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Disappeared body parts of Dillinger, Capone, Napoleon, Peron, Pancho Villa, Van Buren, Geronimo

What Yale's Skull and Bones club has been up to

Dear Matthew: Although I was very interested to read your article dispelling the myth of Dillinger's penis [being on display in a medical museum in Washington], there is another “bit" of anatomy you might check into. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Napoleon’s "manhood” was one of the smallest. Is it on display somewhere? — Steve Guetersloh, San Diego

The Matthew Alice Archive of Famous Body Parts will shortly need its own building. New information has been pouring in since we first dallied with rumors of the whereabouts of Pancho Villa’s head and fictitious displays of Dillinger’s and Capone’s amputated things. Included in the deluge are some dandy tales about various items of Napoleon’s anatomy. There seems to have been a lively trade in Bonie’s parts over the years. Considering all the stuff people claim was cut off or cut out at his autopsy, it’s amazing there was anything left of the guy to bury. Naturally, his penis is among the memorabilia rumored to be still making the rounds. The story goes that Napoleon’s doctor was bribed by a Corsican chaplain (once insulted by Napoleon and bent on revenge) to remove the emperor’s nether member at autopsy and give it to him, preserved in formaldehyde. When the cleric’s estate was sold, the pickled penis went from dealer to dealer and in 1972 was placed on the auction block at Christie’s in London. It was, um, withdrawn, shall we say, when the bids weren’t high enough.

But wait. There’s more. A New York physician and Napoleon scholar, John Lattimer of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, is certain he now owns the fabled penis of Napoleon. He bought it, he says, for S4000 in a deal with the French government in 1972. It is now in the hospital’s Squire Urology Clinic, though not on public display, which the doctor seems to think would be undignified. Lattimer has been quoted as saying the relic looks like “a small, shriveled finger. But to be fair, it has been sitting in the jar for a very long time.”

The doctor admits there’s no unassailable way to prove his prize is authentic, short of uncrating Napoleon and taking a peek. But he’s satisfied that his documentation trail leads straight back to the Corsican cleric and that what he has is the real McCoy. Others consider Napoleon’s preserved penis to be the antiquarian’s version of Florida swamp land; if you’re dumb enough to buy it, you get about what you deserve.

But on to other parts. This time we travel to Argentina for the story of the theft of a bit of the late dictator Juan Peron. In July of 1987, grave robbers looted Juan’s tomb, making off with his hands. For $8 million, they’d return them, they said. No deal, countered Argentine officials. The looters never got their money, and Juan’s arms still end at the wrist. So Peron’s hands join Pancho Villa’s head in the mysterious land of the vanished body parts. Stay tuned for more Villa stories. The theft of his dome has launched some pretty bizarre rumors.

February 24 update

A quick addendum to our collection of stories about displays of body parts of famous people and also the fate of Pancho Villa’s head. Villa’s skull was stolen from his grave by persons unknown and has never been located. But there are several rumors about who did it and why. We’ve already discussed the story about his head having been preserved in a jar of formaldehyde and sent to France to be “studied.” But I’ve recently encountered another tale, this one based on the popular belief that Villa left behind a cache of gold and cash when he died. Believers in this legend swear that while being chased through northern Mexico by General Pershing, Villa buried his loot for safekeeping, then shaved his head, had a map to the treasure tattooed on his scalp, and stayed in hiding until his hair grew back. Thus, they say, the grave robbers took his skull because they were after the treasure map. The whole tale is so full of bad facts and screwy logic it’s as implausible as the head-in-the-jar scenario. But some people believe it.

If that’s not enough for you, there’s always the venerable rumor that members of the famous yet super-secretive Yale University social club Skull and Bones stole Villa’s head and now have it locked up in the clubhouse in New Haven, along with the heads of Geronimo and President Martin Van Buren. It’s likely the stories were cooked up by the frat boys themselves, rich wiseacres biding their time before moving into a vice presidency in daddy’s bank. (George Bush is a Bonesman, as was his dad, Prescott, who is sometimes said to be one of the skull snatchers.) You still hear these rumors from time to time, but I don’t think anyone takes them seriously.

But Villa is connected to a real display of a real renowned body part. Until the fall of 1989 the amputated right arm of Mexican revolutionary hero and president Alvaro Obregon was on view in a crystal urn full of formaldehyde at a monument in Mexico City. His extremity was shattered in a battle with Villa’s troops in 1915. The surgeon who removed the arm formed the hand into a fist and popped it into a jar, later enshrined on the site of Obregon’s assassination. But after 55 years, the arm was in a sorry state of decay, so after much debate it was cremated and placed in the general’s grave in Sonora.

