1Eva Perón's body was kept on her husband's dining table
Eva (Evita) Perón was famous in her home country of Argentina and throughout the world for using her position as First Lady to improve the lives of the poor and fight for women's rights. She was asked to run as vice president for husband Juan Perón's second term, but turned down the position due to health issues. Just after Perón's second inauguration in 1952, Eva succumbed to cancer at the young age of 33.
She was immediately embalmed, but she would not be buried until over 20 years later. While her body was being prepared for a mausoleum that was being built (and was rumored to be larger than the Statue of Liberty), Juan Perón's regime was overthrown by the military and he fled to Spain.
His wife's corpse, which is said to look like a wax doll, remained with the military. They were wary of burying her, for fear her she would be labeled a martyr, and her gravesite would become a pilgrimage for the many who loved her. The body was instead kept in wooden crates and moved to different locations throughout Buenos Aires.
When it was decided that Eva was too dangerous to be kept in Argentina, she was shipped to Bonn, Germany to be buried. She was then whisked to Italy and buried under the name Maria Maggi.
In 1971, Argentina's new military leader, General Alejandro Lanusse, finally struck a deal with Juan Perón. The exiled ex-president would give his blessing to the military regime as long as Eva's body was returned to him. The deal was struck, and Perón and new wife Isabel kept Eva at their mansion, often placing her coffin on the dining table. Isabel combed the corpse's hair in daily devotion and – at Juan's request – laid inside the coffin next to Eva to absorb some of her political magic.
Juan Perón returned to power in Argentina 1973, but Eva did not come home until a year later. After he died, he was succeeded as president by Isabel.
Eva Perón finally rests in peace at the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. Her embalmed corpse is in a steel vault which is said to be able to withstand a nuclear bomb.
2Rasputin's penis is exhibited in an erotica museum after being lost for several decades
Grigori Rasputin (a one-time advisor to the Romanov family and lover of the wife of the Russian Tsar) was apparently a ladies man with a sizable male member.
There are two stories of how he was castrated after his death in 1916. The first says that his assassins castrated him, and the maid who cleaned up after them found his member discarded and kept it. It has also been claimed that one of his lady friends took it as a souvenir after his autopsy.
As it turns out, Rasputin's penis has had a rather colorful history since its separation from his body. It first surfaced in 1920s Paris, where a group of women is said to have worshiped it for fertility reasons. At that time, Rasputin's daughter Marie demanded that it be returned to her.
Recently, the Russian Museum of Erotica (opened in St. Petersburg in 2004) has been crowing about its acquisition of the infamous penis. Igor Knyazkin, the museum's director, claims that he bought it from a French antiquarian for $8,000, but the item has not been tested to see if it is, in fact, Rasputin's. The museum's member is 11 inches long, but Marie said her father's penis was 13 inches long. Some experts think the museum's acquisition is instead from a horse or bovine animal.
3Lord Horatio Nelson's body was preserved in brandy
An important lesson in tissue conservation emerged from the death of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, one of Britain's most revered military heroes.
Nelson was fatally shot at sea on Oct. 21, 1805 while leading the Royal Navy to a decisive triumph in the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars. Suspecting that a state funeral would be in order for the adored commander, William Beatty, the surgeon aboard Nelson's vessel, opted to preserve his remains for the trip back to England instead of conducting the customary burial at sea.
Nelson was prepared to die in battle. Behind his desk in the HMS Victory was his coffin, made from the mast of a French ship he had defeated at the Battle of the Nile. To preserve Nelson's corpse for the long journey back to England, his shipmates pickled their beloved leader in French brandy, then, at Gibraltar, put the coffin into a larger casket filled with more brandy.
When Lord Nelson's body arrived in London, rumor has it the casket was opened and found to be empty of brandy. The pickled body was removed and, upon inspection, it was discovered that the sailors had drilled a hole in the bottom of the casket and drank all the brandy. Thus, this tale serves as the basis for the term "Nelson's blood," which is used to describe brandy. (Variations of the story, involving different notable corpses, have been in circulation for many years.) The official record states merely that the body was placed in "refined spirits" and does not go into further detail.
