The Stuff Of Life Some lives, good or bad, can be distilled to a single object. The artifacts here represent a few of the century's storied figures--and remind us that business isn't all we do.
By Reporter Associates Jane M. Folpe and Natasha Tarpley

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Chaplin, Lindbergh, and Sigmund Freud

Charlie Chaplin was born in 1889 in a London slum, scraped his way out of poverty, and went on to make 81 movies, most of them featuring the lovelorn, cane-twirling tramp who made him a millionaire. "The little chap I want to show wears the air of romantic hunger," he once said. "He is forever seeking romance, but his feet won't let him." Or maybe it was just the shoes.

Charles Lindbergh enjoyed tremendous popularity in the wake of his May 20, 1927, flight to France, but saw much of it ebb in subsequent years. A colonel in the Air Corps Reserve, Lindbergh had been awarded the Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle in late 1938 by Goring himself. When he came out in opposition to U.S. involvement in the war, those ties came back to haunt him. FDR called him a "copperhead"; others have called him misunderstood. Either way he died bitter (but rich) in 1974.

"The practice of psychoanalysis is difficult and demanding," Freud wrote in 1933. "It cannot be treated like a pair of glasses which one puts on to read and takes off to go for a walk. As a general rule, psychoanalysis is lived completely by the doctor, or not at all." Freud died--with his glasses on, no doubt--in 1939 in London.

Hitler's mobile bunker

Hitler loved a parade, and by 1942 he was indulging himself pretty regularly. That's when this custom, top-of-the-line Mercedes 770 was delivered, complete with armor plating. He apparently used it for events in Berchtesgaden; the car's identical twin was kept in Berlin. General Jacques Leclerc is said to have claimed the machine below for the Allies in May 1945; it was eventually given to Charles de Gaulle and is now a museum piece in Lyon, France.

Ali's gloves

'A million dollars, that's what my fists and my big mouth will have made me once I've finished with Liston." Thus spake Cassius Marcellus Clay on the eve of the 1964 fight that would indeed net him the heavyweight title. The day after the bout, Clay announced he had converted to Islam and taken the name Muhammad Ali. In 1967 he was stripped of his title and sentenced to five years in prison for refusing the draft; he didn't serve, but his critics thought he was finished. When he took up the gloves again three years later, he proved them wrong. His big mouth is quieter now, but still with us.

Jimi's ax

Considering how many guitars Jimi Hendrix must have burned, smashed, and chewed to pieces over his short public life, it's amazing this one has survived. A man who could not read or write a note of music, Hendrix nevertheless combined blues, jazz, and rock--and plenty of LSD and other secondary influences--to produce the most lonesome, agile, harrowing sounds of his time. He emerged from obscurity in 1966, at age 24, and proceeded to rip the wings off the musical establishment; he died of an overdose just four years later.

Gandhi's last dhoti

'The trouble with the idealized Gandhi is that he's so darned dull," Salman Rushdie, an Indian himself, wrote last year in Time, "little more than a dispenser of homilies and nostrums ('An eye for an eye will make the whole world go blind').... The real man...was infinitely more interesting, one of the most complex and contradictory personalities of the century. His full name, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was memorably--and literally--translated into English by the novelist G.V. Desani as Action-Slave Fascination-Moon Grocer, and he was as rich and devious a figure as that glorious name suggests." Gandhi was assassinated in 1948.

Geronimo's war bonnet

In 1909, Geronimo fell off his horse, drunk, at Fort Sill, Okla. The fall didn't kill him, but the night in the damp weeds did--he contracted pneumonia and died not long afterward. Geronimo spent his life avenging both the murder of his family at the hands of Mexican troops and the spectacular brutality of the U.S. forces arrayed against him and his fellow Apaches. Over the years he suffered five gunshot wounds, a saber cut on the right leg, and a head wound from a rifle butt. In 1885, during his last campaign (protesting the effects of the reservation system), he and 20 mounted warriors led a total of some 5,000 troops on a chase one officer compared to "chasing deer with a brass band." In September 1886, the Apaches finally surrendered. When Geronimo died at Fort Sill he was a celebrity (hence the horse) but still a prisoner of war.

Beatles' shells

Back in 1963, in their Mama's Boyz period, the Beatles first appeared in the original designs at right; they wore the black suits at Wembley Stadium, the gray in the movie A Hard Day's Night. It was in Paris, before their concert at the Paris Olympia, that the Beatles tried on the new gray duds. While designer Douglas Millings made some adjustments to his outfit, Paul McCartney took a moment to noodle on the piano; the song that emerged: "Yesterday." The band disbanded in 1970.

Marie Curie's undoing

This little casket contained Marie Curie's prized possession as well as her own worst enemy: a gram of pure radium, given to her by Warren Harding in 1921. By that year Curie had received two Nobel Prizes, the first in physics, in 1903, for the discovery of radioactivity (and shared with Henri Becquerel and her husband, Pierre Curie); the second in chemistry, in 1911, for her isolation of pure radium. Curie's work laid the foundation not only for the medical use of radiation but also for the development of nuclear physics as a scientific discipline. She died of leukemia in 1934 from chronic exposure to radiation and was enshrined at the Pantheon in Paris, the first woman given that honor for her own achievements.

Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 launch suit

From the farmland of Ohio to the Sea of Tranquility, Neil Armstrong's trajectory was truly astonishing. As a child in the '30s, Armstrong eschewed sports in favor of reading about aviation and building model airplanes; by the early '50s he had flown 78 missions in Korea, been shot down once, and won three Air Medals. Armstrong became a test pilot after the war, piloting (among others) the F-102 supersonic fighter and X-15 rocket plane, designed to travel to the fringes of space. "He flies an airplane like he's wearing it," a friend once remarked. By July 20, 1969, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins had traveled to the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin spent more than 21 hours on the lunar surface, mostly in the Eagle landing module, putting on and adjusting the 185-pound suit (not shown) that provided them with electricity, water, oxygen, refrigeration, and radio communication.

Picasso's painting chair and brushes

It's hard to imagine Henri Matisse or Salvador Dali inspiring much more than theoretical or purely aesthetic passions these days. Not so Picasso. Just two years ago, as Frank Gehry's new Guggenheim museum was being completed in the Basque city of Bilbao, the directors asked Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum to loan them the Spanish master's Guernica, which depicts the Luftwaffe's 1937 bombing--done at Franco's invitation--of the Basque spiritual capital of the same name. The grisly painting (detail above) was made just after the bombing and has never been exhibited in the separatist region; during the 40 years of Franco's rule, owning a copy was considered by the Basques to be an act of defiance. The Reina Sofia has refused to allow the painting to travel, fueling animosities in a place that didn't need any more of them. "The painting has traveled around the world to 35 cities, five of them German," says an official at the Bilbao museum. "We think it's fair that the Basques see it for once in their own land." Picasso died in 1973.

Satchmo's cornet

Louis Armstrong did a little time as a lad in the Negro Waifs' Home in New Orleans--for firing a pistol into the air on New Year's Eve, 1913. And it's a good thing too: The home's drill instructor gave Louis a bugle and taught him to play. By 1966, New Yorker jazz critic Whitney Balliett was writing that "there were peaks and cloud kingdoms and heavenly pastures in his playing that summoned the listener, elated him, and sent him on his way." Louis Armstrong died in 1971.

Warhol's wig

Never has premature baldness been converted into a more conspicuous and lucrative commodity. Andy Warhol, wrote Calvin Tomkins in 1980, "pursued fame with the single-mindedness of a spawning salmon," and his trademark rugs were an essential component of his brand. He had hundreds of them, all two-tone, varying in hue but not in their frankly synthetic nature. Inevitably, the wigs themselves became part of Warhol's art, subjected to the same Pop impulse as soup cans, Marilyn, and Elvis. Not that that should surprise us: "Being good in business," Warhol once remarked, "is the most fascinating kind of art." He died in 1987.

Einstein's big idea

Under the unremarkable exterior of a 26-year-old examiner in the Bern, Switzerland, patent office lurked a voracious mind. Albert Einstein's obsession with decoding all he saw left him "gripped by emotional conflicts," he later confessed. "I would isolate myself for weeks in a state of confusion." By 1905 the first inklings of relativity--the notion that motion, time, and space cannot be absolute because they are measured relative to the observer--had begun to register. After a day spent with his friend and colleague Besso, trying to formulate some expression of the relativity problem, Einstein went home to sleep. It was the night of his life, and he awoke the next morning feeling as though "a storm broke loose in my mind." His special theory of relativity, expressed as E=mc2, had all but come to him in his sleep (a detail from his original paper is seen above). On being greeted by Besso at the office that day, Einstein responded simply, "Thank you, I have completely solved the problem." Hitler exiled Einstein--and put a price on his head--in 1933; the scientist emigrated to Princeton, N.J., where he lived until his death in 1955.

Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano

The rifle that launched a thousand Websites. In Case Closed, by Gerald Posner, Lieutenant Carl Day, chief of the Dallas police crime-scene search unit, describes the sniper's nest: "At the window the assassin fired from, there were two stacked boxes...and that is apparently what he aimed from. A little behind that was a carton of books. That position is where he would have sat and looked out the window.... When we used metallic powder on that box, toward the top of the corner was a distinct palm print--right where it looked like he had been leaning his hand as he waited for the motorcade. He might have been a little nervous, because as he leaned his hand there, the oil or moisture in his hand left a very clear, unsmudged print." The print was Lee Oswald's; Jack Ruby shot him two days later, on Nov. 24, 1963.

Mao's cap

From the Great Helmsman's Department of Irony: "Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting the progress of the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land. Different forms and styles in art should develop freely and different schools in science should contend freely. We think that it is harmful to the growth of art and science if administrative measures are used to impose one particular style of art or school of thought and to ban another." --Mao Zedong "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People" (Feb. 27, 1957)

James Dean's leather

For a guy who made only three movies--East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant--James Dean carved out quite a niche for himself in the pantheon of American idols. (If only Marlon Brando had weathered the test of time as well.) "Too fast to live, too young to die," Dean said about himself. But that was only half true: On Sept. 30, 1955, at age 24, he set out for the track to race his new Porsche Spyder; he never made it. The crash came before Rebel and Giant were even released, and sent a generation into mourning.

Robert Doisneau's camera

This battered Rolleiflex belonged to Robert Doisneau, who for six decades chronicled life in Paris, most famously in The Kiss at the Hotel de Ville of 1950. Doisneau's work appeared everywhere from Paris Match to Vogue, Life, and even FORTUNE (and in countless documents he forged for the French Resistance during the war). In 1993 a (now elderly) couple, claiming to be that caught in The Kiss, sued Doisneau for a share of the royalties. The case was thrown out when the artist revealed that he'd staged the whole affair.

REPORTER ASSOCIATES Jane M. Folpe and Natasha Tarpley