Top Ten Afterlife Journeys of Notable People

Why Beethoven, Galileo, Napoleon and others never truly rested in peace

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Thomas Paine

After his death in 1809, the “Common Sense” author was denied a Quaker burial in America because of his outspoken challenges to organized religion. A group of mourners, including a rebellious Quaker minister, buried Paine at his farm in New York. A decade later, William Cobbett, a former critic who’d had a change of heart, dug up Paine’s grave and took it to Liverpool, England, but he couldn’t garner support for a proper funeral. Paine’s remains rested in a trunk until after Cobbett’s death, at one point serving as a stool in a tailor shop, before it was auctioned off. In 1864, an American abolitionist tracked down a London minister who’d bragged about having Paine’s skull and hand, but it turned out the minister’s son had thrown them out. An American abolitionist returned a chunk of the author’s brain to America at the turn of the century and buried it on the grounds of Paine’s New York farm, but the rest of him remains lost.

Albert Einstein

The fascination with Albert Einstein’s high-achieving mind didn’t cease after his death in 1955. When the theoretical physicist died at age 76, Thomas Harvey, a Princeton University pathologist conducted an autopsy and, without permission, removed Einstein’s brain for further study, hoping to solve the mystery of his genius. The organ was dissected into more than 200 pieces, several of which were examined by multiple neurologists over the years, leading to studies about the great thinker’s abundance of glial cells and wider-than-normal parietal lobes. In 2011, 46 slides of Einstein’s brain went on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.

Alexander the Great

Historians agree that Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king and an Aristotle-tutored commander famous for his undefeated record in battle, rests eternally somewhere in Alexandria, Egypt, but they’re still not sure where. When Alexander died in 323 B.C. in Babylon at age 32, his body was moved to the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, where it remained for two decades until it was reburied in Alexandria, the city the young king had founded. At the end of the third century, it was moved back to Alexandria to another tomb, where it was visited by Julius Caesar, Caligula and Augustus, who accidentally knocked off Alexander’s nose when he bent down to kiss the corpse.

Vladimir Lenin

The final resting place of the Bolshevik leader, however, is no mystery, because it’s on display inside a glass coffin in Moscow, where visitors can gaze on Lenin for five minutes at a time. His embalmed body was meant to only be on display before his funeral, after which the government planned to bury him, but public outcry led to its extended stay aboveground. The wax-like corpse undergoes routine cleaning, and Lenin is changed into a new suit every three years. In a 2011 poll, Russians voted in favor of lowering Lenin into the ground, but he remains in Red Square for now.

Napoleon Bonaparte

After the former French emperor died in exile 1821 in Great Britain, 20 years would pass before his body returned to its home country. What happened next is the result of an autopsy that took one too many liberties. The doctor had allegedly removed the emperor’s genitals, and they joined some of Napoleon’s other belongings in a collection that was later auctioned in London in 1916. In 1927, the organ went on display at the Museum of French Art in New York City. It changed several collectors’ hands until the 1970s, when it was purchased by an American urologist, who kept it in a suitcase underneath his bed until he died in 2007 and his daughter inherited it.


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