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Where are Einstein’s eyes?: The mystery of missing body parts of famous people

Posted by mandyf on September 29, 2011

Most of the time when people die we assume they are at rest, and hopefully the spirit is. Their earthly shell, that thing we call a body, is in some cases at anything but rest. It seems like the more famous a person is the more their body is disturbed. In some cases people leave their body to science, or in many cases just a portion of their body. There have been times that people handling the body after death have taken some biological souvenirs, and other cases where people flat out rob the grave.

While the legitimate donation  of body parts is one thing, being a body part scavenger is pretty ghoulish. It’s not just random weirdos that have taken up the hobby in the past, there have been some famous people that did so as well. This is not going to dignify the disgusting nature of what was often done with bodies during the Nazi reign, but it will rather focus on what has happened to some body parts of famous people in history.

Einstein - Shown with his eyes

* Albert Einstein famously donated his brain to science,  but one of the doctors helping perform the autopsy and harvesting of the parts Einstein did authorize as allowable to be kept went a little further. He took three small pieces of Einstein’s brain and stored them in jars he kept under his sink. While that is creepy, his eyes were kept as a momento as well. It has never been disclosed if it was the same doctor that kept pieces of Einstein’s brain or not, and you would hope it is so you don’t have to worry about two ghoulish doctors, but either way it is creepy. Einstein’s eyes were actually auctioned off in 1994.

* While it has never been verified anyone actually stole Marilyn Monroe’s breasts, there is absolutely no argument that somewhere between her autopsy and arriving at the funeral home her breasts were damaged. It was severe enough that a makeup artist had to create falsies for her. Oddly enough, the sixth toe on her one foot was still in place which either didn’t seem like a good item to harvest or was unknown to the alleged perpetrator. Otherwise, Marilyn was left fully intact.

* A fan of Elvis Presley was so obsessively in love with him that she actually tried to steal his body from the grave. While the unnamed Georgia woman didn’t make off with The King, she did shave off one of his moles as a keepsake.

* Franz Josef Haydn who wrote the “Surprise Symphony” found no rest after death either. A phrenologist which is a person that studies bums on heads, for what that is worth, robbed Haydn’s grave and predictably stole his head. He wanted to locate the “faculty of music.” Evidently he never discovered and the head began making the rounds. Allegedly it was displayed as a part of a sideshow briefly but that remains unconfirmed although possible. It was then transferred to a woman that supposedly kept it in her home in a glass case and took it out when she hosted musical soirees. What is known for sure is that eventually someone caught wind of it, the head was seized, verified as best as possible to belong to the headless corpse of Haydn, and reunited after over 150 years of separation that ended in 1954.

* Sir Walter Scott whom was a rather famous novelist somehow got his hands on a cervical vertebrae stolen from the corpse of King Charles I. As the story goes, he had it made into a salt shaker. When he had dinner guests, he would often wait for everyone at the table to finish using it before letting them in on the fact that they were seasoning their meal with salt that came out of a body part for his amusement. There is no word on how people really reacted or how many meals went unfinished.

* William Burke was a notorious grave robber in the 1800’s making up one half of the duo Burke & Hare. Burke & Hare primarily robbed graves for body parts at least- all allegedly to go to surgeons that wanted to dissect them. The problem is, according to history, surgeons sometimes wanted to work with something a little “fresher.” Those ‘fresher” parts fetched bigger prices, which led to Burke & Hare turning to murder – 16 of them at the least.

Eventually Burke was brought to justice in 1829 and hanged for his crimes because even though grave robbing is ugly, murder was not going to be overlooked and swinging justice was all the rage. When he was cut down from his noose, the exact thing he had been doing to others happened to him – people started harvesting his body. Charles Dickens purchased and used a swatch of skin from Burke’s body as a bookmarker.

While it may seem incredible and is surely pretty disgusting, people have been known to do some pretty weird things. Centuries ago such practice was not really that unusual in some areas of the world. Even today the practice still goes on, just not anywhere near the level it had in the 1800’s for instance when bodies were in high demand for medical students and doctors trying to carry out research. Still…it is just a bit too creepy.


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