Here’s just a few of the responses that have come in so far, in answer to our poll “What skull would you steal, and why?” Post your answer on Twitter (#cranio), or as a reply to this blog.
• I’m thinking if I could steal someone’s skull it might be Alice Paul. “Ms. I heard a speech and changed the world.”
• Omar Khayyam who spoke with such passion of the body’s dissolution would make a fine item of ossuary interest.
• Wm Wirt’s skull (again but not by me) as it might reveal ID of infant child bones ca 1960s found thrust & broken in his robbed tomb
• If I could steal any skull, it would be J S Bach’s, so I could experience his fugues the way he did when they 1st resounded there!
• Since nothing left of Joan of Arc, I say Nicholas II. Or Sarah Bernhardt! Or Proust! Too many choices. Also is kinda creepy.
• It would be Rob (numb) Skillingham’s cranium. He was in my class at school and had a head the size of a pumpkin.
• Well, assuming that the myth that drinking from it makes you see the future, Nostradamus’s skull would be my choice.
• Perhaps tortured Jan Potoki who rendered down a silver cross, forming a bullet, to end his worldly adventures.
• I would have to go with Shakespeare. Hamlet done with Shakespeare’s skull would be a fine performance.
• A skull to steal? Maybe Marie Antoinette b/c the hard part is done.
• I think I’d have to go with stealing da Vinci’s skull. A) He’d understand. B) My obsession goes back to when I was 11. C) Genius.
• Joseph Merrick’s (aka “Elephant Man”)
• If I were going to steal a head, my top three would be Lao Tzu, Tituba, and FDR.
• A skull to steal? Maybe Marie Antoinette b/c the hard part is done. Or David Byrne’s (AD obvs) b/c talking heads aren’t boring.
• Dante Alighieri – I don’t really want a skull, so I don’t think I’d actually steal it. I wouldn’t know do with it if I did.
• If I could steal a skull: Shakespeare’s from the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon or John Donne’s from St. Paul’s.
• To steal a skull, to have something both to tell and show, I’d take the noggin of the scribbler Edgar Allen Poe.
• Tough call, but I’d go with Emily Bronte, so I could take it outdoors on wuthering nights.
• I would dig Edgar Allan Poe’s skull so it could whisper scary stories to me at night.
Keep ‘em coming!
Also, I heard this awful, awful joke on NPR over the weekend, but it’s eerily appropriate for the book, so I thought I’d repeat it here:
Two gravediggers are digging up Beethoven’s grave in Vienna, and they’re about halfway there, when they start hearing music. After a second, they realize it’s Beethoven’s Third Symphony, only it’s backwards. They keep digging, and soon they’re hearing Beethoven’s Second Symphony, also backwards. One of the gravediggers says to the other, “What’s that noise?”, and the second says, “Oh that? That’s just Beethoven decomposing.”
I didn’t say it was funny.
Starting today, Unbridled Books is asking people which skull they’d steal and why, and so I’ve been thinking about which skull I’d most want to steal if given the chance. Especially as Halloween approaches, it seems a ghoulish enough exercise in thought (only a few hours in, and already people are posting their ideas: you can search #cranioklepty on twitter to see some of the suggestions).
Since I’m teaching myself phrenology in my off hours (more on that later), I suppose there are some skulls that I might find beneficial for learning more about this particular “science”. Many of the thefts I discuss in the book have to do with music, and certainly the search for a “music bump,” that would explain musical genius, was of paramount importance in the early nineteenth century. But being more of a writer than a musician, I’d probably start by looking for the “writing bump,” which, I’m guessing, would probably be located somewhere around the eyes. So maybe the skull of Virginia Woolf might have been a good place to start—except that she was cremated, and her ashes scattered in her garden, so that’s going to be a hard one. So, then, St. Peter’s cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi, where Faulkner (un-cremated) is buried.
But I’m also curious about Descartes’ skull, primarily for its texture—while I’m not a fan of Descartes, I’m fascinated by the fact that his head is now brown and shiny, almost the texture of an old football helmet—this from centuries of being handled and exposed to the elements. From what I hear, though, the Musee de l’Homme is now closed, so Rene’s head is buried somewhere in some archive somewhere, which might make a retrieval that much more difficult.
But maybe that’s part of the fun! For me, it’s not just which skull you’d want to end up with; there’s also the thrill of the actual theft itself. Joseph Carl Rosenbaum’s theft of Franz Haydn’s skull first grabbed my interest because of the extreme, almost cinematic way in which Rosenbaum stole it. Napoleon had just invaded Vienna (again), and the city had been abandoned to the marauding army. With war and chaos all around, Rosenbaum executed a dastardly robbery involving bribery, late-night rendezvous, near misses and dangerous escapes—like something more out of Hollywood, “Ocean’s Eleven” maybe, then out of nineteenth century history.
So as I thought about it, the decision I finally came to is that the skull that I’d most like to steal—or, as it turns out, re-steal—would be Geronimo’s. Or, whomever’s skull happens to be in the lobby of Yale’s Skull and Bones Society (they call it Geronimo, though when his heirs sought its return for reburial, they quickly changed their tune). The altruistic side of me would love to be able to return it to Geronimo’s heirs, so they can a) finally identify whether or not it is indeed Geronimo’s, and b) put it finally to rest. But I think pulling off such a heist would be a total hoot: breaking into a secret society, stealing one of their most prized artifacts and making off with it.
(Also, what would be the legal ramifications of such a theft? Would they be able to prosecute me? Have to ask a lawyer on that one….)