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Dear Matthew: Although I was very interested to read your article dispelling the myth of Dillinger's penis [being on display in a medical museum in Washington], there is another “bit" of anatomy you might check into. According to the Guinness Book of Records, Napoleon’s "manhood” was one of the smallest. Is it on display somewhere? — Steve Guetersloh, San Diego

The Matthew Alice Archive of Famous Body Parts will shortly need its own building. New information has been pouring in since we first dallied with rumors of the whereabouts of Pancho Villa’s head and fictitious displays of Dillinger’s and Capone’s amputated things. Included in the deluge are some dandy tales about various items of Napoleon’s anatomy. There seems to have been a lively trade in Bonie’s parts over the years. Considering all the stuff people claim was cut off or cut out at his autopsy, it’s amazing there was anything left of the guy to bury. Naturally, his penis is among the memorabilia rumored to be still making the rounds. The story goes that Napoleon’s doctor was bribed by a Corsican chaplain (once insulted by Napoleon and bent on revenge) to remove the emperor’s nether member at autopsy and give it to him, preserved in formaldehyde. When the cleric’s estate was sold, the pickled penis went from dealer to dealer and in 1972 was placed on the auction block at Christie’s in London. It was, um, withdrawn, shall we say, when the bids weren’t high enough.

But wait. There’s more. A New York physician and Napoleon scholar, John Lattimer of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, is certain he now owns the fabled penis of Napoleon. He bought it, he says, for S4000 in a deal with the French government in 1972. It is now in the hospital’s Squire Urology Clinic, though not on public display, which the doctor seems to think would be undignified. Lattimer has been quoted as saying the relic looks like “a small, shriveled finger. But to be fair, it has been sitting in the jar for a very long time.”

The doctor admits there’s no unassailable way to prove his prize is authentic, short of uncrating Napoleon and taking a peek. But he’s satisfied that his documentation trail leads straight back to the Corsican cleric and that what he has is the real McCoy. Others consider Napoleon’s preserved penis to be the antiquarian’s version of Florida swamp land; if you’re dumb enough to buy it, you get about what you deserve.

But on to other parts. This time we travel to Argentina for the story of the theft of a bit of the late dictator Juan Peron. In July of 1987, grave robbers looted Juan’s tomb, making off with his hands. For $8 million, they’d return them, they said. No deal, countered Argentine officials. The looters never got their money, and Juan’s arms still end at the wrist. So Peron’s hands join Pancho Villa’s head in the mysterious land of the vanished body parts. Stay tuned for more Villa stories. The theft of his dome has launched some pretty bizarre rumors.

February 24 update

A quick addendum to our collection of stories about displays of body parts of famous people and also the fate of Pancho Villa’s head. Villa’s skull was stolen from his grave by persons unknown and has never been located. But there are several rumors about who did it and why. We’ve already discussed the story about his head having been preserved in a jar of formaldehyde and sent to France to be “studied.” But I’ve recently encountered another tale, this one based on the popular belief that Villa left behind a cache of gold and cash when he died. Believers in this legend swear that while being chased through northern Mexico by General Pershing, Villa buried his loot for safekeeping, then shaved his head, had a map to the treasure tattooed on his scalp, and stayed in hiding until his hair grew back. Thus, they say, the grave robbers took his skull because they were after the treasure map. The whole tale is so full of bad facts and screwy logic it’s as implausible as the head-in-the-jar scenario. But some people believe it.

If that’s not enough for you, there’s always the venerable rumor that members of the famous yet super-secretive Yale University social club Skull and Bones stole Villa’s head and now have it locked up in the clubhouse in New Haven, along with the heads of Geronimo and President Martin Van Buren. It’s likely the stories were cooked up by the frat boys themselves, rich wiseacres biding their time before moving into a vice presidency in daddy’s bank. (George Bush is a Bonesman, as was his dad, Prescott, who is sometimes said to be one of the skull snatchers.) You still hear these rumors from time to time, but I don’t think anyone takes them seriously.

But Villa is connected to a real display of a real renowned body part. Until the fall of 1989 the amputated right arm of Mexican revolutionary hero and president Alvaro Obregon was on view in a crystal urn full of formaldehyde at a monument in Mexico City. His extremity was shattered in a battle with Villa’s troops in 1915. The surgeon who removed the arm formed the hand into a fist and popped it into a jar, later enshrined on the site of Obregon’s assassination. But after 55 years, the arm was in a sorry state of decay, so after much debate it was cremated and placed in the general’s grave in Sonora.

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Comments
1

Re Napoleon's teeny-weenie, it said: ...the relic looks like “a small, shriveled finger." And that is surprising? Isn't this Napoleonic-complex common with egomaniacal leaders who express extreme narcissism and chronic prevarication? Kinda like a certain ex-President?

Oct. 12, 2021

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