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The Times Bodies Rested In Pieces, Or Not At All


Halloween can be scary. You know what might be even scarier? A.J. Jacobs, editor at large at Esquire magazine, author of bestselling books and an unquenchable publicity hound when he's trying to figure out a way to get back on our program. And he has.

A.J. JACOBS: (Laughter).

SIMON: A.J., thanks so much for being with us.

JACOBS: Thank you. I'd like to point out that you asked me to come this time. So - but I appreciate the...

SIMON: What...

JACOBS: ...Introduction.

SIMON: ...Got into me?

JACOBS: Exactly.

SIMON: You have dipped into what I'll call a bag of the macabre.

JACOBS: Right. These are - for Halloween, I thought I would tell some ghost stories. They're not traditional ghost stories. They're more stories of people whose bodies embarked on wacky adventures after they died. So corpses that didn't rest in peace, like the historical edition of "Weekend At Bernie's."

SIMON: (Laughter). All right. So I would have to say, the most famous aboveground corpse - at least, most conspicuous one I can think of - is Vladimir Lenin.

JACOBS: Yes. Vladimir Lenin gets the award for the best-maintained corpse in history because he has been on public display in Moscow since 1924. And I love it because he's got a team of stylists and scientists. They're nicknamed the Lenin Lab. And according to Scientific American, at its height, the Lenin Lab, in the 1960s, employed 200 people who did research on corpse preservation.

And Lenin has artificial eyelashes, he has plastic parts to replace sections of the body that have decomposed. And every other year, Lenin takes a month and a half vacation to get freshened up and chemical bathed. So he's quite the diva.

SIMON: Yeah. I'm not sure he thinks of it as much of a vacation.

JACOBS: (Laughter).

SIMON: What about Charlie Chaplin?

JACOBS: Charlie Chaplin. Yeah. He did not let his death stop him from having slapstick adventures. So he, in 1978, a couple of months after he died, Chaplin's corpse was stolen from its grave in Switzerland. That's where he was living.

And the body snatchers demanded $600,000 ransom from Chaplin's widow. And she said, no deal. She said Charlie would find this ridiculous. Eventually, the Swiss police caught the thieves - they were unemployed mechanics - and they found Chaplin's body in a cornfield. And Chaplin was reburied, this time, with a concrete cover over his grave.

SIMON: Oona Chaplin, his widow, said the nicest thing. Do you recall that?

JACOBS: I only recall that she is in my crossword puzzle a lot, and I love her for that.

SIMON: She said - you know, didn't want to bargain to have his body returned. She said, my husband is in heaven and in my heart.

JACOBS: That's right. I did remember that. (Laughter).

SIMON: Now, I want to ask you very carefully about Benito Mussolini.

JACOBS: Yes. Benito Mussolini was executed by firing squad in 1945. And after that, his body was taken to Milan. It was beaten up by crowds and hung from the roof of a gas station.

SIMON: Along with his lover, right?

JACOBS: That's right.

SIMON: Yeah.

JACOBS: And then the battered corpse was taken in for an autopsy, and that's when things get even weirder because the U.S. government requested a chunk of Mussolini's brain. And we're not really sure why. Presumably, it's stored in the same warehouse with the crate from the Ark from "Raiders Of The Lost Ark."

SIMON: Mercy. A.J., I almost hesitate to ask, but do you have a Halloween costume this year?

JACOBS: I think I'm going as Charlie Chaplin's corpse.


JACOBS: (Laughter).

SIMON: Oh. A.J. Jacobs, author of the soon-to-be published, "Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey." A.J., thanks so much for being back with us.

JACOBS: Thank you, Scott - who asked me, by the way.

SIMON: (Laughter) I was about to say, lots of luck getting on the show again.

JACOBS: (Laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.