6 Famous Dead People Whose Corpses Couldn't Catch A Break
Once we slip beyond the bonds of mortality, we generally hope that our corpses are treated with a measure of respect -- if not out of reverence for the people we were, then at least to prevent potential hauntings (some of us are very petty and would definitely haunt). But some well-known dead folks weren't so lucky. They just had to sit there in that great spectral Denny's called Limbo while their corpses were mocked, defiled, or turned into hilarious puppets. Like ...
College Students Used Jeremy Bentham's Head For Pranks
Jeremy Bentham was an Enlightenment philosopher best remembered for the theory of Utilitarianism and naming his cat the Reverend Sir John Langbourne. One of those is obviously far more important than the other, though which that might be is entirely up to you (it's the latter). He was a man of strong convictions and foresight, so when he decided that his taxidermied corpse should be put on display in a wooden box at a local university, his insane wishes were followed to the letter.
But instead of being treated like a dignified decaying statue that would inspire students and teachers alike, Bentham became the world's most morbid college mascot. His remains were preserved and displayed sitting down in a wooden case called an "auto-icon." His head, however, wound up looking too ghoulish to keep atop his body, so it was replaced with a creepy wax replica, while the real head was plopped on the floor.
And that wasn't the greatest indignity zombie Bentham had to endure. During his undead tenure at University College London, students began a long and storied tradition of stealing his noggin and taking it on disrespectful adventures. Some used it to play soccer on the quad. Others carried it all the way to a train station in Aberdeen, Scotland, where it was found stuffed in a luggage locker. And like any school pet, Benthy's head was once kidnapped by a rival, King's College London (Go Royals!) and held for ransom.
School administrators eventually had to hide the head in an undisclosed location for fear of theft and possible hackeysacking.
Pompeii's Unluckiest Victim Got Turned Into A Meme
Some people can't catch a break, but they sure can catch a rock to the head. Like this poor Pompeiian, who was uncovered in the ruins left by the devastating Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE.
Further analysis revealed that before the blast, the man had caught a bone infection in his legs which caused him to limp -- a pretty bad thing to happen right before you have to run away from a wave of lava. Yet despite this handicap, he survived the initial eruption and managed to limp toward relative safety. Then, as if Death itself was creatively solving a clerical error, the man was swiftly and violently curb-stomped by a massive chunk of rock, which historians believe had served previously as a doorjamb.
Seconds after the news was posted on social media, the unluckiest man in history became the biggest meme of the day, with a horde of people spending the entire news cycle dunking on him harder than that rock ever did.
Ancient Roman Man does not understand that reference.
Queen Catherine Of Valois Was Molested 230 Years After Her Death
You may not know who Catherine of Valois is, but you know her offspring -- the Tudor dynasty, which reigned over England for over a century. After her death, she was buried in full royal regalia in an alabaster tomb. Until King Henry VII, who regarded his cheating grandmother's monument as a potential PR disaster, had the tomb destroyed.
But his scheme backfired. During demolition, the lid popped off, revealing Catherine's corpse, which was preserved miraculously well. So the clergy, knowing a tourist trap when they saw one, laid her embalmed body in a state so that people from all over could come and gaze at the OG sleeping beauty.
For generations, Catherine's corpse was a famed tourist attraction, drawing crowds from all over England. One of her visitors was Samuel Pepys, history's most famous diarist / annoying social media guy, who kept detailed records of the day-to-day life in Restoration London from 1660 to 1669. In '69, he wrote about visiting the late queen on his birthday so he could fulfill his lifelong wish: getting to first base with a corpse.
Pepys had arranged to view the dead queen in private with just his wife and kids, all so he could get it on with the body. Having bribed the guard, he approached Catherine and ... well, we'll let him tell you:
Oddly enough, he didn't record his wife and kids' reaction to this birthday necrophilia, or whether there was cake afterward.
Alistair Cooke's Cancerous Bones Were Stolen And Turned Into Medical Implants
In case newspapers and television no longer exist when you're reading this (we want to say ... late 2019?), you may not know how big Alistair Cooke was. A famed 20th-century journalist and radio presenter, he's perhaps best-known for hosting PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, the classiest thing on American TV until Jean-Luc Picard came along. Cooke worked himself to the bone trying to educate people, retiring only years before his death at the blessed age of 95.
Cooke's remains were placed in a small funeral home until he was cremated and his family scattered his ashes. But what they didn't know until much later was that not all of the celebrated journalist had gotten back to them. Cooke's corpse had become the target of a large New York criminal gang that traded in stolen body parts. So while awaiting his final resting place, disgraced dentist turned funeral director Michael Mastromarino surgically removed most of Cooke's skeleton. And while the rest of him was cremated, his scraps were sold to a shady firm that turned stolen bones into dental and orthopedic transplants.
It's probably the time to mention that Cooke had died of horrible lung cancer -- the kind that had seeped into his bones, making them dangerously unsafe for transplants. Mastromarino knew this, so to be safe, he forged Cooke's death records so he could still make money off the tainted bones. By the time the cops grabbed Mastromarino and several other crooked funeral directors, they'd made millions off of stolen corpse parts, having put over 20,000 transplant recipients at risk with their unscrupulous bulk bone trading. Mastromarino spent the rest of his life in prison, no doubt having his dreams haunted by classy skeletons.
Brahms And Strauss Had Their Teeth Stolen
In 2012, police in Vienna, Austria discovered that the bodies of the great composers Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss the Younger had been dug up and partially stolen. How did they deduce this? They saw a video about it on YouTube. In the video, a man with a silly mustache calling himself the Freedom Undertaker -- later identified as certifiable weirdo Ondrej Jajcaj Jr. -- boasts about the hundreds of teeth he has liberated from decomposing bodies in Vienna's ancient cemeteries. And on a pedestal amidst the toothy procession stood his two greatest "pulls": the teeth of Brahms and Strauss.
Because he apparently did all of his grave robbing before 2002, the expiration date for his corpse abuse had already passed. Add in the fact that he's neither an Austrian citizen or resident, and the local justice system couldn't make anything stick. Jajcaj did eventually return Brahms' and Strauss' teeth, but by then, the hype machine had turned him into a grave-robbing star, and a movie is currently being made about his ghoulish heists.
A Priceless Mummy Hand Was Smuggled Into America As A Cheap Sci-Fi Prop
In 2013, Los Angeles International Airport customs officials halted a suspicious shipment of old sci-fi props being imported from France. The problem was that one of the props looked a bit too realistic, and for good reason. It turned out to be the actual hand of an Egyptian mummy dating back nearly 3,000 years. Of course, odds are that the mummy hand wasn't heading off to star in the next Indiana Jones movie, but destined for black market private collections. We'll leave it up to you to decide which is the less dignified fate.
The hand and many other ancient artifacts were recovered by agents working as part of a joint U.S.-Middle East effort tasked with repatriating historical loot, called Operation Mummy's Curse and Operation Mummy's Hand -- the coolest possible code names for missions that involve staring into buttholes with a flashlight. Thanks to their efforts, this hand and other seized relics were finally returned to the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the smugglers were arrested. They would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those meddling customs officers.
E. Reid Ross has a couple books, Nature Is The Worst: 500 Reasons You'll Never Want To Go Outside Again and Canadabis: The Canadian Weed Reader, both available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Chris Scott co-owns a bookstore in a small Midwestern town, just like in Penthouse! She is a regular contributor to Prairie Dog and Planet S Magazines.
Christian Markle is your writer waiting for your next instructions. Ping him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more, check out How Humans Will Eventually Beat Death - People Watching No. 4:
Follow us on Facebook. Because you're worth it.