Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Curious Case of John Paul Jones, Post-Mortem

John Paul Jones at age 158 years. This is an official autopsy photograph taken of John Paul Jones in 1905. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy

Part II:
It only remained for the experts to conduct an autopsy. The internal organs, flooded with alcohol, were as well preserved as laboratory specimens. Pleural adhesions were present, particularly over the upper lobes. Jones once thought himself infested with tuberculosis,
yet examination showed no evidence of tubercular bacilli. The left lung showed a spot surrounded by fibrous tissue, a possible remnant of his bout with pneumonia. The cardiac muscle, still flexible after 113 years, showed no signs of pathology. The liver was contracted,
yellowish-brown in color, and the tissues were dense and compact. Several varieties of crystals
were interspersed in the hepatic cells. To the naked eye masses of tyrosin in the organ appeared as white opaque granules. Otherwise, the liver showed no abnormalities. The gall bladder seemed healthy and contained a pale yellowishbrown bile of a pasty consistency. The stomach was contracted, the spleen somewhat enlarged. The tissue of both organs, however, was
firm and free of lesions.

The kidneys, very well preserved, were sectioned and observed under the microscope. Clear evidence of interstitial nephritis or brightism existed. Dr. Capitan, one of the attending examiners, spoke more specifically in his report:

The vessels at several points had their walls thickened and invaded by sclerosis. A number
of glomerules were completely transformed into fibrous tissue and appeared in the form of
small spheres, strongly colored by the microscopic reactions. This verification was of the
highest importance. It gave the key to the various pathological symptoms presented by Paul Jones at the close of his life—emaciation, consumptive condition, and especially so much swelling, which from the feet gained completely the nether limbs, then the abdomen, where it even produced ascites (exudat intra abdominal). All these affections are often observed at the
close of chronic intestinal nephritis. It can, therefore, be said that we possess microscopic proof that Paul Jones died of a chronic renal affection, of which he had shown symptoms toward the close of his life.

Capitan’s colleague, Dr. Cornill, concluded his report of the microscopic examination by saying: “We believe that the case in point is interstitial nephritis with fibrous degeneracy of the glomerules of Malpighi, which agrees with the symptoms observed during life.”
A 1952 analysis of the autopsy report suggested that the renal disease may have had its origin both in Jones’ recurring fevers and a severe respiratory tract infection he suffered while traveling to Russia.

With positive identification, Ambassador Porter relayed his report to Washington and, shortly thereafter, President Theodore Roosevelt dispatched a naval squadron to France to escort the remains home.

On 6 July 1905, on the 158th anniversary of Jones’s birth, religious ceremonies were held in Paris. An honor guard placed the new oak casket upon a French artillery caisson and solemnly the procession moved through the Paris streets and down the Champs Elysees. Across the Seine, at the Esplanade des Invalides, French and American honor guards rendered the flagdraped
coffin the highest military honors. The magnitude of the occasion only served to contrast the
hasty and very private funeral that preceded the admiral’s burial 113 years before. The journey was not yet over.

After the transatlantic crossing and the speeches, the body was carried to the Naval Academy’s Bancroft Hall and placed behind a staircase upon two sawhorses. There it rested for seven years.

On 26 January 1913 the remains of John Paul Jones, rescued from the obscurity of a forgotten grave, were finally laid to rest in a crypt at the Academy chapel.

About the Author
Jan K. Herman is the Senior Historian of the Navy Medical Department. He is the author of numerous articles and several books. His most recent writings include Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Oral Histories from Dien Bien Phu to the Fall of Saigon (2009) and Frozen in Memory: U.S. Navy Medicine in thd Korean War (2006). Versions of Mr. Herman's article, "The Curious Case of John Paul Jones, Post-Mortem" have been published in U.S. Navy Medicine Magazine (April 1979) and later The Grog Ration (May-June 2009).

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