6 Interesting Adventures Of History’s Most Famous Corpses

Published November 2, 2014
Updated October 6, 2019

Sometimes, our best travels happen after we die. These famous corpses exemplify just that.

As depressing as it is to ponder, when death comes to pass, our physical forms will still inhabit this world for a time – and at this point, they become someone else’s responsibility.

What happens when you’re not around to look after yourself? A book by Bess Lovejoy recounts some wild stories surrounding some notable corpses – or pieces thereof. Ranging from humorous to disturbing, these famous historical figures may have had more adventures dead than alive.

History’s Most Famous Corpses: Napoleon Bonaparte

Famous Corpses

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is widely known for many things, one of which being his rather small stature. This “petite-ness” apparently extended to other parts of his anatomy, and while performing Mr. Bonaparte’s autopsy, the doctor inexplicably decided to sever the deceased ruler’s penis – and gifted it to a priest in Corsica.

Napoleon’s famous body part has changed hands several times since its removal and currently belongs to Evan Lattimer, who inherited it from her father who was a urologist. A recent documentary revealed that in life, Napoleon’s penis was a mere 1.5 inches long. Not being preserved properly over the years, the royal member has been said to resemble leather, a shriveled eel, or even a piece of jerky.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was unquestionably one of the most brilliant minds of any generation. So it may not surprise you that the doctor who performed Einstein’s autopsy removed this famously well-utilized brain. Once removed, pathologist Thomas Stoltz Harvey cut the brain up into pieces in his lab for study. Some of the pieces he kept for himself, but others went on a road trip and ended up in the hands of several of the world’s leading pathologists.

OK, that doesn’t seem that bizarre, but Harvey also removed Einstein’s eyes and gave them to Henry Abrams, Einstein’s ophthalmologist. Put differently, the peepers of one of the world’s most famous scientists are still secreted away in a safe deposit box somewhere in New York City.

Mata Hari

Famous Corpses Mata Hari

Mata Hari was the stage name of Dutch-born Margaretha Zelle, who became one of Paris’ most popular exotic dancers. It is thought that in addition to her on-stage seduction acts, Mata Hari was a double agent during the early days of World War One, or what was then known as The Great War.

Upon the interception of a coded message sent by the German military, it was determined that Mata Hari was working as a spy for the Germans. She was subsequently arrested and executed by firing squad on October 15th, 1917.

Since Mata Hari’s body was not claimed by family, it was used for medical studies. Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris, where it was, for a time, displayed prominently.

However, in the year 2000, archivists discovered the head had disappeared, as well as the body (which records from 1918 show had also been given to the museum). It is unknown what happened to her head or body, but they are presumed to have been missing ever since 1954 when the museum was relocated.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell Corpse

After the defeat of King Charles I in the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell had become Lord Protector and ruler of the English Commonwealth. In 1658, Cromwell died of natural causes and was given a King’s burial in Westminster Abbey.

Unfortunately, his rest would be relatively short-lived, as the royals would return to power in 1660, and King Charles II had his enemy Oliver Cromwell’s body exhumed, hung in chains, and beheaded as soon as he took the throne.

Oliver Cromwell's Head

Oliver Cromwell’s actual head.

Oliver Cromwell’s head was placed on a 20′ tall spike above Westminster Hall, where it would remain until 1685 when a strong storm broke the pole, throwing Cromwell’s head to the ground.

After that, the decapitated skull made its way through the hands of several collectors and museum owners until it was finally laid back to rest in 1960. What happened to the rest of Cromwell’s body after the post-mortem beheading is unknown.

Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin

Source: Pic Picx

As we know, Vladimir Lenin was a Russian communist revolutionary, politician and political theorist. Historian J. Arch Getty has remarked that “Lenin deserves a lot of credit for the notion that the meek can inherit the earth, that there can be a political movement based on social justice and equality”.

Upon his death in January of 1924, the Soviet leader’s body was embalmed and put on display for all to view.

Famous Corpses Lenin

Vladimir Lenin’s preserved corpse at the Lenin Tomb.

The body is still prominently displayed 90 years later and shows little signs of decomposition. Many have remarked that Mr. Lenin looks as though he is just taking a nap. Some even say that they’ve witnessed his eyelids move, or the rise and fall of his chest as if he is still breathing.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV

Source: Biography

Louis XIV holds the distinction of being the longest-reigning monarch of any major country in European history: 72 years and 110 days. Louis was king for so long, in fact, that upon his death he was succeeded by his five-year-old great-grandson because all of his other heirs were already dead.

William Buckland

William Buckland; eater of hearts.

Nearly 100 years later is when Louis’ story becomes one of the strangest of all time. Victorian geologist and zoophagous William Buckland was shown the heart of Louis XIV at a dinner. Quick moment of clarity: Buckland also aspired to nibble on every creature in the world.

The monarch’s heart was being passed around in a small silver coffin when it is reported that Buckland very matter-of-factly stated, “I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before.”

Before any of the other gathered guests could stop him, he quickly consumed Louis’ heart. It was conveniently bite-sized (about the size of a walnut) due to the passage of years and the preservation process.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Kelly, Erin. "6 Interesting Adventures Of History’s Most Famous Corpses." AllThatsInteresting.com, November 2, 2014, https://allthatsinteresting.com/famous-corpses. Accessed June 14, 2024.