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     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. (New York Times, 4/20/00)

 

     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. (From the Associated Press, 1/21/99)

 

     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. 

 

     Diego de Velásquez?
Where is the body of Diego de Velásquez--a 17th century Spanish artist?  Spanish authorities want to know because 1999 is the 400th anniversary of his birth (it's the Year of Velásquez in Spain) and a more dignified burial place is planned. 
  • Velásquez may be a mummy. A forensic anthropologist in Spain wants to take the fingerprints of a mummy found below the altar of a church to determine if the mummy might be that of Velásquez.

To perform such a comparison, researchers have had to find Velásquez's fingerprint on one of his paintings. Although they accomplished this, they have written to art museums around the world asking them to look for other fingerprints. The more fingerprint samples the researchers have, the higher the probability that the mummy is Velásquez, if matches are made.

Once the fingerprints are gathered, the next step is to exhume the body so that the mummy's fingerprints may be taken and matched. ''The results of this study will be irrefutable because fingerprint analysis is 100 percent reliable,'' researcher Jose Manuel Reverte said at a recent seminar, according the Spanish news agency Efe.

Velásquez was thought to be buried under the floor of the Church of St. John. In the 1800s the church was torn down and the bodies buried there moved to San Placido Church. The mummy thought to be Velasquez was discovered in 1994 at San Placido Church by a group restoring some of the church's art works.

Just this week, the Roman Catholic cardinal of Madrid agreed to allow the mummified body to be exhumed on 9/9/99. Initial testing will be done at the University of Madrid, though no dates for the testing have been given.

  • On the other hand, Velásquez may simply be a skeleton. He was buried with a sword, a black cape and hat in 1660. Some officials are convinced that the mummy couldn't be Velásquez, that his body must still remain in the ruins of Church of St. John, though not beneath the altar. Instead, they believe the body must have been buried in the middle nave. 

So far church excavators have found the remains of 50 people...but not Velásquez. (New York Times 9/7/99)

 

     Books about Famous Mummies

No one book has been written just about mummies of famous people, but a number of books have a good assortment. These include Christine Quigley's Modern Mummies. Suitable for ages 14-adult. 

Also worth a read is Heather Pringle's The Mummy Congress which includes a stunning chapter about Lenin's mummification (as well as other Communist attempts at mummification). Other stories are short but worthy accounts of the mummification of John Paul Jones, Jeremy Bentham, and Enrico Caruso among others.

Lenin's Embalmers by Ilya Zbarsky and Samuel Hutchinson gives the fascinating and gory details about the mummification of Lenin's body.

Harvey Rachlin has written two books that include some information about famous mummies. In Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein's Brain, Rachlin discusses 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 (yes) Einstein's brain. In Jumbo's Hide, Elvis's Ride, and the Tooth of Buddha, Rachlin tackles 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), 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 perhaps the most infamous mummy of all is profiled in Mark Svenvold's Elmer McCurdy: The Misadventures in Life and Afterlife of an American Outlaw. 

 

 

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