For the most part there are not a lot of things a human corpse can do on its own. Aside from being fairly stationary, decomposing, or being used as a hilarious prop in an ’80s movie, there’s not much else going on. But that’s in general, and in some very rare circumstances dead people have still been achieving noteworthy feats. Let’s look at some of the most remarkable accomplishments made by the dead.
10. Jochen Rindt Won a Formula One Series After His Death
Back in the 1960s, Jochen Rindt was a racecar driver who competed for Australia. Tragically, Rindt died in an accident in 1970 when he was practicing for the Italian Grand Prix. However, he had been the point leader for the series at the time of his death and, even though there were still four races left, he had been so far ahead of his competition that no one could catch up.
That meant that by the end of the entire series of races, Rindt was still in the lead. He became the first, and to date only, driver to win a race series posthumously.
9. The Corpse of Pope Formosus Was Put on Trial
These days the Pope is the kind of person who will sometimes make proclamations about how we should be better treating people in war zones or in developing nations. There’s not a lot of power given to the Pope on a world scale anymore, and they rarely do a lot to ruffle anyone’s feathers outside of occasionally saying things that people disagree with.
Go back in time and the papacy was a very different thing. The Pope was often considered a man of massive power and could command Kings. They could also just be completely bizarre like when Pope Stephen VI held what came to be known as the Cadaver Synod.
Nine months after Pope Formosus had died back in the year 896, his corpse was exhumed by Pope Stephen. The two had been political rivals and Stephen wanted to put Formosus on trial for breaking many laws. Keep in mind, he’d been dead for nine months.
The man’s actual corpse was put in a chair and a whole trial was conducted with that corpse in the chair. He was found guilty of his crimes, had three fingers cut off and then he was buried only to be dug up again and executed despite still being dead. His body was tossed in the Tiber River.
Ironically, this trial turned the people against Stephen and when Formosus’s body washed up on shore, people said it was performing miracles. Stephen was later jailed and strangled to death.
8. Dante Alighieri Was Exonerated for a Crime 700 Years After Dying
One of the most famous writers in history, Dante Alighieri was responsible for the Divine Comedy. It’s still a well-known work in the present, but the writer had his detractors back in the day who weren’t appreciative of his non-artistic works. Dante had been a politician in Florence in the early 1300s and had made some rivals along the way.
For being a member of the “wrong” political party, Dante was convicted in a court of corruption and patronage. He was forbidden from holding political office and the court took possession of his assets. His life was threatened should he ever return to Florence again, so he left and never came back.
It was during his exile that he became the writer we know today, and he mostly wandered Italy riding poems that would go on to become classics. But he was never able to return to Florence and historians agree that his trial was a sham. He ended up dying in 1321.
Fast forward 700 years and in 2021, the Alighieri line is still going strong, or at least strong enough to return to court to get their famous ancestor exonerated. Despite being dead for the better part of a millennium, Dante was retried and his name has been cleared.
7. A 6-Year-Old From the French Resistance was Posthumously Awarded the Rank of Sergeant
The French Resistance during the Second World War has gone down in history as an example of, and even a blueprint for, what it means for a small, organized force to stand up to something that should be much more powerful than yourselves in the fight for what you know is right.
Many people today only know the French Resistance from films and from history classes, but the reality of what happened back then is much more harrowing and dramatic than we’ll probably ever realize. A stunning example of this comes in the form of a 6-year-old boy.
Marcel Pinte was a courier for the resistance. The little guy carried messages for the resistance past Nazi guards, helping his father whose farm was a base of operations for sending and receiving coded messages. Accidental gunfire from the Resistance themselves took the boy’s life. To honor him, his name was inscribed on a memorial in Aixe-sur-Vienne. In 1950, he was even given the rank of sergeant.
6. Douglas Adams Posthumously Voiced a Radio Broadcast of His Books
Douglas Adams became a beloved writer thanks in no small part to his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Before becoming a multi-million selling book series, it was actually a radio show. The tradition of performing the series on the radio has lived on, even after the death of Adams himself who passed away in the year 2001.
When the BBC adapted the final three books of the series to the radio, they even threw in a remarkable twist. Adams had been known to read the books publicly for years, so they took older recordings made just before his death and included Adams himself as the character Agrajag, including him with the actors who were newly performing it. The series featuring Adams’ voice aired four years after his death.
