4 Famous Dead Folks Who Absolutely Have Not Rested In Peace
After a long life positively full of appointments, events and obligations, you’d have to hope that once you shuffle off this mortal coil, you’ll be given the courtesy of peace. Once you utter your final, eternal honk-shoo, your body will finally be at eternal rest — at least until the worms get to you. Your formaldehyde-filled, aesthetically stapled and sewed corpse is set aside until such a day as a civilization, millennia into the future, digs you up while building a hovercar parking lot.
Unfortunately, especially for the more notable among us, the closing of a coffin lid isn’t always as final as you probably would have preferred. Whether it’s grave robbers, scientists or the crew of some ghoulish Discovery show, there’s a non-zero chance you’ll eventually have your cold one cracked open.
Here are four famous (and famously dead) people who haven’t exactly had a relaxing permanent retirement…
Lincoln, known for his honesty, the abolition of slavery and getting his head Swiss-cheesed in the middle of a play, spent barely a decade underground before someone tried to dig his body back up. In 1876, he was the target of what sounds like the plot of a grosser version of National Treasure: stealing the decaying body of an ex-president. It wasn’t because there was some sort of secret map tattooed on his back, Prison Break style, or because of anything of particular value he was buried with either.
The plan here was to steal Lincoln’s body and hold his corpse for ransom — probably the one ransom case in history where proof-of-life is completely unnecessary. They were going to yank the lanky icon from his probably huge coffin, and demand money if the government wanted its precious piece of history back. General tip for criminals: try to avoid targeting “the federal government of the United States.” The plan went awry and the grave robbers were caught in the act. But as a precaution, Lincoln’s body was exhumed regardless, and for a while, they played a bit of a dead president shell game by moving him to different unmarked graves until finally returning him to his original burial place: This time in a steel cage under 10 feet of concrete, making Zombie Lincoln something we probably never have to worry about.
Juan Peron, president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955, is a complicated figure. He was beloved by the working class for advancing labor rights and public works (good!) but also censored the media and had dictatorial tendencies (bad!). Either way, we’re going to shove him aside for the moment to look at his wife, Eva Peron, also known (as in the Broadway show based on her life) as Evita. With a heavy hand in so many of the pro-working-class policies of her husband’s presidency, and known for her personal investment in the well-being of Argentina’s poor population, going as far as to personally hand out money to the needy, she was almost sanctified among Argentinians. That’s not just figurative language, either: They petitioned the pope to award her sainthood after her early death from cancer in 1952.
Now, let’s head three years forward to 1955, when her husband’s term as president ended. The word “ended,” here, meaning when he was overthrown and sent into exile. Not a graceful exit. With Juan done and dusted, the new leaders did have one more concern: the ability of the beloved Evita, even in death, to inspire uprisings against them. Because of this, they exhumed her body and hid it in secure military buildings — a move that totally screams confidence in your ability to rule a populace. After people showed up to pay respects at every hiding place they found, they gave up and sent her off to Italy, where her body sat until her husband, still in exile, finally managed to get her remains re-interred where they should have stayed the whole time.
As the common wisdom goes, the most common crimes are crimes of opportunity. Though it might not have fully been legally considered a “crime,” what Dr. Thomas Harvey did to Einstein’s brain after his death is definitely solidly in the realm of “not cool.” Who was Dr. Thomas Harvey? He was the pathologist who happened to be on duty for autopsies in the hospital where Einstein expired. After snapping on his gloves and walking up to the chopping block, he realized that the corpse in front of him was Einstein himself.
So what did he do? He sawed open the skull under Einstein’s famous mane, removed his brain and kept it. The rest of Einstein’s body, as he had requested, was cremated, and his son, Hans Albert, believed that the whole thing had gone into the oven. He only found out through a front-page New York Times article the next day that his “brain had been removed for scientific study.” In one of the most impressive demonstrations of “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” Harvey convinced him to retroactively grant permission for a study of his dad’s brain. You’d assume that Einstein’s brain was sent off to the world’s top doctors and scientists — you know, the kind of guys Einstein would have respected.
Nope. Harvey, who, it should be noted, was not even a neurologist, decided he could handle it. He never published anything. In 2015, Steven Levy at Wired tracked Harvey down to be like, “Hey, you have an ETA on that Einstein’s brain thing?” At which point, Harvey pulled out the brain in question. From a cardboard box. Floating in a mason jar.
So far, the bodies in question have been yanked from the earth for a variety of reasons, but at least none of them have been desecrated — arguably, Einstein’s was, but at least the guy used medical tools. Oliver Cromwell’s body, on the other hand, received a treatment that even grave robbers would consider dishonorable. Cromwell fought against King Charles I in the English Civil War, won, executed him and governed England in his stead. As you can imagine, this made Cromwell one of Charles II’s all-time least favorite guys.
Thus, after Cromwell’s death, when Charles II negotiated the end of his exile and his return to rule as monarch, Cromwell being dead wasn’t good enough for him. He ordered Cromwell’s body dug up and posthumously hung from the gallows. Then, he had Cromwell’s dead head chopped off his dead body. Do you know how pissed off you have to be to execute someone’s corpse two ways? The desecrated remains were then buried under the gallows. Well, most of them: Cromwell’s head was mounted on a spike.
Tell us how you really feel, Charles!