Finding the Body of Admiral Jones
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JPJ Coffin from 1905 Scientific American
May 1905

Okay, if you don't believe us, will you believe Scientific American? The well-respected science journal issued a detailed report after the discovery of the lead coffing in Paris in 1905. As part of our detailed coverage of this historic event, we offer the complete text of the 1905 magazine article. Click for more.

SEE ALL OUR ARTICLES on death and burial of John Paul Jones

Finding the Body of Admiral Paul Jones in Paris
From: Scientific America, May 1905

The news that the body of Admiral Paul Jones had been discovered in Paris naturally awakened a considerable sensation. The body was found in fact in one of the ancient cemeteries of the city, and was then removed to the Medical College, where an autopsy was made. Gen. Horace Porter, the United States ambassador, and Col. Bailly-Blanchard, second secretary of the embassy, had been making researches to this end for some time past. It was known that the body had been buried in Paris in one of the old cemeteries, and for more than six years Gen. Porter was occupied in making different excavations, in the hope of recovering the ' body of the renowned admiral, the "Father of the American Navy," who died, it will be remembered, in 1792.

Scientific American reportAt last his perseverance was rewarded, and the body came to light in a better state of preservation than could be hoped for. The discovery is naturally one which will awaken great interest in America, and it is proposed to transport the remains to Washington as soon as the plans are fully decided upon. It was in the old St. Louis Cemetery, where Protestants of foreign birth were buried, that success finally awaited the excavators after so long a time. The cemetery lies near the St. Louis Hospital in the Rue Grange aux Belles, in the northeast quarter of the city. The excavations in the cemetery were commenced by Gen. Porter about the first of February last. Some difficulty was experienced, as it was not known just where the body might be found, and so considerable excavating had to be done in the premises. Several lead coffins were brought to light, but each time the explorers were disappointed, as they all had plates with inscriptions. One of the latter mentioned simply "Anglois" (Englishman) with the date, on a copper plate. However, the fourth time proved to be successful, and the coffin by its exterior signs seemed to contain the remains of some eminent person, as it was of better quality than the others and of more solid build.

It appears likely that a body had been buried above it, and some vestiges of this grave were found at the same time. It is supposed that when the upper grave was dug, they came upon the plate which no doubt had covered the lower coffin, and removed it, as no plate was found, and it was also noticed that the lower coffin had been pierced as if it had received a blow with a pick. The lead coffin was no doubt inclosed in a wood casket, and a few traces of the latter were found. The lead case is in the form of the mummy coffins which were used'at that time.

Opened Coffin

Click for JPJ bodyUpon removal to the Ecole de Medecine, it was opened in the presence of the representatives of the American embassy and some of the city officials. The body was found to be in a good state of preservation, (click to see photos - BEWARE of macabre content) and had been well packed so as to avoid movement, by means of hay and straw placed in the spaces. The limbs were covered with tinfoil. It is supposed that the good preservation is due to an immersion in alcohol. The body was dressed in a shirt and wrapped in a sheet. The shirt was found to be marked with a small embroidered initial, which might be taken either for a P or a J, according to the way in which it is read. There was no other clothing, nor were any other objects found, but this is not surprising, as we already know that the uniform, sword, and decorations of the admiral had been preserved by his family. Dr. Papillault, the distinguished anthropologist and Dr. Capitan, another high medical authority, were chosen to examine the body. They made a certain number of measurements, and to give greater surety, the latter were taken before any other information as to the admiral's characteristics had been furnished. Such documents were not wanting, however, and Gen. Porter brought all the busts and portraits he could secure, so as to make the comparison. The examination was quite convincing, leaving no possible doubt as to the identity of the body.

The preservation is remarkable, and it was even found that the flesh is soft and yielding, so that the head and members could be moved without any difficulty. The face as it appeared is clean shaven and is of a dark color. The hair is abundant and quite long, according to the fashion of the time. The principal documents of comparison were two busts of the admiral, both by the eminent French sculptor Houdon. One of these was loaned by Marquis de Biron of Paris, and the other came from Trocadero Museum and is a copy of the bust now possessed by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The former bust represents the admiral in a court costume with his hair arranged in the mode of the period with masses at the sides of the head. The bust is more lifelike, and shows him in his military costume, with the hair drawn back from the forehead. Besides, we possess different documents relating to the color of the hair, different dimensions of the body, etc.

Proof Positive

In this way, after a careful examination, it became evident that the person could be no other than the admiral. The height, upon measuring, was found to be exactly the same, or 5 feet 7.inches. The hair, which is of a dark brown, is of the same color as that which he was known to possess, and is slightly gray in some places. Examination of the head shows that it resembles the original documents as closely as possible and in all the details. Especially noteworthy is the high forehead. The hair is quite long and flowing, with slight curls at the sides of the head.

Houdon BustThe coffin is narrow at the feet, and gradually widens at the upper part to contain the shoulders, then finishes in a rounded part at the top for the head. The lead is quite thick, thus enabling the body to be well kept, and it was no doubt tightly sealed from the air until the hole had been made in it with the pick, as, is supposed. It seems as if the wrapping of the limbs in tinfoil was done in order to prepare the body for a long transportation by sea. In fact, we have a letter of Col. Blackden, an intimate friend of Paul Jones and one of his pallbearers, which reads as follows: "His body was put in a leaden coffin on the 20th that, in case the United States, which he had so essentially served and with so much honor , should claim his remains, they might be more easily remove."

Only a few persons specially authorized by the embassy were admitted to view the remains, as it was not intended to make a public celebration of the event before obtaining advice from America in regard to the matter. The writer is indebted to the courtesy of Col. Bailly-Blanchard for the permission to take the present photograph for the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The embassy had some photographs of the body taken, but these are to be kept as documents, and it is not intended to have them published, at least at present. The casket is draped with two large American flags, with small flags and palm branches on the top. The remains are to be placed in a vault in the American church in Paris until it is decided what steps are to be taken for bringing them to America. It is probable that the American and French governments will come to accord for a great celebration in honor of the admiral, which will take place in French waters, and it is likely that the American cruiser squadron will come over to take the body back to the United States some time in June.

( editors note: The pictures of the body of Paul Jones were published by the US Government the very next year. Whether by coincidence or through some editor's sense of humor, the next article on the same page in Scientific American is a discussion of preserving food using a new invention - aluminum foil.)