They Rest in Pieces!
From an article in the 1984 Old Farmer's Almanac
"Bury me on the hill at the foot of the flagpole," requested General "Mad Anthony" Wayne just before he died in 1796. A military funeral obliged his last wish at Fort Presque Isle in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1809, however, the Society of the Cincinnati decided to erect a monument to Wayne In his family plot at St. David's Churchyard in Radnor.
Wayne's son and a doctor friend trundled to Erie In a one horse wagon to fetch the bones. But they found the corpse almost perfectly preserved and were thus faced with a serious transportation problem: the wagon simply didn't have enough space for one supine body plus two upright ones. The practical solution, perhaps suggested by the doctor, was to condense "Mad Anthony" for the trip.
The two boiled Wayne's corpse in a cauldron, separating flesh from bones. Wayne's flesh and viscera plus the knives used were placed in the old coffin and reburied. The general's dutiful caretakers then returned to Radnor with a neat package of bones and deposited them in the plot now marked as Anthony Wayne's grave.
Although the grave at Presque Isle "had by weight the greater part of Wayne's body," wrote one Wayne biographer, that grave lay forgotten for many years. Today Erie identifies the restored Wayne Blockhouse on the spot as "Wayne's" original grave site.
The bizarre object "looked like a peanut," said the librarian in Closter, New Jersey. It wasn't a peanut. It was the great toe knuckle of John Andre, the British soldier hanged as a spy in 1780.
Closter's public library obtained its fragment of John Andre in 1976 from the descendants of David Doremus. Doremus, a carpenter, had built Andre's new coffin in 1821 for shipment of the bones to Westminster Abbey in London. But he had somehow overlooked the toe bone, and his family had locked it away for generations in a bank vault.
Future president James Buchanan had witnessed Andre's exhumation and found the bones "in perfect order." The shallow grave in Tappan, New York, was marked by a small peach tree. Its roots, said Buchanan, "completely surrounded the skull like a net."
According to local tradition, the tree had grown from a peach handed to the condemned man as he walked to the gallows; more likely one of the dashing major's American sympathizers planted it later.
One mystifying loss was the grave of Revolutionary War guerrilla fighter Ethan Allen, noted for his height, temper and loud agnosticism.
Long after his death in 1789, descendants of his Burlington, Vermont, neighbors decided to erect a worthy monument. But where? His original gravestone had disappeared from Greenmount Cemetery, and thorough excavation at the presumed site revealed no trace of big Ethan.
Failure to locate his grave confirmed an old Burlington notion that Allen's unrepentant ways had carried him straight to hell with no formality of decay. Thus the 42 foot monument that memorializes him in Greenmount today may stand in partial compensation, at least, for losing track of his long body.
Revolutionary War Naval hero John Paul Jones died in 1792, and was autopsied in 1905. Warehouses had long covered his unmarked grave in Paris when Horace Porter (a former member of Ulysses S. Grant's staff during the Civil War but then American ambassador to France) began a search in 1899.
Plunging through bureaucratic mazes and endless tangles of red tape, Porter finally obtained permission to dig. His workmen uncovered a lead coffin containing an extremely well-preserved corpse that bore a close facial likeness to Jone's life portrait. Two anthropologists also noted the distinctive ear lobe seen on the Houdon sculpture of Jones. Physicians even pinpointed the multiple causes of death -- glomerulonephritis, bronchial pneumonia, and consequent heart failure.
President Theodore Roosevelt sent a squadron of naval cruisers to escort the body home. Temporarily vaulted at Annapolis to await the pleasure of Congress, John Paul Jones "lies around all day," dittied the midshipmen at the Naval Academy there, "body pickled in alcohol on a permanent jag, they say."
Years later, in 1913, the commodore was permanently installed in a marble sarcophagus and laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.
General Daniel Morgan, the explosive sharpshooting hero of Cowpens and Morgan's Raiders, has seldom lacked for devoted memorialists.
When he died in 1802, seven members of his 1775 rifle company fired a volley over his grave in Winchester, Virginia. But the Civil War inspired fears for his tomb. Yankee soldiers, it was rumored, intended to exhume Morgan's coffin and remove it to his birthplace in New Jersey.
To prevent this, several local citizens dug up the bones one night in 1865 and, after the war, reburied them at Winchester's Mount Hebron Cemetery. The original coffin was divided among Morgan's "saviors" and handed down through generations of their families.
The story didn't end there. Although Virginia claims him as a notable son, Morgan is nowhere more revered than in South Carolina, site of his 1781 triumph over Banastre Tarleton's larger British force.
One day in 1951 a South Carolina mortician arrived at Mount Hebron Cemetery with a sheaf of documents and said he had come to remove a body -- "man by the name of Morgan." The cemetery superintendent took one look at the papers and replied in caustic heat to the effect: "Over my dead body, sir!"
The legal dispute that followed threatened to cause another war between the states -- but Virginia won, and Morgan still lies in Mount Hebron surrounded by five of his "Dutch Mess" bodyguard.
Citizen Tom Paine, a disturber of conventional thought, disappeared without a trace, though his disciples had to work hard to make it happen.
In 1819, ten years after Paine's bleak funeral in New Rochelle, New York, English journalist William Cobbett "rescued" the neglected bones and took them to England, intending to build a magnificent Paine memorial. Cobbett fell on hard times, however, being finally reduced to selling locks of hair from Paine's skull to finance his long delayed -- and finally abandoned -- scheme.
Paine's bones gathered dust in Cobbett's closet until his death in 1835, after which they surfaced a few more times before their final disappearance. It almost seemed as if history, as well as his peers, had determined to exorcise the physical presence of Tom Paine.