Judge column: Disturbing the eternal peace

David Hejmanowski - Contributing Columnist

‘Dali is seen as sort of the consummate celibate, cheating with nobody.’

— Peter Tush, Curator Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL

‘Let my enemies devour one another.’

— Salvador Dalí

There were few, if any, better known artists in the 20th Century than Salvador Dalí. Whether it be his painting or his lesser known works in sculpture, architecture, theater and photography, his works are highly sought after. His portrait of Paul Eluard sold six years ago for $22.4 million.

Dalí and his wife Gala were married from 1934 until her death in 1982. He was famously loyal to her, but his biographers also note that he was famously afraid of physical intimacy. Many feel that he had a phobia about intimate physical contact, and that the phobia led to their childless marriage.

So it was even more surprising that a 61 year-old tarot card reader has come forward in Spain claiming that she is the child of a love affair between Dalí and her mother, who was once the maid for Dalí’s neighbors. The claim led the Tampa Bay Times to publish a story under the headline, ‘Dali a father? He would need to have sex first.’

The judge hearing the woman’s case is taking her quite seriously, however. It appears that the woman has previously tried to find samples of Dalí’s DNA for testing, but the items that are now available have proved inconclusive for that purpose. As a result, earlier this week, the Spanish judge ordered that Salvador Dalí’s body — buried nearly 30 years — be exhumed so that DNA testing can be conducted. The Salvador Dalí Foundation has said that it will appeal immediately.

Under Ohio law, a body can be disinterred under two circumstances. The first is where the surviving spouse of the person requests the disinterment and pays the costs. The second is where a legal action is filed and the judge of the Probate Court in the county where the person is buried orders the disinterment for one of several reasons that are laid out in Ohio Revised Code section 517.24.

If Dalí’s body is ultimately exhumed, he will join a list of famous people whose eternal slumber has been disturbed. Among them:

Jesse James: The outlaw was thought to have died in 1882, having been shot by a member of his own gang, Bob Ford, so that Ford could collect the ransom on James’ head. In 1948 a centenarian named J. Frank Dalton claimed that the Ford story was just a cover and that he was the real Jesse James, still alive and kicking. To put the issue to rest, James’ relatives had his body exhumed in 1995. DNA testing confirmed that the body buried in 1882 was the real James.

President Zachary Taylor: Although the exact cause of his death remains uncertain, his body was exhumed in 1991 to dispel a rumor that he had been poisoned with arsenic. He hadn’t. Cholera and gastroenteritis remain the chief suspects.

Lee Harvey Oswald: Among the wild and ridiculous conspiracy theories surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination was one that the real Oswald had been replaced with a Russian spy look-alike who actually carried out the crime. Oswald was disinterred in 1981 and dental records ended yet another wild theory about him.

John Wilkes Booth: Four years after Lincoln’s assassin was shot and killed during the manhunt following the president’s shooting, Booth’s family had his remains removed from Washington Arsenal and taken to a family plot in Baltimore.

Abraham Lincoln: An 1876 grave robbery/ransom attempt was thwarted and Lincoln’s body was temporarily moved until a special secure burial arrangement could made. He was eventually re-buried in the same Springfield, Illinois cemetery.

Christopher Columbus, Eva Peron, Daniel Boone and Oliver Cromwell all share the distinction as well. If Dalí’s body is ultimately removed for DNA testing, it will be oddly fitting as the artist was fascinated with the structure of DNA following its description and used the shape in paintings and sculptures. The case will soon be appealed and any exhumation of Dalí’s body is likely several months, if not years, away.


David Hejmanowski

Contributing Columnist

David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.

David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.