The Mystery of John F. Kennedy’s Missing Brain

atkins bookshelf trivia

President John F. Kennedy’s brain was removed during an autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital (Bethesda, Maryland) on the day he was assassinated (November 22, 1963). The brain was note returned to the body, which was buried at Arlington Cemetery. Instead, the brain was placed in a metal box and stored at the National Archives. In 1966, JFK’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, discovered that the brain and other autopsy materials were missing. Although the matter was thoroughly investigated by Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the mystery was never solved. Conspiracy theorist immediately pounced on this to claim that the brain was destroyed to reinforce the single “magic bullet” theory. However, in his book, End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, historian James Swanson presents a different explanation: he believes that JFK’s brother, Robert, stole the brain to prevent medical tests that would reveal the president’s poor health and extensive drug use. Swanson writes: “My conclusion is that Robert Kennedy did take his brother’s brain – not to conceal evidence of a conspiracy but perhaps to conceal evidence of the true extent of President Kennedy’s illnesses, or perhaps to conceal evidence of the number of medications that President Kennedy was taking.”

Exactly what drugs was JFK taking? Biographers and historians didn’t have to look to JFK’s brain for clues; instead they reviewed extensive records over several decades (like personal letters, Navy records, medical records, eyewitnesses, etc.) to discover all the medications that JFK was taking for his medical problems. And JFK suffered from more than his share of medical problems — he suffered from Addison’s disease, osteoporosis, intestinal problems (including ulcers), anxiety, sleep disorder, and allergies. To combat these maladies, JFK took codeine, demerol, procaine, methadone, Tuinal, steroids, and antihistamines, to name a few.

During the most stressful times of his presidency, Robert Dallek writing for The Atlantic in an article titled “The Medical Ordeals of JFK,” reports: “Kennedy was taking an extraordinary variety of medications: steroids for his Addison’s disease; painkillers for his back; anti-spasmodics for his colitis; antibiotics for urinary-tract infections; antihistamines for allergies; and, on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic (though only for two days) for a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed had been brought on by the antihistamines.” A review of Dr. Janet Travell’s (JFK’s personal physician) reveals the enormous level of suffering that Kennedy endured during the first six months of his presidency; Dallek writes: “The Travell records reveal that… Kennedy suffered stomach, colon, and prostate problems, high fevers, occasional dehydration, abscesses, sleeplessness, and high cholesterol, in addition to his ongoing back and adrenal ailments. His physicians administered large doses of so many drugs that Travell kept a “Medicine Administration Record,” cataloguing injected and ingested corticosteroids for his adrenal insufficiency; procaine shots and ultrasound treatments and hot packs for his back; Lomotil, Metamucil, paregoric, phenobarbital, testosterone, and trasentine to control his diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss; penicillin and other antibiotics for his urinary-tract infections and an abscess; and Tuinal to help him sleep. Before press conferences and nationally televised speeches his doctors increased his cortisone dose to deal with tensions harmful to someone unable to produce his own corticosteroids in response to stress.”

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