Lord Nelson received a full state funeral. He was laid to rest in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral directly beneath the middle of the cathedral's great dome.
4The Mystery over Mozart's skull
In 1902, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria came into possession of what was said to be Mozart's skull. The skull was missing its lower jaw. It matched a historical record indicating that, in 1801, Vienna gravedigger Joseph Rothmayer had taken it from the group grave in which Mozart was buried upon his death in 1791 at the age of 35.
Though often said to be buried in a mass or pauper's grave, Mozart was buried with only four or five other bodies, which was a standard middle-class burial procedure in those times. According to legend, the gravedigger attached a wire to the skull so that he'd know which one was Mozart's when he came to claim it. (That he would have waited ten years to do so, however, casts some doubt on this story.)
From there, the skull passed through various hands. It belonged to a sexton, before becoming part of the phrenological collection of one Dr. Hyrtl (which, excluding Mozart's skull, would go on to become part of the Mütter Museum's skull collection). It then ended up in the hands of the Mozarteum in 1902.
In 2006, 104 years after acquiring it, the Mozarteum was planning to prove once and for all that it indeed possessed the skull of the composer. The plan was to test its DNA against the DNA of Mozart's relatives, which was taken from the thigh bones of his maternal grandmother and niece. Unfortunately, the results were disappointing.
The results suggested that not only was the skull unrelated to the Mozart family's remains, but the remains of his grandmother and niece were unrelated to each other, casting doubt on those as well. The final result was neither negative nor positive, but entirely inconclusive.
However, the skull shows evidence of a hard hit, which may be the best argument for it belong to the composer. This would be consistent with the headaches that Mozart described in his last year of life and would provide some additional explanation of his early death. But this too is ultimately speculative, and the mystery of Mozart's skull will, for the time being, remain unsolved.
5Voltaire's body was disguised so he could have a proper funeral
Voltaire, the "sparkling wit" of the new Republic was so controversial in his lifetime that he was terrified of having his bones end up in the trash, a not-infrequent fate for those who criticized the Church in the eighteenth century.
When the French author became ill, a secret plan was drawn up so that in the event of his death, his body would be propped up, and dressed grandly to look as if he was still alive. He would be driven in a "star-spangled coach" to his family estate near the Swiss border, away from any possible danger of interference. The plan was altered, however, by his nephew, who decided to drive Voltaire's corpse, denuded by an autopsy of his heart and brain, to a French monastery instead. It would be many years later that Voltaire's body would return to Paris for a grander resting place in the Pantheon.
Most believe he's still there today, although there's a rumor that royalists snuck into the Pantheon and threw his bones in the garbage after all. To put a stop to those tales, officials opened the tomb in 1897, and discovered the remains more or less intact.
6The conjoined twins whose bodies were cast facing each other and are on display in a museum
Famous conjoined identical twins Chang and Eng Bunker were held together at the chest by a small band of cartilage. While surgeons today could've easily separated the twins, 19th century doctors were unable to perform such a procedure.
After traveling around the world as an exhibition, Chang and Eng sought normal lives. They became naturalized U.S. citizens, settled on a North Carolina plantation, bought slaves, and married sisters in the early 1840s. Chang fathered 10 children, while his brother Eng outdid him by one extra, having 11 of his own.
In January 1874, Chang suddenly died in his sleep after suffering from a bout of pneumonia. Three hours later Eng passed away. Doctors initially surmised Eng had died from fright, but after further examination of their bodies, it was discovered that the brothers had shared an artery and blood vessels. Thus, Eng may have died from blood loss. Before dying, he asked that the dead body of his brother be pulled closer to him.
Once they were both confirmed dead, the bodies were sent to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia to be dissected, studied, and photographed. Eventually, the autopsy revealed that their livers were also connected. After the exam, the bodies were cast facing each other.
The brothers are now on display in the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Livid and ghostly, the cast exists as a virtual memorial, and medical model for the two legendary figures that were Chang and Eng, the original Siamese Twins.
