On May 22, 2010, Polish priests reburied Copernicus—nearly 500 years after his death and condemnation of his findings by the Roman Catholic Church. Exhumation and reburial is hardly a new phenomenon. It begins in the Bible. According to Genesis (50:24-26), Joseph requested on his deathbed that his remains be carried out of Egypt when the Israelites were delivered. In Exodus (13:19) we learn that Moses is said to have personally brought Joseph’s bones out of Egypt; and in Joshua (24:32) Joseph is said to have been buried at Shechem, in the Land of Canaan. The story is even mentioned in the New Testament, in Hebrews (11:22).
Has anything like the latter ever happened in modern times? Quite often—sometimes in fulfillment of a request like Joseph’s. William Butler Yeats, for example, died in France in 1939, but had to wait until 1948 to be reburied in County Sligo, Ireland, despite obstacles to his homecoming erected by the Church because he was regarded as lapsed. (His wondrous widow and followers simply willed the homecoming to happen).
In the USA, however, reburials of notable Americans occur quite often despite the wishes of the deceased. When Daniel Boone died in 1820 his children buried him near his wife on her family’s farm in Missouri. He had said many times that he did not want to be buried in Kentucky because the state he did so much to shape had not treated him well. In 1840, however, Kentucky’s politicos decided to disrespect Boone’s wishes and bring him ‘home.’ (The proprietors of a new cemetery in Frankfort, the state capital, duly noted that the presence of a celebrity would help to sell grave lots.)
Missourians insist to this day that the Blue Grass grabbers got the wrong bones, because the skeleton next to Mrs. Boone was actually that of a slave. Mr. Boone had been buried like the top of a T just above their adjacent skulls. So who wins? Inconclusive. Daniel Boone may not be buried in Boone’s tomb. U.S. Grant, however, is right where he belongs. He mostly has been all along, though he got buried once before (in 1885) and then again when they built Grant’s Tomb (1897).