While some lives are far more remarkable than others, we're basically all the same boring lumps of scattering atoms in death. Except that some historical figures continued to have amazing adventures long after they ceased living -- or parts of them had amazing adventures, at least. For example ...
Safety deposit boxes are where you hide the kind of dark secrets alcoholism can't wash away -- your blackmail pictures, your satchel of blood diamonds, the yellowed German document with the eagle on it revealing you were once a member of the Munich bird-watching association. But perhaps the strangest things to have ever seen the inside of a bank vault must be the disembodied eyes of the father of modern physics.
Orren Jack Turner
They look like these, but with less body.
Before his death, Albert Einstein stated that he wished for his entire body to be cremated and scattered so that nerds couldn't use his grave as a shrine -- they have more important things to do. But for having been such a genius, he didn't foresee the lack of agency a corpse has when in the same room as a man with a scalpel. Because a brain like Einstein's is a terrible thing to waste, pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey removed his brain without permission, reasoning that future people could unlock what made him so smart. But while the wacky adventures of Einstein's brain have already been thoroughly logged, people tend to forget that that wasn't all that Harvey harvested. He also plucked the physicist's eyes right out of his head. Why? As a party favor for a colleague, of course.
Einstein's eyes were gifted to Dr. Henry Abrams, the physicist's former family physician and eye doctor. It was in fact Einstein who had convinced Abrams to become an ophthalmologist in the first place, and the pair had grown quite close. Abrams wanting to keep the eyes of the man who nurtured his career was only natural ... if you accept that all doctors are potential serial killers with a support system. Abrams later said: "Having his eyes means the professor's life has not ended. A part of him is still with me." His eyes, to be specific.
Little is known about the fate of the eyes, besides that they are safely bobbing around in formaldehyde somewhere inside a New Jerseyan bank vault. Rumors once floated that none other than Michael Jackson offered Abrams $5 million to obtain the peepers. All Abrams wanted was to be left alone. For a man who kept Albert Einstein's eyes in a jar, the good doctor hated the attention of the media, which he called "sleazy" for being interested in a man who kept Albert Einstein's eyes in a jar. To Abrams, Einstein's eyes were a private and intimate affair. "When you look into his eyes, you're looking into the beauties and mysteries of the world," he said in a way that makes us suspect that he has done so many, many times.
Richard III might not have been an important English King, but he was a divisive one. Some say that he was an evil hunchback who killed little princes in towers and hanged peasants just for smiling in his general direction. Others say he was a good man with a bad back who was a champion of the common man and an enemy of the people who got to write history books (and overly long plays). But there was one thing everyone could agree on: Nobody knew where he was. That was, until 2013, when the king was found six feet underneath a Citroen C5.
Only two years into his reign, King Richard III fell during the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and refused to get up. As befits a king whom no one wanted to be king, he was hurriedly buried in a sloppy grave beneath a church in Leicester. There he remained, even when the church didn't. In 1538, the buildings were demolished. Since no one gave a hoot about a Plantagenet after the Tudors took over, his grave was simply paved over until, several centuries later, Richard was believed to be somewhere underneath a county council parking lot. Maybe. Who cared? Which city dweller wouldn't pour cement over a king to get easy parking on a weekday?
Then, in 2012, the city declared it was going to search for Richard's corpse. After several months of excavating, archaeologists uncovered a skeleton bearing the same signs of scoliosis that Richard was infamous for having. After finding a Canadian furniture salesman whose ancestor was Richard's sister, a proper DNA test could be done, which identified the body's Plantagenet blood "beyond reasonable doubt" -- a revelation that must have turned a group of brilliant historians into the crowd at a Maury taping.
University of Leicester
"The tests say ... YOU ARE THE MONARCH!"
However, some historians have critiqued the discovery. They are claiming the tests are inconclusive, as Richard's grandmother had so many children that the Plantagenet DNA spread through the nobility like cold sores. So the corpse is not necessarily Richard III, but perhaps someone sharing his DNA, which in 15th-century England was basically anyone important enough not to be buried in a dung pit.
Sadly, we might truly never know which Plantagenet took a knife in the butt.
Usually, when you have a bag of monster bones, you turn them in to your local wizard for some gold. But what do you do the remains of someone so despicable that no one wants to even poke their corpse with a ten-foot stick? You desecrate it in the worst way possible: by having a bunch of med school freshmen mess around with it.
For over 30 years, the ragged bones of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele were kept in a blue bag in the back of the Sao Paulo's Legal Medical Institute. No one wished to claim the bones, and if not even your family wants to take the time to accept a FedEx package with your earthly remains in it, you know you fucked up. Dr. Daniel Munoz, the forensic pathologist who led the team that had dug up and identified the remains, felt his discovery was going to waste rattling around on a dusty shelf. But what do you do with a bunch of bones from a madman? Throw them into the ocean? Make an eldritch xylophone which can summon a lesser demon? Dr. Munoz, now the head of the legal medicine department at the University of Sao Paulo, had more poetic justice in mind: Use the remains of a man infamous for experimenting on Holocaust victims to do a little experimenting of his own.
