Human remains may be exhumed - or dug up again after burial - for many reasons. Sometimes an old burial ground is disturbed when building works occur. A criminal investigation may require that a body is exhumed for further testing. There is also illegal exhumation as performed by 'body snatchers'.
Legal exhumation needs a court order to grant permission and/or the permission of the next of kin of the deceased.
In some cultures, graves are deliberately opened again after some years. This happens in areas of Southern China such as Taiwan. The bones of their relatives are ritually dug up, cleaned, left to dry and then put into a ceramic pot to be buried elsewhere. In Vietnam, they are placed into a smaller coffin and the family take them home. If this isn't done, it's considered an act of great disrespect.
In this article, we're going to take a look at five famous people who were exhumed and then buried again. Well, six to be exact. You get two for one with Edgar Allan Poe and his wife.
Nobel prize-winning poet (July 12 1904 - September 23 1973)
Neruda died in September 1973, twelve days after the military coup of 11 September. The coup took General Augusto Pinochet into power. Neruda was close friends with former President Salvador Allende who chose to commit suicide rather than give in to Pinochet in the coup.
Neruda was known to have prostate cancer and for years after he passed, everyone simply assumed that he had died from it.
Then Manuel Araya, who had been Neruda's driver and bodyguard, started to recollect his employer's last days and new suspicions arose. Could the new Pinochet regime have got rid of Neruda - after all, he was popular, famous and not afraid to be a dissenting voice.
Araya recalled that Neruda was getting ready to go into exile in Mexico. At that point, a doctor injected him - and after this his health quickly went downhill. On Neruda's death certificate, the cause of death was noted as 'an advanced and incurable cancer leading to malnutrition and wasting away'.
The poet's estate is managed by The Pablo Neruda Foundation. They were opposed to the exhumation. Mario Carroza, the investigating judge, originally agreed with them. However, an ongoing enquiry over the last 2 years persuaded him to go ahead and allow an exhumation.
The exhumation took place on 8th April 2013. The poet's remains were taken to Santiago and tests will be carried out to establish the cause of death.
(January 8 1935 - August 16 1977)
Let's start by looking at the popular ‘misspelled gravestone’ conspiracy theory. This is where conspiracy theorists believe that Elvis is still alive and that his gravestone was deliberately misspelled to give this message to his fans. They argue that his middle name was always spelled with one A – Aron. On his gravestone it is clearly spelled Aaron.
The mistake came to light when Elvis decided to legally change his middle name to Aaron, only to find that he already had that name. So there is nothing odd about it on his gravestone. It was always his legal name.
Moved for his own protection
The fan worship refused to go away after Elvis passed. In fact, it got worse – especially as many fans simply refused to believe that their hero had gone. Sightings of Elvis started to be reported all across America. Eventually, two months after the original interment, Elvis’ body was moved to protect it from fans who were threatening to break into the crypt to see if it really contained Elvis. He was finally laid to rest in the garden at Graceland.
Lee Harvey Oswald
(October 18, 1939 - November 24, 1963)
According to the findings of four Government investigations, Lee Harvey Oswald was the man who shot and killed the 35th President John F. Kennedy, in Dallas, Texas on November 22nd 1963.
At 11.21 am, mobster and local nightclub owner Jack Ruby stepped forward and shot Oswald. The bullet tore his aorta and several organs. Oswald, who was unconscious, was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Ironically, this was the same Hospital where President Kennedy had been pronounced dead. Oswald himself was pronounced at 1.07 pm.
The conspiracy theories start...
As with Elvis Presley's death, conspiracy theories abounded. The Lee Harvey Oswald shooting spawned a raft of alternative theories as to what had actually occurred.
One prominent theorist, Michael Eddowes, didn't believe that Oswald had been shot during his transfer. He was of the opinion that a Soviet spy had taken Oswald’s place and been fatally shot.
And conspiracy theorists are nuts, right? Except that Eddowes was an English Lawyer and author. His theories came to light in his book The Oswald File.
Was it Oswald...or not?
Oswald had a mastoid operation when he was a child, which left a depression behind one of his ears and a asmall hole in his skull. Eddowes claimed that the autopsied corpse had neither of these.
Eventually, Eddowes obtained the consent of Oswald's widow and then went to the Texas courts. Permission was granted for exhumation and this was carried out in 1981. The casket had been underground for eighteen years and a leak into it had caused much damage. However, the body was positively matched as Oswald's through his dental records.
Despite the positive match, Eddowes still wouldn't believe it and clung to his Russian Spy theory until he died from a burst aneurysm in 1992.
Samuel George "Sammy" Davis Jr
(December 8 1925 - May 16 1990)
Sadly, a few weeks before he died, his whole larynx was surgically removed.
He was buried next to his father in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
Two days after he died, all the lights on the 4.2-miles of the Strip in Las Vegas were turned off for ten minutes as a tribute to one of their favorite sons.
When his wife, Altovise found out that her husband had been almost bankrupt when he died, she had him dug up so that she could reclaim the $70,000 worth of jewelry that she had buried with him.
Edgar Allan Poe and his wife Virginia Eliza Poe
both exhumed and reburied
Hours after his beloved wife had died, a grief-stricken Poe realised that he had no image to help him remember the woman he so worshippped. An artist, Felix O. C. Darley was hastily found and a watercolour portrait commissioned. Virginia's body was dressed in her finest linens and was either posed on a chair or lying down - history doesn't record which. It is thought that the artist may have used a drawing aid. The 'camera lucida' uses a mirror to superimpose the artist's model onto the surface of his paper or canvas.
The watercolour became known as 'the deathbed' portrait.
Is this an early 'photo' of Virginia?
A daguerreotype has been found which is possibly an image of Virginia. It was made in Boston in around 1845. Virginia would have been 22 or 23. The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia included the daguerreotype in an exhibition called 'Poe Revealed' in 2011 and invited visitors to decide for themselves if the image was of Virginia.
Virginia Poe dies from TB
"Many times, after the death of his beloved wife, was he found at the dead hour of a winter night, sitting beside her tomb almost frozen in the snow"
Virginia was buried in a vault in Fordham in the Bronx. This was owned by the Valentines - Poe's neighbours and friends who had rented their cottage in Fordham to the Poes.
Edgar Allan Poe dies
The plot was owned by the family and was small and overgrown and Poe didn't even have a headstone.
His cousin, Neilson, had paid for a grand one made from white Italian marble. Unfortunately, a train came of its' rails and went straight through the stonemason's yard, destroying the headstone intended for Poe.
Consequently, his grave was marked by a simple stone block, reading 'No 80'.
Together at last
In that same year, the cemetery where Virginia had been buried was destroyed and her grave was disturbed. William Gill, a biographer of Poe and a huge Poe enthusiast managed to obtain Virginia's bones. Believe it or not, her bones lay in a box under Gill's bed for ten years. He later wrote to Neilson Poe (Edgar Allan's cousin) and John Prentiss Poe and together, they brought the pitiful box of bones to Maryland to be laid to rest with those of her husband.
This finally took place on 19th January 1885 which happened to be the 76th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.
In a 'full circle' coincidence, the Sexton who had presided over Edgar Allan Poe's first burial and his subsequent exhumation and reburial was the same man who re-buried Virginia - together with her husband at last.