Skip to comments.Who's buried in John Paul Jones' crypt at the Naval Academy? This isn't a trick question.
Posted on 04/18/2006 6:06:09 AM PDT by robowombat
Historian wants DNA test for academy's John Paul Jones By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer
Who's buried in John Paul Jones' crypt at the Naval Academy?
This isn't a trick question.
Some say the grand state funeral at the Naval Academy on April 24, 1906, for the father of the United States Navy may have been held over the wrong body.
According to Washington College history professor Adam Goodheart, who wrote about Jones in the April issue of Smithsonian magazine, Jones' body may have been dumped in a landfill, used to fertilize vegetables or simply lost forever.
He said modern-day science should be used to determine who is - or isn't - in the crypt.
"They used every technology at their disposal (when the body was discovered) in 1905 to show it was him, and I think they would have supported using DNA today," Mr. Goodheart said in an interview.
But academy officials say they are confident the body resting in the basement of the Naval Academy Chapel is Jones.
"The research that went into the excavation of the cemetery where they found him doesn't leave much doubt," Naval Academy Museum senior curator James W. Cheevers said.
Naval Academy spokesman Deborah Goode said the academy isn't about to open the coffin, either.
"There's no compelling evidence to suggest that anyone's remains but John Paul Jones' are in the crypt," Ms. Goode said. "Speculation alone is not reasonable cause for us to disturb the sanctity of the sarcophagus."
Though Jones never married and left no known direct descendants, DNA samples are available: A braid of brown hair that supposedly belonged to Jones is mounted on the back of a miniature portrait at the academy. Also, one of Jones' brothers is buried in Fredericksburg, Va., and a sister is buried in Charleston, S.C.
Jones died in Paris on July 18, 1792, at age 45. His body remained in an unmarked grave for 113 years.
The cemetery was closed soon after his death, and had fallen into disrepair.
By 1905, when the body was discovered, parts of the tract had built over by a bric-a-brac shop, several houses and a shed for grain merchants' wagons. Other parts had been dug up and hauled away, or were at various times used as a dung hill and a garden for growing vegetables for market.
"(T)here were whispers that the cadaver brought home in glory might be the wrong one," Mr. Goodheart wrote in Smithsonian. "The whispers have never been completely silenced."
Researchers who located the lead coffin they said contained Jones's remains found a body that was preserved in alcohol and packed in straw, but there was no name on the coffin.
An autopsy, performed from the backside to prevent desecrating the corpse, showed that the person had suffered kidney disease similar to what plagued Jones. Also like Jones, the person in the coffin had suffered from pneumonia and died of congestive heart failure.
Anthropologists compared the cadaver to a portrait of Jones, and found that measurements of the skull bones largely matched busts of Jones. Only, as Mr. Goodheart noted, the busts were artistic renderings and were never meant to be anatomical models.
The researchers, far ahead of their time, compiled a composite photograph by taking pictures of a bust of Jones and of the cadaver, and overlaying them. The corpse had been out of the coffin for three days and had shrunk some, but the photographs overlapped considerably.
Annapolis resident John G. M. Stone was the nephew of Gen. Horace Porter, the ambassador to France who led the expedition to find Jones' remains.
Capt. Stone, who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1917, was 11 years old and visiting in Paris when Gen. Porter summoned the boy to come see America's greatest naval hero.
At least a dozen men were examining the body just removed from a lead casket, Capt. Stone wrote 60 years later.
"Uncle Horace said I could feel his hand," he wrote. "It was soft and pliable. I did not hold it long!"
Capt. Stone concluded, "There was no shadow of doubt but that the body was that of John Paul Jones."
He was born John Paul, son of a Scottish estate gardener. He joined the British Navy at age 12 and commanded a ship by age 21.
In the 1770s, he found himself in America avoiding trial in England for killing a sailor, the second time such allegations had been leveled against him.
John Paul added Jones as a surname as a result of the incident.
Congress created a navy in 1775 and named John Paul Jones as senior first lieutenant. He went on to achieve the highest rank, commodore.
Jones proved adept at harassing the British on their own shores and on Sept. 23, 1779, Jones' ship, Bon Homme Richard engaged the HMS Serapis in the North Sea off Famborough Head, England.
The British blasted Richard with broadsides but when the Serapis commander asked Jones if he wanted to surrender, Jones supposedly replied, "I have not yet begun to fight!"