"Wear gloves. It can't suck your soul though gloves."
In 2016, Munoz convinced the institute to let him take possession of the bones and use them in his classroom. He reasoned that letting his medical students analyze Mengele's bones was a unique forensic challenge, with so much of his life shrouded in mystery. An astute student might trace his fractured pelvis back to a motorcycle accident in Auschwitz, but can they figure out that he had a hole in his nose from untreated sinusitis? Or cuts on his teeth from razor blade surgery? Or a worn elbow from throwing so many babies off roofs?
But lecturers at the university hope that Mengele can teach these would-be doctors another valuable lesson: one of ethics. Perhaps by holding the skull of the most evil doctor to have ever lived in their hands, they are reminded how even "physicians, psychiatrists and other leading scientists were in the service of the Reich, lending their knowledge to exclude the ethnic groups classified as belonging to inferior races," said one professor. A noble effort, though probably wasted on a bunch of 22-year-olds on roughly three hours of sleep a day.
Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets, has been an inspiration to many authors, artists, and college freshman trying to look smart. Even in death, he inspired one man to record his descent into madness. Why? Because it was Whitman's brain that drove him to it.
At the turn of the previous century, a group of strange individuals calling themselves the American Anthropometric Society, also called the "Brain Club," went around collecting the brains of remarkable people, hoping they might unlock what made these lumps of gray jelly so special. Among the eminent brains were Walt Whitman's, who firmly believed in phrenology and other bumpy pseudo-science. However, in 1907, after being kept in a jar for 15 years at the University of Pennsylvania's Wistar Institute, it was reported that Whitman's brain had been dropped and, according to the five-second rule, rendered unusable. The blame was put on some hapless assistant, and the gray matter remained a stain on the institute's reputation (and its floor).
However, in 2012, it was discovered that it was in truth lead pathologist Dr. Henry Ware Cattell who saw one the greatest minds of his generation destroyed. The confession was found in his diary, which he had kept hidden inside a ledger titled Diseases Of Children (pathologists have a weird sense of normalcy).
While the diary starts out reading like the musings of a particularly boring seven-year-old, in October 1892, two weird entries occur:
Prepare specimens for path. soc. [Pathological Society of Philadelphia]
Followed the day after by:
I am a fool.
It doesn't take the greatest detective to figure out that those two entries may be related. It also happened that Whitman's jellied brain was one of the specimens Cattell was checking up on. From then on, Cattell's entries become increasingly negative, often suicidal, reading like the ramblings of a particularly troubled goth, minus the Evanescence lyrics scrawled on the sides.
Finally, Cattell is finally able to let it all out:
I am a fool, a damnable fool, with no conscious memory, or fitness for any learned position. I left Walt Whitman's brain spoil by not having the jar properly covered.
However, fearing his reputation would be forever ruined, Cattell could do nothing except let Whitman's brain slowly rot for years, hoping no one would find out, until he finally bribed or tricked an assistant into taking the blame.
We wonder what Napoleon Bonaparte wanted his legacy to be. Did he want to be remembered most for his social reforms? His military victories? His daring taste in hats? Whatever the case, he probably didn't expect that his manhood would be remembered for being the butt of every small penis joke for centuries.
When Napoleon died in exile on St. Helena island, his doctor decided that at least a part of his emperor should return home. So when the British weren't looking, he removed what was presumably the easiest organ to quickly scalpel off: the penis. He then handed the thing over to a priest to smuggle back to Corsica. On his return, the priest quickly died in a blood feud (or as Corsicans call it, "natural causes"), but his family took hold of the penis (tee-hee) until 1916, when a British collector got his hands on it. A few years later, the penis slipped across the ocean, finding itself exposed in the Pennsylvanian Museum of French Art. And no matter how boastful you can be, none of us can ever claim their penis belongs in an art museum.
Not that the exposure did Napoleon's penis any favors. A 100-year-old dick dried out in the Corsican air is not a penis at its prime. Audiences roundly mocked the tiny penis, which would have given any man a Napoleon complex. It was called a "piece of leather," a "piece of jerky," or even a "shriveled eel." Even Time had a go, calling it a "maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace." That's a rough review.
It's so barely a penis that YouTube doesn't censor it.
After half a century of mocking, the penis was snatched up by Dr. John Lattimer, a New Jersey urologist and "perhaps the leading collector in the U.S. of strange relics." But Dr. Lattimer didn't want Napoleon's penis just for his pleasure, but also to put an end to all the giggling. The doctor handled the penis with the respect it deserved, putting it in a briefcase and shoving it under a bed in his New Jersey home. (Seriously, what is the deal with New Jersey and improper care of corpses?) Only a handful of people have been allowed to see Napoleon's thing since. One of the latest was Tony Perrottet, author of Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years Of History Unzipped, whose reaction when seeing the little corporal was "That's it?" Which is the last thing you want to hear when whipping out a penis, even if it's someone else's.
Cedric has already added an elaborate Weekend At Bernie's scenario to his will. Until then, you can find him on Twitter.
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