7Anne Boleyn's heart was preserved by her husband who had ordered her killed
Henry VIII ripped England away from Catholicism to divorce his first wife and marry the witty and sophisticated Anne Boleyn. But Henry, desperate for a male heir, thought the marriage cursed after Anne produced only a daughter and had multiple miscarriages. The king accused her of having affairs with commoners and even her own brother.
Anne Boleyn was arrested and beheaded at the Tower of London in 1536. Legend has it that on the orders of King Henry, her heart was torn out. Allegedly, Henry kept it in a heart-shaped casket in a church alcove in Suffolk until it was rediscovered in 1836 and reburied underneath the church's organ.
8Einsten's brain was preserved in a jar at his doctor's office
On April 17, 1955, the greatest scientist of his generation checked himself into Princeton Hospital due to chest pains. By early the next morning, Albert Einstein had died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
While word was still getting out that the great Dr. Einstein had passed away at the age of 76, something rather disturbing was happening at the hospital if not downright nefarious. Einstein's brain, the keeper of one of the world's greatest intellects, had been stolen. And that is just the beginning of the story.
Dr. Thomas Stolz Harvey was the pathologist on call during the early morning hours of April 18th and was the doctor assigned to attend to Einstein. He began the autopsy he claimed he was given permission to do. After determining the cause of death, Harvey went about removing, measuring, and weighing Einstein's brain. He would later say that he “knew we had permission to do an autopsy, and I assumed that we were going to study the brain.” To this day, no paperwork or any other record of permission prior to the autopsy has ever been found.
After all the calculations had been done, Dr. Harvey interjected and immersed the brain in formaldehyde. After he was done, he took Einstein's eyes out, which were later given to Einstein's eye doctor Henry Adams. (Rumors still abound that the eyes are in a safe deposit box somewhere in New York City). Finally, he returned the rest of the body to be cremated.
The removal of the brain and eyes were against Einstein's final wishes. He wanted to be cremated whole, and his ashes scattered in secret, in order to “discourage idolaters.” Not only was the dissection against Einstein's personal wishes, Harvey had no legal nor medical right for keeping the brain.
Harvey was eventually granted permission by Einstein's son, Hans Albert, after promising that his father's mind would be used for careful scientific study and the findings published in legitimate medical journals. When the New York Times printed Einstein's obituary on April 20th, it said that Dr. Harvey performed the autopsy “with the permission of the scientist's son." It made no mention that this permission came after the fact.
Dr. Harvey kept the brain a jar in his home office until he was fired from Princeton Hospital. He then took it with him. He went to the University of Pennsylvania, and with the help of a technician, cut the organ up into a thousand slides and 240 blocks. He put them in squares of celluloid and gave most of them away. Harvey kept the remainder of Albert Einstein's brain in two formalin-filled glass jars for himself.
Thomas Harvey passed away in 2007, but before he did, he donated the brain to the Princeton Hospital, the same place that it began its journey over fifty years prior. Public interest once again increased and researchers, who had received slides of Einstein's brain over the years, sent them back to Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania (where they were originally cut).
Today, the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia is the only place in the world one can currently see pieces of Einstein's brain – on slides, stained, and with handwritten notes from Thomas Harvey.
9Galileo's stolen fingers resurface in a jar 300 years later
In 2009, two fingers cut from the hand of Italian astronomer Galileo nearly 300 years before were rediscovered more than a century after they were last seen. They were purchased at an auction by a person who suspected what they were, and brought them to the Museum of the History of Science in Florence, museum director Paolo Galluzzi said.
Three fingers were cut from Galileo's hand in March 1737 when his body was moved from a temporary monument to its final resting place. The last tooth remaining in his lower jaw was also taken, Galluzzi said. Two of the fingers and the tooth ended up in a sealed glass jar that disappeared sometime after 1905.
There had been no trace of them for more than 100 years until the person who bought them at auction came to the museum in 2009.
The jar matches the description "in every minute detail," but by the time the urn went on sale, the label identifying what was inside had been lost, so the sellers and the auctioneer did not realize its significance.
The museum has had the third Galileo finger since 1927, so the digits were reunited for the first time in centuries. The people who cut off his fingers essentially considered him a secular saint and the fingers that were removed were the ones he would have used to hold a pen.