm Tell Museum. The best part was the film (in English) which was a 20-minute spiel on the history of Switzerland’s founding. We were the only people in the museum, and after the film we looked at various artifacts.

On the way out, another couple had come in. They obviously spoke English, the lady at the ticket counter spoke no English, we played a little translation game for the couple, explaining about the film.

She told me that my English was very good, and I replied that it was because I was an American. Nodding, she said, I knew that. H said that I had better get back to the States to retrieve my sense of humor….. This couple is from Sacramento and were on a Wilhelm Tell pilgrimage since he said he is descended from the Tell family. Hmmm….. We told him that was very interesting.

All cantons now accounted for!


2 thoughts on “Uri and Wilhelm Tell

  1. This doesn’t have to do with William Tell, but you can order Swiss Laderach chocolates from Cocoabella in San Francisco.

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