A Thief Robbed George Washington's Grave (And Grabbed The Wrong Skull)
When George Washington died, the government wanted to create a final resting place for him within the US Capitol building, which was still under construction. In the rotunda, the floor would contain a permanent 10-foot hole, which would look down on a statue of Washington, which would in turn stand above his tomb. Just as England entombed kings and queens in famous chapels, America would entomb its father in a place of honor in its capital.
Obviously, Washington wanted none of that. In his will, he asked that he be buried on his own family estate. The government wanted to ignore this wish, but his family more or less said, "Let us keep the body in the family crypt for a little while, then you can move him to D.C. later." Probably, the government would forget all about it, given enough time.
So Washington's body joined other members of his family in Mount Vernon's crypt. Decades passed. In 1830, the estate was now managed by John Augustine Washington II, grandson to George's brother. John fired a gardener, whom we'll refer to as Gardener for convenience. This guy decided that he'd take revenge on his ex-employers with a bit of sacrilege: He'd break into the crypt and steal George Washington's skull.
Gardener made it to the crypt just fine, since no one guarded it, and he entered it easily, since the walls were already falling apart. He went to a body and broke off a head (let's picture him using a hatchet, or a huge pair of gardening shears). And he slipped out, escaping into the night never to be seen again. Only, he hadn't stolen George's head. He'd decapitated one of the many other bodies interred there—this one an in-law of one nephew of George's, named Blackburn—and who cares about any of those bodies.
Mount Vernon responded to the break-in by moving Washington's coffin to a new, different building. This worked out well because in 1832, Congress actually got around to requesting the man's body after all, and if it were still in that dilapidated tomb, they might have successfully argued it was safest in their hands. Later in the decade, the family moved the coffin to yet another enclosure, this one even better. They also, for the first time since the body entered it in 1799, opened the coffin to take a peek inside. The head was still there, still screwed on the neck like it always had been.
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