What do the brains of Albert Einstein, John F. Kennedy and deceased patients of the Texas state mental hospital have in common?
Brains on the side of the road? Residents of a village in New York were alarmed to discover nine brains along the street last week. An examination by a veterinarian determined the brains were most likely those of dogs or sheep, and noted that one had been professionally preserved in formaldehyde.
According to the report, “Mishaps with preserved brains are not uncommon.”
I’m sure many of you in the Cult of Weird community would agree that a spectacularly abnormal brain in a jar, or one whose neurons once fired inside the skull of a famous person, would make a great addition to the collection. But beyond that, what if you had access to a brain that could change our understanding of human consciousness? Or alter the course of world events?
Einstein’s Brain Stolen During Autopsy
If you had the opportunity to find out what made Einstein so special, could you pass it up? Pathologist Thomas Harvey decided he could not.
Harvey just happened to be on call at Princeton Hospital on April 18th, 1955 when the Nobel prize-winning physicist passed away. Einstein wanted his body cremated and scattered in a secret location. When Harvey found himself alone in the morgue with the opportunity to find out what made the genius tick, however, he decided he could not let that happen.
So Harvey stole Einstein’s brain.
He eventually obtained permission to keep it and study it, determining that it was indeed not normal.
Slices of it can be seen at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.
Brains Missing from the University of Texas
Smooth brain specimen from the University of Texas collection. Photo by Adam Voorhees.
The University of Texas State Mental Hospital was home to an extremely rare collection of unusual brains taken from deceased patients of the Austin State Hospital, formerly the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, as far back as the 1950s. When Adam Voorhees and Alex Hannaford began documenting the collection for their book Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital, they discovered many of the specimens were missing.
The university eventually released a statement that the missing brains were destroyed in 2002 during a routine disposal of biological waste.
JFK’s Missing Brain
X-ray shows bullet fragments in JFK’s brain
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. During the autopsy, his damaged brain was removed and stored in the National Archives. In 1966, it was discovered that Kennedy’s brain was missing. No one knows where it went, why it was taken, or the whereabouts of the organ today.
The fate of JFK’s brain remains a mystery.
Weird Book Club Recommended Reading
- Postcards from the Brain Museum
- Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital
- Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses