Weird History
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Historical Figures Whose Body Parts Went Missing for Strange Reasons

Updated June 29, 2020 642.6k views15 items

As sad as a funeral can be, a burial can also be a very comforting thing. For many, it’s simply the comforting feeling of knowing their loved ones will be at rest long after their death in an undisturbed slumber. 

As it turns out, though, the whole burial thing might not be as permanent as most would like it to be. History has been peppered with bodies both significant and insignificant being stolen, going missing, or being divvied up and spread around the world. And while many have been victims of grave robbing, historical figures who had their bodies stolen are of particular curiosity and interest. Famous people who had their bodies stolen include politicians, scientists, and entertainers. Sometimes it's their entire body, other times it's their body parts. 

Whatever the reason, the stories of historical figures whose graves were robbed are as interesting as they are scary. 

  • Albert Einstein Had His Brain Stolen in the Name of Science
    Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

    Albert Einstein might just have the most famous brain in all of history. His name has been ubiquitous with genius for generations, and most people knew the gist of his theory of relativity before they learned long division. So, it’s understandable that someone would want to get their hands on Einstein’s brain, but that doesn’t make the tale of its theft any less sordid or bizarre. Pathologist Thomas Harvey wanted to learn the secrets of Einstein’s genius, so he brain-napped the specimen and began slicing it onto hundreds of slides, most of which he then lost. Some have since been returned to their rightful place, and Harvey presumably learned that the real secret to genius was not misplacing the insanely famous body part you stole.

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  • John F. Kennedy's Brain Disappeared Without a Trace
    Photo: White House Press Office / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

    John F. Kennedy might just be one of America’s most famous presidents, and his brain was certainly at the center of his most memorable and tragic moment. Despite the drama surrounding his assassination in 1963 - and the heightened security surrounding his family and his body - his brain was somehow misplaced

    The brain disappeared sometime after his autopsy, and while nobody knows who took it or why, there has been endless theories and speculation. In fact, there’s a whole sub-genre of Kennedy conspiracy theories regarding the fate of the missing brain, including one that his brother Robert Kennedy got rid of the brain to hide JFK’s illnesses.

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  • Napoleon Bonaparte's Small Penis Was Put on Display
    Photo: Jacques-Louis David / Wikimedia Commons

    Despite common belief, the reputation Napoleon Bonaparte had for being short was a false. Napoleon was actually of average height, and his enemies were responsible for rumors to the contrary.

    But there was one body part that lived up to his tiny reputation: his penis. And after his death, his little member was passed around from person to person and put on display. His genitals somehow ended up in the hands of an Italian priest, who passed it on to a bookseller, who ended up giving it to the New York Museum of French Arts, where it was described as a “shriveled eel.” The member was eventually sold at an auction to an American urologist, and he’s kept it in hand ever since.

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  • Ludwig van Beethoven's Skull Was Shattered Into Fragments
    Photo: Joseph Karl Stieler / Wikimedia Commons

    Ludwig van Beethoven is undoubtedly one of the most famous composers of all time. It seems that after his death fate didn’t really treat him with the dignity he deserved. First, Beethoven’s skull was smashed in a botched autopsy. The pieces were glued back together and buried with his body, which was dug up 50 years later by rogue scientists who wanted to study his mental faculties. One of them, a guy who had actually known Beethoven, pocketed the skull fragments somewhere in the midst of all this, and they then passed from person to person before they were finally donated to San Jose State University’s Center for Beethoven Studies, which seems appropriate.

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