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Famous Mummies


King Charles I

King Charles I of England, who was beheaded in 1648, reportedly became an accidental mummy while buried in St. George's Chapel in Windsor. In 1813, to make sure that Charles was indeed buried there, his coffin was opened. Sir Henry Halford, who was present at the examination, described what he saw when the decapitated head was removed:

The complexion of the skin was dark and discolored. The forehead and temples had lost little or nothing of their muscular substance; the cartilage of the nose was gone; but the left eye, in the first moment of exposure, was open and full, though it vanished almost immediately: and the pointed beard, so characteristic of this period of the reign of King Charles, was perfect. [The head] was quite wet, and gave a greenish-red tinge to paper and to linen which touched it. The back part of the scalp . . . had a remarkably fresh appearance. The hair was thick . . . and in appearance nearly black. . . . On the back part of the head it was not more than an inch in length and had probably been cut so short for the convenience of the executioner, or perhaps . . . to furnish memorials of the unhappy king.


Son of King Louis XVI

A DNA analysis of a dried, mummified heart has finally provided proof that Louis Charles, the 10-year-old son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (both beheaded in the French Revolution) died in prison and had not escaped from his captors.

Louis Charles, sometimes referred to as the Dauphin, was placed in Temple prison in 1793. Confined to a dark room, often without any human contact, the boy developed skin tumors and scabies. He is also said to have gone crazy before he died in 1795.

Many people hoped that the poor, young Dauphin had eluded death. Like Anastasia, Louis Charles (it was rumored) escaped. Over the years, many people claiming to he the Dauphin turned up in Europe. One man named Charles-Guillaume Naundorff fooled Dutch authorities so well that. when he died in 1845, his tombstone read that he was "the true heir to the French throne."

However, scientists have used the dead boy's mummified heart and a lock of hair from Marie Antoinette to perform a genetic comparison to put the case to rest for once and for all. Louis Charles died in prison.

And just how did the heart become mummified?

The doctor who performed the autopsy on the dead child removed the heart and took it home as a souvenir. The rest of the body was disposed of. But the doctor placed the heart in alcohol to preserve it. When the alcohol eventually evaporated, the heart dried out. Despite its condition, researchers were able to take a sample from the heart to study.


Pope John XXIII

The body of Pope John XXIII, who is credited with modernizing the Roman Catholic Church during his reign from 1958 to 1963, was not embalmed at the time of his death; instead, as the body of the Pope lay in state, it was treated with formalin. Then the body was buried in a grotto under St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

In accordance with church tradition, Pope John's body was later exhumed in preparation for moving him to a new tomb that will be more convenient and accessible to pilgrims. When the coffin was opened, the dignitaries in attendance observed the mummy of Pope John XXIII.

"None of the body had decomposed," according to Cardinal Virgilio Noe, who was the high priest of St. Peter's Basilica. "It was as if he died yesterday.... He looked tranquil. His mouth was slightly open but he was certainly tranquil. The serenity he had in life, he took with him to his death and he still had it 38 years later.... We were able to see once again the contours of a face that we all loved, the contours that not even death could erase, the same contours present in the death mask that was made."

According to Reuters, "Vatican officials have been careful not to attribute the preservation of the body directly to a miracle."

Before being placed in its new tomb, the body was "treated" by experts, though no information about the "treatment" was provided. 


Vladimir Lenin

Mummified by a secret technique shortly after his death in 1924, Vladimir Lenin's body has remained on display in a mausoleum on Red Square in Moscow.  Although his body has to be occasionally washed with a special liquid, the tell-tale signs of decomposition are setting in: only his face and hands are still visible to the public; the rest of the body is covered with a black cloth (a tell-tale sign that the body has decayed).  Even then, his fingertips have turned black and blue. 


Mata Hari

The mummified head of famous spy Mata Hari is missing from its home at the Museum of Anatomy in Paris, according to a recent inventory of the museum's holdings. Hari, convicted of spying for Germany in 1917, was executed that year. She faced a firing squad, refusing a blindfold. She also was said to have blown a kiss to the squad members before they fired. Sometime afterward, her head was removed from her body and taken to the Paris museum which houses the heads and brains of many other known criminals, among other items. Roger Saban, the museum's curator, believes that an admirer or collector somehow walked off with the famous head.


More information about famous mummies

Modern Mummies: The Preservation of the Human Body in the Twentieth Century takes readers on a trip  through the strange, weird, and, yes, sometimes gruesome world of recent mummies.Not intended for children, the text is dense (it looks more like a scholarly journal) and the photos are a bit too medical. But older teens and adults interested in the subject will truly be amazed.

