- Hair, bladders, and severed genitals, oh my!
When famous people are alive, we want to see them. After they die, we apparently want to keep seeing them.
That must be why so many dismembered body parts of celebrities and other famous people have been on public display. And that’s not a form of entertainment that has died off — many of them still remain encased in glass for a curious public to gawk at.
Here are seven examples of famous or infamous people whose remains have had the dubious honor of becoming public spectacles.
1. Mata Hari’s Head
Mata Hari is quite possibly history’s most famous real spy. Or at least what French authorities accused her of being when she was sentenced to death in 1917 for allegedly spying for Germany during WWI.
Since-declassified documents show that the charges were false, but the exotic dancer was shot nonetheless. After nobody claimed her corpse, it was donated to the Museum of Anatomy in Paris.
There, conservationists lobbed off Ms. Hari’s head and encased it in wax. The head drew crowds during many crime-related exhibitions at the museum.
But in 2000, upon reviewing its collection, the museum noticed that the head had disappeared. To this day, we don’t know who stole it or where it is.
2. Sarah Baartman’s Genitals
It’s no secret that Europeans didn’t treat Africans particularly well in the past. But Sarah Baartman suffered a humiliation that continued after her death.
The Khoekhoe woman, born in South Africa in 1789, had a condition called steatopygia, which gave her an overabundance of junk in her trunk. Due to her large buttocks, she was shipped off to England in 1810 to be displayed at freak shows.
Even at the time, some people claimed she was essentially a slave. But during a court case, her “managers” produced a work contract Baartman had signed — which was curious considering she was illiterate.
After she died, Baartman’s genitals went on display at the Paris Museum of Man. Finally, in 2002, her remains went back to South Africa where she received a proper burial.
3. George Washington’s Hair
George Washington, the father of the American nation, was undoubtedly a great man. But the reverence he receives sometimes crosses into a kind of creepy territory.
Case in point, in the collections of Mount Vernon — Washington’s old home estate — are more than 50 locks of Washington’s hair. You can go and see them at the museum if you want to see the strands.
Granted, keeping a lock of a close friend’s hair as a memento was a rather common habit in Washington’s time. That explains the abundance of hair the greatest Founding Father left behind.
And there’s probably more of it somewhere in the country.
4. Albert Einstein’s Brain
Einstein is likely the most famous brainiac who ever lived. So, it makes sense his brain is on display — although the man himself didn’t want it.
He asked to be cremated after his death to prevent a cult of personality from forming around him. But pathologist Thomas Harvey blatantly stole Einstein’s brain (and eyeballs) in 1955 during his autopsy.
Einstein’s family finally allowed Harvey to keep the brain on the condition that it was used for science. To this end, the brain was sliced into 1,000 pieces and sent to doctors and pathologists around the world.
Some of those slices have since been donated to museums. For example, the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland holds 350 slices of Einstein’s brain.
5. Lazzari Spallanzani’s Bladder
Italian biologist Lazzari Spallanzani may not be as famous as Einstein, but he was a respectable man of science nonetheless. He proved that sexual reproduction required a sperm and an egg, performed the first successful artificial insemination, and laid the groundwork for what would become the modern theory of microbial sterilization.
All this means that it’s Spallanzani’s brain that’s on display, right? Nope. It’s his bladder.
Unfortunately for him, Spallanzani developed bladder cancer which eventually claimed his life. His colleagues wanted to honor him after his death — so they preserved the bladder that killed him.
“Wow, thanks, guys,” would’ve probably been Spallanzani’s reaction.
6. Napoleon Bonaparte’s Penis
Napoleon Bonaparte was a great man. Not only was he of average height for his time, he almost took over all of Europe.
But in his pants, the man apparently was… Less great.
Napoleon’s penis was removed after his death in 1821 and spent a few decades moving between different collectors of the macabre. In 1927, it ended up on display at the Museum of French Art in New York City.
At the time, visitors described the famous member as looking like “a piece of leather or a shriveled eel.” Ouch.
The penis has since left the museum and returned to collectors. Today, its owner is the daughter of urologist John K. Lattimer — who refuses to sell it.
7. Rasputin’s Penis
Ra-Ra-Rasputin enjoys a reputation as Russia’s greatest love machine. And unlike Napoleon’s, Rasputin’s penis certainly lives up to his fame.
The faith healer and Czar’s ex-confidante’s dong sits currently in a jar at the Museum of Erotica in St. Petersburg. Although the penis has deteriorated with age, it’s still pretty darn big.
And it was even bigger in life. According to Rasputin’s daughter, his wang was 13 inches long when at rest, and even longer at attention.
We really, really don’t want to look into why she knew that.
However, it may be that the thing on display in St. Petersburg doesn’t belong to Rasputin. In fact, it’s pretty likely it’s not even human.
But, since the museum won’t let anyone test it, we can’t know for sure. At least it makes for a good story.