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Missing body parts of famous people

  • Story Highlights
  • Out of curiosity, war or science, body parts kept from final grave
  • Napoleon's penis allegedly in hands of U.S. doctor
  • Saint Francis Xavier's hands spread from Asia to Europe
  • Gen. Stonewall Jackson's body buried in two Virginia towns
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By Terri Schlichenmeyer
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Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- Remember that goofy uncle of yours who always tried to impress you by "stealing your nose" or pulling the ol' separating-his-thumb-from-his-hand move? Well, those parlor tricks are nothing compared to the appendage stunts pulled by these 10 famous people.

John Wilkes Booth's neck bones

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A painting of Napoleon in His Study by Jacques-Louis-David doesn't give a hint at what body part went missing.

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.

Einstein's brain

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.

"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, Virginia.

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.

Napoleon's bits and pieces

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 stint 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. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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