5. Ralph Steinman won a Posthumous Nobel Prize in 2011 Despite a Rule Against Posthumous Prizes
The Nobel Prize committee actually has a rule on the books that they will not give out awards posthumously. If someone were to die, they would be out of the running and some of their living peers would be among the potential nominees. However, things don’t always work in real life like they do on paper.
In 2011 Ralph Steinman won a Nobel Prize because he passed away 3 days before it was awarded. The rule had been on the book since 1974 and before that only two people had ever received a posthumous prize. The 1974 change was in the hopes of avoiding this in the future. However, Steinman was given the award before anyone was aware he died because the timeline was so narrow. Because it was so sudden and deemed too late to change, the award stood despite the rule against it.
4. No One Will Ever Outrank George Washington in the US Military
There are a lot of good arguments to be made that George Washington already has a heck of a lot of accomplishments under his belt. No one else is going to be the first President of the United States, after all. But another honor that he can lay claim to, one that he was awarded posthumously, is the highest rank in the US military.
Gerald Ford promoted Washington to the rank of six star general back in 1976. He is the only person to have ever achieved this rank, though the title “General of the Armies of the United States,” is shared by General John J. Pershing. Pershing only had 4 stars and Washington is the only person who will ever achieve this six star rank. There are only a few 5-star generals, nevermind 6-star.
The official wording is “whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list.” This means that, after death, Washington has and always will outrank everyone else in the United States military.
3. Joe O’Donnell Was Posthumously Allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame Despite Not Being a Pro Ball Player
Here’s a bit of a feel-good story for you. This one’s about a father and a son and the bond they shared that revolved around baseball. Back in 1988, Pat O’Donnell visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He brought with him a photo of his father Joe. His dad didn’t play professional ball, but he was a ball player. They’d always wanted to go to the Hall of Fame together but never got a chance to before his father passed on.
To honor his dad, he took a picture of him in his uniform to Cooperstown and left it under a display there. In his own way he inducted his father into the Hall of fame. He wrote a message on the back of the photo about how his dad had always been there to play a game of catch with him.
Years later, one of the museum curators happened upon the photo. He read the story and was touched by how baseball had been so important in the lives of these two men. This ended up sparking something larger than O’Donnell could have ever imagined. The story made its way to Sports Illustrated, ESPN and beyond. Once O’Donnell was tracked down, he was even invited to throw the opening pitch at a Hall of Fame game.
As for Joe O’Donnell, his picture remains at the Hall of Fame, and official inductee now despite having never been in the big leagues. He’s there because of the story of how a father and son’s love of the game brought them together, and what that means to baseball itself.
2. Oliver Cromwell’s Corpse Was Executed
Oliver Cromwell is arguably one of the most important figures in British history, and he even ruled England as Lord p\Protector after the death of Charles the 1st, which Cromwell himself had a hand in bringing about. His signature was on Charles’ death warrant, after all.
Cromwell’s reign came to an end after his death in 1658, which is believed to have been a result of kidney disease and malaria. That seems like it should have been the end of Cromwell’s story, but it was not. You can imagine any man who helped depose the previous King and then became ruler despite not being a king himself would have one or two enemies out there.
Cromwell’s son took over, but he was not cut out to be a leader and he ended up giving up power. This ended the short-lived protectorate and Charles II took the throne as a result. Clearly not a fan of the elder Cromwell, Charles had his body exhumed so that he could then be executed.
Along with two others, Oliver Cromwell’s corpse was hanged, drawn and quartered. His head was put on display at Westminster Hall.
1. Mel Carnahan Was Elected To The Senate Despite Being Dead
The last several decades of American politics have done a good job of showing just how deep the divide is between political parties. Modern politics is rife with examples of disagreements between people on varying ends of the political spectrum.
You can even go back to the year 2000 and see some pretty dramatic stuff related to just how poorly everyone got along. This is best exemplified by the Missouri election for state senator in which Mel Carnahan beat John Ashcroft to become the senator for Missouri. That doesn’t sound terribly dramatic until you learn that Mel Carnahan had been dead for 3 weeks before the election. Carnahan’s plane crash and death was well known, but he still eked out a victory when his widow said she would serve in his place. Carnahan won with 50% of the vote to Ashcroft’s 49%.