John Wilkes Booth’s Neck Bones
John Wilkes Booth might have been a successful assassin, but he was a largely ineffectual escape artist. Just 12 days after murdering President Abraham Lincoln, Booth was shot in the back of the neck and killed. His body was (eventually) buried in an unmarked grave at Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery. His third, fourth, and fifth vertebrae, however, were removed during the autopsy so investigators could access the bullet. For a peek at those bits of Booth’s spinal column, just check out the display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.
Before he died, über-genius Albert Einstein considered donating his body to science. Unfortunately, he never put his wishes in writing. When he passed away in 1955, Einstein’s family and friends made plans to cremate him, but the pathologist who performed the autopsy, Dr. Thomas Harvey, had a different idea. Instead, he opted to remove the math man’s brain and then tell the family about it. For 30-some years, Harvey had Al’s gray matter tucked away in his Wichita home in two Mason jars. Naturally, Einstein’s loved ones weren’t thrilled when they found out, but they eventually allowed the misappropriated mind to be sliced into 240 sections and disbursed to researchers for examination. Today, many of the cerebral sections remain in scientific institutions, with the bulk held at Princeton Hospital. As for Einstein’s body, that was cremated and scattered in a secret location.
Dan Sickles’ Leg.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, Major General Daniel Sickles was sitting on his horse when a cannonball hit his right leg and almost tore the thing off. Though reportedly so unfazed by the event that he smoked a cigar en route to the medical tent, Sickles’ leg had to be amputated. The nonplussed Sickles saved his detached limb and later donated it to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. He even found a convenient use for the extremity: picking up chicks. Apparently, Sickles would bring ladyfriends to the museum when he wanted to impress them with his tales of bravery. The rest of Sickles was buried at Arlington National Cemetery after his passing in 1914.
"Stonewall" Jackson’s Arm.
Confederate general Thomas Jackson got his nickname by sitting astride his horse "like a stone wall" while bullets whizzed around him during the Civil War. But that kind of bravery (or foolhardiness) didn’t serve him well. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson was accidentally shot in the arm by one of his own men. Said arm had to be amputated, and afterward, it was buried in the nearby Virginia town of Ellwood. Only eight days later, Stonewall was stone-cold dead of pneumonia. The rest of his body is resting in peace in Lexington, Va.
Saint Francis Xavier’s Hand.
Francis Xavier was a saint with a few too many fans. In the early 16th century, the Spanish missionary was sent to Asia by the king of Portugal to convert as many souls to Christianity as possible. Turns out, he was pretty good at the job. Francis Xavier became wildly popular, and after his death in 1552, so did his relics. In fact, demand out-fueled supply. Throughout several years and multiple exhumations, his body was whittled away. Today, half his left hand is in Cochin, India, while the other half is in Malacca, Malaysia. One of his arms resides in Rome, and various other cities lay claim to his internal organs. The leftovers? They went to Goa, India.
Saint Catherine of Siena’s Finger.
Ever think you’re going to pieces? Saint Catherine feels your pain. After the holy woman died in 1380, her body became an object of veneration. Pilgrims believed touching her miraculously unrotted flesh could heal illnesses and bring them closer to God, so they flocked to visit the body from all over Europe. Eventually, the Catholic Church laid Catherine to rest - part of her, at least. Before she was buried, one of her followers removed a finger (along with a few teeth and other various and sundry body parts). Meanwhile Pope Urban VI got a similar idea and took her head. Today, both finger and head are on display at San Domenico Church in Siena, Italy. The rest of her is beneath the main altar at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Church in Rome.
Exiled emperor Napoleon Bonaparte died on May 5, 1821. The following day, doctors conducted an autopsy, which was reportedly witnessed by many people, including a priest named Ange Vignali. Though the body was said to be largely intact at the time of the undertaking, it seems the priest took home a souvenir. In 1916, Vignali’s heirs sold a collection of Napoleonic artifacts, including what they claim to be the emperor’s penis. While no one knows for sure if it really is Napoleon’s, uh, manhood, people have paid good money for the penis. Currently, it’s in the possession of an American urologist.
Oliver Cromwell’s Head
Oliver Cromwell, the straight-laced Puritan who usurped the English throne, wasn’t exactly a wild man. His head, however, was sometimes the life of the party. Cromwell died in 1658, but two years later, the reinstated English monarchy exhumed, tried, and hanged his body, then dumped it in an unmarked grave. In addition, as a warning to would-be killers, his head was placed on a pike in Westminster Hall, where it remained for 20 years. After a subsequent sting in a small museum, it was sold in 1814 to a man named Josiah Henry Wilkinson (perhaps looking to parade it around as an exceptionally gruesome ice-breaker at parties). Such was the ironic afterlife of the Puritan until 1960, when his head was finally laid to rest in a chapel in Cambridge.
Sarah Bernhardt’s Leg.
Ever tell an actor to "break a leg"? Be careful what you wish for. In 1905, the Divine Sarah injured her knee performing the last scene of the play "La Tosca." Sadly, the injury never healed. By 1916, gangrene had set in and the leg had to be amputated. Afterward, she continued to perform, sticking to roles that allowed her to remain seated. According to legend, circus mastermind P.T. Barnum offered Bernhardt a hefty chunk of change for the amputated leg, but she turned him down. The true whereabouts of the appendage remain a mystery.
Thomas Hardy’s Heart.
In his will, English novelist Thomas Hardy specifically requested to be buried with his beloved first wife. His friends, however, didn’t think this was good enough for the author and lobbied to have him buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey instead. An ugly fight between Hardy fans and family ensued, until they reached a compromise. The author’s heart was removed and buried with his wife; his ashes were preserved in a bronze urn inside the Abbey. There’s also a long-running (but unsubstantiated) rumor that Hardy’s sister’s cat snatched the heart of a table, and that a pig’s heart had to be substituted for the burial ceremony.