Making and displaying modern mummies is a subject rarely discussed, but Quigley tackles it head on. This is far from a "politically-correct" book, but that makes it all the more intriguing. Not only does the book provide "all the details," it prompts many profound questions about the purpose, nature, and impact of death in our death-defying society.

Of particular interest is Chapter Two, which covers the mummies of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Eva Peron, Rosalia Lombardo, and Samuel P. Dinsmoor. Also included are Ho Chi Minh, Kim II Sung, and Enrico Caruso, among others. You haven't heard of them all, but Quigley gives sufficient information to satisfy the curious, plus enough details to encourage an interesting family vacation (Lucas, Kansas anyone?).



Lenin's Embalmers is one of the oddest mummy books ever published--and that makes it all the more fascinating.  

Part biography of Boris Zbarsky (one of the embalmers of Lenin's mummy), part autobiography of his son Ilya Zbarsky, and part political history of 20th Century  Soviet Union, the book is completely engaging. In spare prose, it tells the story of the laboratory created to preserve Vladimir Lenin's putrefying corpse and the work it has accomplished, often at great odds. Surprisingly, most of the scientists who worked there survived various purges over the years, perhaps because authorities were fearful that Lenin's corpse would rot. The strength of the book is in the details--the condition of the corpse, the various methods (some unsuccessful) and chemicals used for preservation, the personal and political intrigue behind the scenes, and the facts about other communist mummies...including Stalin, Georgi Dimitrov (head of the Bulgarian Communist Party), Klement Gottwald (head of the Czech Communist Party), and Ho Chi Minh. Because the laboratory has fallen out of favor since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it must seek other bodies to mummify, and the book fills in some details of recent efforts to embalm the nouveau riche of Russia. 

The book is illustrated with photos, many of the mummies themselves. The photos are relatively small and not always the best quality; however, if you want to see what Stalin or Lenin's mummy looks like, the book does provide close-up views.  Highly recommended. 



The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead includes stand-out chapters on (1) Johan Reinhard and Juanita (a critical look at what happens when then National Geographic subsidizes mummy expeditions), (2) Vladimir Lenin and his embalmers (a fascinating look at the need to make Lenin's mummy a permanent political fixture), and (3) George Gliddon, a British Egyptologist (a chilling discussion of a "scientist" who tried to prove his racist views through the study of Egyptian mummies). Along the way, she also tells a number of intriguing mini-mummy stories (Jeremy Bentham, John Paul Jones, and Enrico Caruso among others). Highly recommended!



Jumbo's Hide, Elvis's Ride, and the Tooth of Buddha: More Marvelous Tales of Historical Artifacts by Harvey Rachlin is filled with fascinating stories about historical objects and artifacts. Of course, history being the strange thing that it is...some of these stories pertain to famous mummies, since people have been preserving all types of unusual things as mementos (including themselves). Included are: Galileo's middle finger ("This is the finger with which the illustrious hand covered the heavens and indicated their immense space. It pointed to new stars with the marvelous instrument, made of glass, and revealed them to the senses. And thus it was able to reach what Titans could never attain" Tommaso Perelli, 18th Century Italian astronomer. It was cut from Galileo's corpse in 1737 and is exhibited in Florence, Italy; John Adams's pigtail (Not the president, but the last mutineer of the H.M.S. Bounty to survive on Pitcairn Island); Jumbo the Elephant (P. T. Barnum's famous elephant, which managed to earn some money after Jumbo's demise when he was stuffed and exhibited); the hoof of Fire Horse Number Twelve (Exactly what it says: the horse was racing to a fire in 1890 in Washington, D.C. when the fire engine was hit by another; the horse's hoof was severed, yet it managed to keep its pace for a half mile to the fire. It is exhibited at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.; and Able the Space Monkey (One of two rhesus monkeys first sent into space on May 28, 1959, Able was later preserved. He is now exhibited at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.). The book will give you all the details.



Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, & Einstein's Brain: The Remarkable Stories Behind the Great Objects and Artifacts of History, From Antiquity to the Modern Era also by Harvey Rachlin presents another group of interesting preserved people and objects. Included in this volume are discussions of John Paul Jones, often referred to as the Father of the American Navy (complete with photos of his mummy); philosopher Jeremy Bentham (he wanted to be a mummy, and he got his wish); Stonewall Jackson's Horse (more of a taxidermist's project than a mummy, Little Sorrel is exhibited at the Virginia Military Institute); and Einstein's brain (approximately 200 pieces of the brain exist in various locations around the world, including Lawrence, Kansas, U C at Berkeley, and Japan, Australia, and Germany.