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April 18, 2024 11 mins

The truth at the center of some curious tales require us to get inside the head of some amazing people.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild.

Speaker 2 (00:12):
Our world is full of the unexplainable, and if history
is an open book, all of these amazing tales are
right there on display, just waiting for us to explore.
Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities. Everyone has those times

when procrastination gets the best of them. We keep meaning
to clean that garage or donate those clothes, but we
never seem to get the chance to do it. As
it turns out, this is a universal experience. Even princes
put things off that they don't want to do. In
eighteen twenty, Hungarian Prince Nicolaus esther Hazy finally made up
his mind to finish something sitting on his to do list.

Say ten years earlier, when his court composer Joseph Haydn died,
he swore that he would move the man from his
modest grave in Vienna to a beautiful tomb at the
Estra Hazy estate. But when the body was exhumed, the
prince was in for a shock. It seemed that his
friend had lost his head, quite literally. Joseph Heiden's body
was in the coffin with a powdered wig atop it.

The skull, however, was missing. Now, if you're a classical
music fan, you've probably heard of Joseph Heyden. He was
born in seventeen thirty two to a poor family in Austria.
Although neither of his parents had been musically trained, music
was a huge part of his home life. His father
taught himself to play the harp, and his mother liked
to sing with their neighbors. When Joseph showed interest in

music at an early age, his parents knew that he'd
have no chance to learn if he stayed with them
in the village, so at a young age of just
five years old, Joseph went to live with his cousin,
the choir master of a larger town. As Joseph grew up,
he dedicated his life to music, first as a singer
in several choirs, then as a music teacher and accompanist,

and finally as a composer. In seventeen sixty one, when
Joseph was twenty nine years old, the prominent ester Haze
family recruited Joseph to write music and direct their court musicians.
Joseph Oversaw music for the ester Hazes for the rest
of his life. During his long career, he had a
huge influence on classical music. He didn't invent the concept

of the symphony, which is a musical piece of an
orchestra with several contrasting movements, but he did make them
hugely popular. He also was the first to write music
for a string quartet, which usually involves two violins of
viola and a cello. He was a close friend of
Mozart and even trained Beethoven. But Joseph's strangest claim to
fame came after his death. When he died in eighteen

oh nine, Vienna was under attack by Napoleon's French army.
His patrons, the ester Hazes, wanted to bury him at
their estate, but it was much too difficult to transport
Joseph's body from the city, so he was buried in
a local semin terry, with the idea that they would
move him later after the war. When Prince Nicholas tried
to do that eleven years later, that's when he first

discovered that Joseph had lost his head. So why would
someone take the dead composer's skull? Well, you can blame
the idea of phrenology. Phrenology was a pseudoscience that assumed
that the bumps on someone's skull predicted their intelligence. People
believe that certain bumps on your head might mean that
you were skilled in music, or art or other talents.

The skulls of famous musicians like Joseph Heiden might have
all kinds of musical bumps and lumps. So when he died,
two amateur phrenologists bribed a grave digger to steal his
head from the coffin. These men were Joseph Rosenbaum and
Johann Peter. Rosenbaum had actually met Joseph Heiden many times.
In fact, Joseph was friends with Rosenbaum and his opera

singer wife. When Rosenbaum and Peter received Joseph's head, they
quickly cleaned the skull and examined it, hoping to find
some sign of Joseph's immense talent. They both claimed that
he had a fully developed bump of music on his head,
signaling that he was a great composer. Now, for years,
Peter and Rosenbaum passed the skull back and forth between themselves,

but in eighteen twenty, when Prince Nicholas realized that his
friend's head had been stolen. He very quickly figured out
who the thieves were. But Rosenbaum, who had the skull
at the time, didn't want to give up his prize possession,
so when the authority searched Rosenbaum's house, he hid the
skull in a mattress. He even had his wife lay
on top of it and claimed that she had her
period in this less enlightened age. That was enough to

keep the mail investigators away. Finally, Rosenbaum gave Prince Nicholas
another skull from his collection. Prince Nicholas buried it with
Joseph Haydn's grave, believing that his friend's body had finally
become whole. Joseph's real skull, though, kicked.

