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Whatever Happened to Hitler's Body?

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Getty Images/Keystone

In the early morning hours of April 29, 1945, Adolf Hitler married his longtime girlfriend Eva Braun in the map room of his underground bunker in Berlin. Municipal councilor Walter Wagner performed the ceremony, and Minister of Propaganda Josef Göebbels and the Chancellor’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, acted as witnesses.

After the ceremony, Hitler hosted a small reception breakfast with his new wife and then, at around 4 am, took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his Last Will and Testament.

The next day, as the Red Army marched into the German capital, General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, told Hitler that defense forces would probably run out of ammunition by the end of the night. After lunch, Hitler and Braun said their goodbyes to the other high-ranking Nazi officials occupying the Führerbunker, as well as the bunker’s staff. At around 2:30, the couple went into Hitler’s study and closed the door. An hour later, a gunshot was heard.

Bormann and the others rushed to the study and found Hitler and Braun’s lifeless bodies slumped on a small sofa. Hitler’s right temple was dripping blood and his pistol lay at his feet. Braun had no visible wounds, but the room smelled distinctly of almonds, a sign of cyanide poisoning.

The bodies were carried upstairs and outside through the bunker's emergency exit. In the bombed-out garden behind the Reich Chancellery, the soldiers wrapped their Führer in a Nazi flag, doused the bodies with gasoline and set them on fire.

The bodies burned through the afternoon, as the Soviets occasionally shelled the area. Even though the bodies weren’t completely destroyed, the fire was eventually extinguished in the early evening. The remains were dumped in a shallow shell crater and covered up.

"There are legs here"

On the morning of May 2, Ivan Churakov, a private in the Soviet Army, noticed an oblong patch of recently turned soil as he and the 79th Rifle Corps searched the Chancellery. He began to dig, thinking he might uncover some hastily buried Nazi treasure. Instead, his shovel hit bone.

“Comrade Lieutenant Colonel, there are legs here,” he called to his commanding officer. An exhumation was ordered and the soldiers dug up the bodies of two dogs (thought to be Blondi, Hitler’s pet German Shepherd, and one of her pups) and the badly burnt remains of two people. An autopsy was performed, and a few days later, Soviet soldiers moved Hitler’s body to a different gravesite outside of Berlin proper. This would be just one of several moves the corpse would make in the next few decades.

In early June that year, the Soviets re-buried the body in a forest near the town of Rathenau. Eight months later, they moved it again—this time, to the Soviet Army garrison in Magdeburg. There it remained until March 1970, when the Soviets decided to abandon the garrison and turn it over to the East German civilian government.

It's a secret to everybody

Under Soviet control, Hitler’s remains could be kept secret, and physical access to them severely limited. Soviet leaders worried that if the body were left in the garrison or buried somewhere else not under their watchful eye, the gravesite would become a shrine for neo-Nazis. KGB director Yuri Andropov decided that the remains should be destroyed and authorized an operation to dispose of the body. The only things that were kept were fragments of a jawbone and skull, which were stored in government buildings in Moscow. (DNA testing recently revealed that these pieces did not belong to Hitler’s body, but were of female origin. Russian officials rejected that conclusion.)

Andropov selected a KGB officer named Vladimir Gumenyuk to pick a secret final resting place for Hitler’s remains and lead a three-man team in taking the remains there for destruction. The Soviet garrison was surrounded by German-built high-rise buildings, so Gumenyuk’s team pitched a tent over the spot where the bones had been buried to avoid being seen. After some digging with no results, the team realized they had counted 45 meters instead of 45 paces from a secret coordinate while following the directions to the corpse. They put the dirt back, moved the tent, and started again.

With the remains in their possession, the team disguised themselves as fishermen and drove into the mountains, stopping at a cliff along a small stream. There, in a spot screened by trees, they lit two campfires. One was to make soup. The other, to further burn the remains.

Gumenyuk has called the second cremation a waste of a can of gasoline, but the remains were finally burned to ashes. They collected these in a rucksack, which Gumenyuk took onto the cliff and opened up into the wind. With that, one of history’s greatest monsters disappeared, a brown cloud of dust in the wind.

Today, Gumenyuk is 73-years-old and retired from the KGB. He is the only surviving member of the team that disposed of Hitler’s remains and the only living person who knows where the ashes were spread. Still afraid the peaceful woods would become a pilgrimage site, he has vowed to take his secret to his grave. Despite the large amounts of money he’s been offered to reveal the location and the attention he’s gotten for what he did, Gumenyuk doesn’t seem to think his task was all that special. “Twenty seconds—and job was done,” he told The Sun last year. “It was just the last flight of the Führer.”

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

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Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

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Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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