Sunday, April 16, 2006

John Paul's Bones?

This month's Smithsonian Magazine asks whether the corpse disinterred in Paris in 1905, then shipped to America and reinterred in the basement of the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland, was indeed that of Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones. The article's author, Adam Goodheart, thinks DNA testing should be done to settle the matter.

Which is not to say that the folks a century ago were less than thorough.

The corpse was that of a middle-aged man, dressed in a simple linen cap, ruffled shirt and shroud, with his waist-length dark hair gathered up at the neck. In photographs at the Naval Historical Center in Washington, D.C., even the stubble on his chin is visible. One eye appears half open, as if in an eternal wink.

Under cover of darkness, the cadaver was transported to Paris’s École de Médicine, where the city’s most eminent anthropologists could examine it. They took measurements, performed dissections and, as [Ambassador Horace] Porter, his aides and family hovered anxiously, compared the body with known portraits and descriptions of Jones. (Sixty years later, the ambassador's great-nephew recalled, with a shudder, being urged to hold the corpse’s "soft and pliable" hand.) [Link]

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