Speaker 1 (04:48):
Around Vienna for the next few decades, passing from phrenologists
to music fans. Eventually it ended up at the Vienna
Society for Friends and Music, where it often observed meetings
from its perch top a piano. By nineteen thirty two,
the ester Hazes had discovered that Joseph Hayden was buried
with the wrong head, so they built a brand new
tomb for the composer in Einstadt in a church where

many of his works were performed. But it wasn't until
nineteen fifty four, one hundred and forty five years after
Joseph Hayden's death, that his real skull was finally reunited
with his body. Not knowing who the other skull belonged to,
the ester Hazes left that one in the coffin as well,
finally bringing an end of the world's longest game of

hide and go seek. Throughout the annals of history, there
have been individuals whose lives have defied the boundaries of

time and whose stories stretch across the ages. That's usually
because of their remarkable accomplishments, but in the case of
this story, it's because it literally spans so much time.
Our story begins with an anecdote that borders on the absurd.
In nineteen sixty nine, a French woman named Jean Calmo
entered into a unique arrangement known as an en viege,

a French system in which a property is sold for
a lump sum, with the buyer making monthly payments to
the seller until the seller's death. In Jean's case, she
sold her apartment located in the city of Arles to
her lawyer, and he believed that he was making a
long term investment and paid a total of nine hundred
and eighteen thousand francs over time. But in nineteen ninety five,

when the lawyer was seventy seven years old, he passed away.
And you might be wondering why he would have entered
into the agreement in the first place if he thought
that his client would outlive him. But that's the thing.
He had every reason to believe that he would inherit
that apartment. You see, in nineteen ninety five when he
passed away, Jean was one hundred and twenty years old. Today,

she's known to have the longest human life span on record.
Oh and for the curios, yes, the lawyer's family continued
making payments until Jean died two years later. In the end,
the price paid was more than double the apartment's value.
But this is only one part of the curious story.
After all, one hundred and twenty years is a long time.
That is, if Jean really lived that long. Before I

explained the skepticism behind her supposed lifespan, I'll tell you
a little bit more about Jean's life. Jean had a
husband named Fernand and a daughter named Yvonne. Fernand's family
owned a dry goods store, and they lived in an
apartment above it. Later on in her life, Jean would
tell the story of a customer who bought canvases there
in eighteen eighty eight, an artist named Vincent van Go.

Jean's life was riddled with tragedy, though. In nineteen thirty four,
her daughter Yvonne died of tuberculosis, so she and Fernand
took in their grandson, Freddy. Then, in nineteen forty two,
Fernand passed away, Jean and her son in law, Joseph,
moved into an apartment together. About twenty years later, Joseph
and Freddy both died from separate causes, and Jeane left

all alone. Now in her late eighties, Jene distracted herself
from her loneliness by staying busy and active. People in
town often spotted her running errands, moving swiftly throughout the
city streets. When she was close to one hundred, the
mayor even commented that she looked twenty years younger. Some
say that she even still rode a bike in the
early nineteen nineties, at the age of one hundred and sixteen,

Jane earned the title of oldest person alive. Researchers validated
Jeane's age by observing and interviewing her, and finally, on
August fourth of nineteen ninety seven, Jane passed away. But
her story doesn't even end there. In twenty eighteen, a
geriatrician and a mathematician, two men from Moscow who met
on Facebook, of all places, teamed up to disprove Gene's

title as the oldest person to have ever lived. The
geriatrician examined some photos of Gene and believed that when
she was supposed to have been one hundred and ten,
she looked more like ninety. We know that when she
was alive. The mayor of her city also said that
she looked twenty years younger than she she claimed to be.
The mathematician first used statistics to rule out the probability
that a person could reach the age of one hundred

and twenty. Then, as he scraped the Internet for information
about Gene, he found discrepancies in many of her stories
and the reports about her life. One example was that
Jeane apparently told mixed versions of that story about van Go.
Sometimes she said her father helped him. Other times she
said her husband Fernand did. She also said that Fernand
introduced her to van Go as his wife. However, in

eighteen eighty eight, when this encounter supposedly occurred, Jean and
Fernand weren't even married yet. This made the mathematician even
more suspicious, and he started using photoshop to tinker with
Jane's features. This was how he developed the theory that
for sixty years, the woman who called herself Jeane Calmo
was actually her daughter Yvonne. He believed that in nineteen

thirty four, when Yvonne supposedly died, it was really Jeane
who had passed away, but the family claimed the body
belonged to Yvonne. He thought that maybe they did this
so that Yvonne could avoid taxes on her inheritance from
her mother. In his eyes, this explained by Jean would
have lived with her son in law, who in this theory,
would have been her husband. It also would have meant
that Yvonne entered into that agreement with her lawyer for

the apartment knowing that he would never get it. Since
these two men conducted their investigation, other scientists and researchers
have also published work debunking Gene's record breaking age, but
the topic has caused controversy between them and the researchers
who originally validated her age. Online salutes and fanatics have
entered the chat, and a twenty twenty New Yorker article

dove deep into each side. But even if Gene can't
claim the longest lifespan, she might qualify for other titles
like best fraud or worst person to purchase an apartment from.
Whatever the case, her story shows that even when we
encounter amazing mysteries, there's always someone on Facebook willing to
tell you how wrong you are. I hope you've enjoyed

today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities. Subscribe for
free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about the show
by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show was created
by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with How Stuff Works.
I make another award winning show called Lore, which is
a podcast, book series, and television show, and you can

learn all about it over at the Worldoflore dot com.
And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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