KPAC Blog: Book Review
2:10 pm
Thu March 28, 2013

Life After Death With Bess Lovejoy's New Book About The Fates Of Famous Corpses

I don't know what it says about me, but when a new book was sent to TPR called "Rest in Pieces," I was deemed the person to review it.

I have been in love with spooky stuff since I was about four and my horror movie collection is huge, but I think of myself as a fairly regular fellow. If you are lucky enough to read, retain and enjoy disturbing and arcane facts, this book is for you.

Researched and written by Bess Lovejoy, "Rest in Pieces" has fascinating facts that are sure to amuse you and make you the "life" of most parties. We can pretend all we want, but death awaits everyone and we, the only animal on earth that knows we are mortal, can't help but be fearfully curious about what will happen to us after our last breath.

The book is broken into parts: Saints and Sinners, Science and Medicine, Crime and Punishment, Body Politics... and ends with Last Wishes. In each chapter learn about extraordinary persons whose personal and interesting events didn't end with their funeral - but continued on into history like outlaw Ned Kelly.

This book also explores much about our human needs throughout history and how body parts have been used to teach, as curiosities, found empires or build a cathedral around.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The moving end of Mozart's life is replayed in the film "Amadeus," where, on orders of the emperor to save wood, the everyday Viennese were buried in a mass grave that was dug up and recycled every ten years.

Lovejoy relays the story of a loving sexton who made sure that he would find the composer's body when the time came by wrapping a wire around the composer's neck. When that part of the graveyard was dug up he found and preserved Mozart's skull.

When he grew old he passed it on to the current sexton who passed it on to music critic Jacob Hyrtl. So where is the skull now?

It was said that the composer's cranium was on display at the Mozarteum in Salzburg until the early 1950s, but was removed because of the stories of museum goers moved to tears or screaming at the sight of Mozart's poor skull sitting like another exhibit in a museum dedicated to his life and music.

I don't think Percy Grainger would have had problems with this. In setting up his museum in Melbourne, the composer wanted his fully articulated skeleton displayed in the foyer of the building to "greet" those coming in.

The "complete' Haydn

The great Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn lost a body part to the then growing craze of phrenology, where a peerson's talent was thought to be as clear as the shape and bumps on their skull.

Joseph Carl Rosenbaum, a friend of the composer, was a budding phrenologist and determined to collect the great musician's head. This plan was aided by the ongoing war with the French. If Haydn died before or after the conflict there would have been a great state funeral, but considering what was going on at the time the composer's final resting place was a modest cemetery where Rosenbaum already collected another trophy.

The head secured, it was loving cleaned and place in an ornate box with a golden lyre on top. The adventures of the head were not over, as Haydn's old boss, Prince Esterhazy, entered the picture and had to have a complete Haydn.

So many bodies (stories)

There are plenty of stories about non-musicians and their adventures in the afterlife, like what happened to Scottish sailor and American Revolutionary John Paul Jones, who got pickled, why American satirist Dorothy Parker is buried at the NAACP's Baltimore headquarters, and the truth about a significant fragment of the mad Russian Monk, Rasputin.

The book is also attractive, its shape and color reminiscent of an inexpensive coffin and the illustrations by Mark Stutzman recall the artwork of Edward Gorey, putting the reader in the correct frame of mind.

I definitely recommend this book.

Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy

Published by Simon and Schuster

ISBN 978-1-4516-5498-1