For as long as I can remember, JFK has bored me. He’s one of those 60s relics like Joan Baez who has great significance for people of a certain age, but not me. Yes he was assassinated and it was tragic and shocking etc., but people were sad when Abraham Lincoln got murdered, you know? A lot of stuff has happened since then. It’s time to move on.
Or so I thought. Then this week I learned a factoid about JFK that suddenly made him seem interesting. Apparently, in October 1966, somebody stole his brain. Now, exactly why his brain was still around I’m not sure, as he’d been killed three years earlier.
Apparently it was kept in a room used by his “devoted” personal secretary. Maybe she was hoping they’d be able to clone a new JFK in the future and she’d get to work for him all over again.
But then it disappeared.
The author of a new book that has just been released to cash in on the 50th anniversary of the assassination has suggested that JFK’s brother Bobby stole the brain because… well nobody knows.
He was lonely? He wanted a really cool Halloween decoration for his house?
The author suggests he was afraid that scientists would discover JFK’s brain was diseased. Well, it was a bit late for that, given that he’d already been shot in the brain, but whatever.
Still, the fact that JFK’s brain was removed and preserved immediately grants him access to what for me is a very elite club of dead celebrities that I, respectfully, like to call “The Brain in a Jar Gang.”
I first learned about this special group many years ago, when I stumbled upon a British TV documentary about Lenin’s brain. Apparently the consensus in the USSR was that Lenin was so awesome that there just had to be something magical about his brain. So scientists cut it up into tiny slices and spent decades staring at it, along the way adding other alleged mega-brains to their collection, including Mayakovsky’s.
Eventually the scientists declared that Lenin’s brain was, in fact, just a brain and there was nothing very extraordinary about it. And yet this is not entirely true – apparently it was a very hard brain, so hard that during the autopsy the coroner tapped on its blood vessels and they made a sound like knocking on stone. Make of that what you will.
Mussolini also had his brain removed after his death in 1945. However unlike JFK and Lenin who had their brains removed by their fans, Mussolini’s was removed by his enemies. According to Time magazine:
In 1966, twenty-one years after Benito Mussolini was executed, America gave part of the former Italian dictator's brain back to his widow. In Rachele Mussolini's memoir, she writes that, to her horror, she discovered Americans had "taken away half of his brain," explaining that the Americans must have "wanted to know what makes a dictator." It turns out the US government had requested a sample of Il Duce's brain ostensibly to study it, but also as a macabre trophy.
This was, in short, the 20th century US equivalent of drinking mead from your fallen foe’s skull. A few years ago one entrepreneur put some bits of Mussolini’s brain for sale on eBay, but alas the invisible and benign hand of the free market was prevented from working its magic on the dictator’s cerebral matter as the listing was canceled.
Albert Einstein probably had the most famous brain of the 20th century, and it too was removed from his skull and then went AWOL for decades.
Einstein himself was not keen on the cult of his brain and wanted it burned with the rest of him following his death so that nobody could turn it into a fetish, in the anthropological sense. But the exact opposite happened: a pathologist named Thomas Harvey made off with the esteemed encephalon under dubious circumstances, cut it into pieces, gave some bits away, and studied the rest of it for years, before eventually returning it to hospital he’d removed it from four decades earlier.
Recently I read an article in which some scientists said they had looked at a photo of Einstein’s brain and noticed that part of it was very big, hence, perhaps his genius. Believe that if you will, but I suspect this is pseudoscience along the lines of the 19th century phrenology, mixed with ancestor worship and a secularized version of the same impulse that inspires religious cults of sacred relics. The scientific jargon is a fig leaf.
Still, at least there’s a fig leaf. The same cannot be said for poor Napoleon. Nobody wanted his brain; instead his penis was preserved upon his death and has been passed from hand to hand for two centuries.
Apparently it is small, and looks a bit like a strip of beef jerky. The last collector to purchase it was a New Jersey urologist who coughed up $3000 in 1977. He died a few years back and his daughter has since been offered at least $100,000 for the mummified member.
I think I’d rather have JFK’s brain.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”
Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.