By the next day, the British commander had surrendered, the Richard had sunk and Jones was commanding the Serapis.
Jones went on to become an admiral in the Russian Navy. He was a vain, high-strung self-promoter and he left Russia under a cloud, accused of raping a young girl. His admirers say the charges were trumped up by enemies to get rid of him.
When he died in Paris, Jones was awaiting a commission from the United States, which wanted to exterminate pirates operating off the Barbary Coast.
There was hard evidence to support the claim that the body was Jones', said Wright State University anthropologist Nikki Rogers, who has written scholarly articles about him.
Investigators knew that Jones had been buried in Cimetiere St.-Louis, a small graveyard reserved for foreign-born Protestants.
Gen. Porter's men tunneled through the old graveyard, at times digging into spots of mushy black soil filled with fat red worms.
Jones was known to have been buried in a lead casket, a distinction reserved for the prominent, and investigators found five.
Three of the caskets had name plates that identified the occupants, and a fourth was too tall to be Jones, who was a short man. That left one coffin.
It contained a man's body that fit the description of Jones perfectly, down to the long hair for which he was known.
"You don't have anything that says it is a mix-up; everything points to this being Jones," Ms. Rogers said.
The remains were treated to a huge public procession in Paris in the summer of 1905, and arrived in Annapolis that July, where they were put in a temporary brick vault at the Naval Academy.
The state funeral there was held in the new armory that would later be named Dahlgren Hall.
The funeral featured notables such as Gov. Edwin Warfield and President Teddy Roosevelt.
Construction of the chapel was running behind schedule because of a shortage of funds, so the body was stored under the front steps of Bancroft Hall, the academy's dormitory, according to Mr. Cheevers.
In 1913, the peripatetic remains finally found a home, when they were interred in the crypt, inside a sarcophagus made of 21 tons of Grand Pyrenees marble.
And that's where the body is likely to stay.
But John Wilson, a John Paul Jones interpreter at the Naval Academy, asked the rhetorical question that is in the back of many a mind: "What if it isn't John Paul Jones?"
I'd rather not know. They say it's Jones it's Jones.
In this situation there is nothing that DNA can do for you; you have no reliable evidence for comparison.
Other than his brother and sister's remains.
Well, such revelation would shatter my entire world.
That crypt is a mighty cool looking thing. So if it's not Jones, some schmuck has got himself a first-class resting place.
So who's buried under the endzone at Giants Stadium? ;^)
I didn't even know the Led Zeppelin bassist was dead. ;)
After the American Revolution, Jones served as a Rear Admiral in the service of Empress Catherine of Russia, but returned to Paris in 1790. He died in Paris at the age of 45 on 18 July 1792. He was buried in St. Louis Cemetery, which belonged to the French royal family. Four years later, France's revolutionary government sold the property and the cemetery was forgotten.
In 1845, Col. John H. Sherburne began a campaign to return Jones' remains to the United States. He wrote Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft and requested the body be brought home aboard a ship of the Mediterrean Squadron. Six years later, preliminary arrangements were made, but the plans fell through when several of Jones' Scottish relatives objected. Had they not, another problem would have arisen. Jones was in an unmarked grave and no one knew exactly where that was.
American Ambassador Horace Porter began a systematic search for it in 1899. The burial place and Jones' body was discovered in April 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt sent four cruisers to bring it back to the U.S., and these ships were escorted up the Chesapeake Bay by seven battleships.
On 26 January 1913, the remains of John Paul Jones were laid to rest in the crypt of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Md. Today, a Marine honor guard stands duty whenever the crypt is open to the public. Public visiting hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
If it were a question of justice or a crime, it might be worth digging up his brother to see if they can get enough DNA for a match. But, depending on how and where his brother was buried, there may not be any DNA to sample. (Sometimes there's literally nothing left but dust or a "shadow" in the ground, particularly if the soil is acidic.)
Since nobody's committed a crime and the existing evidence tallies, it doesn't seem worth disturbing everybody just on the off chance that the newspapers can have a field day over a possible mistaken identity.
Huh? He interprets dead people's conversations?
Yup. They kept Lord Nelson in a barrel of rum to take him home after Trafalgar. As a result, the rum ration was known as "Nelson's blood," and sneaking a dram was known as "tapping the Admiral."
Interesting. I wasn't aware of that.
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