Exotic dancer Mata Hari created sensation and controversy even after her untimely (and unjust) death before a French firing squad at the age of 41 in October 1917. Many aspects of her life, particularly about the true degree of her "spying" or of her "double-agent" status are still debated.
Her body went unclaimed by any family members. Instead, it was sent for medical study. Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris. In 2000, though, it was discovered the head had disappeared, possibly as early as 1954, when the museum had relocated. Records from 1918 show this museum had also received the rest of her body; none of the remains could later be accounted for, and possibly fell into the hands of souvenir hunters over the years.
The Frisian Museum at Leeuwarden, Netherlands exhibits a "Mata Hari Room". Included in the exhibit are two of her personal scrapbooks and an oriental rug embroidered with the footsteps of her fan dance. Located in Mata Hari's native town, the museum is well known for research into the life and career of Leeuwarden's world-famous citizen.
Mati Hari was 41 at the time of her execution. In the early-morning hours of October 15, Mata Hari was awakened and taken by car from her Paris prison cell to an army barracks on the city's outskirts where she was to meet her fate. Mata Hari was not bound and she was not blindfolded.
On February 13, 1917, the French arrested Mata Hari for espionage. She was held in Saint-Lazare prison while awaiting trial and interrogated by Bouchardon no less than seventeen times before facing an actual military jury. The prison had no baths so the only way she could clean herself was in a small bowl that was sometimes brought to her cell. The institution itself was generally filthy, something that greatly distressed the fastidious Mata Hari. She was isolated from other prisoners.
Mata-Hari found fame in World War One as a spy who was shot by the French for spying for the Germans. Mata-Hari moved to Paris where she earned a good income from her dancing. She was still in Paris when the war broke out in 1914. In July 1915, while fulfilling a dancing engagement in Spain, British Intelligence learned that she had been in contact with the German Secret Service. In early 1916, the ship she was traveling on pulled into Falmouth in Cornwall. Here Mata-Hari was picked up by the police and taken to London for questioning. The police records state that she was fully co-operative and surprised by the questions being put her way - about meeting representatives of Germany's Secret Service. Her defence to the accusation that she met members of the German Secret Service was that she did not know what their profession was - she had met them purely on a social basis. However, Mata-Hari suddenely asked for the room to be cleared of all but two people. One of the people who remained was Sir Basil Thomson. In a book by Thomson published after the war, he claimed that Mata-Hari said the following to him: "Very well, then I am going to make a confession to you. I am a spy, but not as you think, for the Germans, but for one of your Allies - the French."
She moved to Paris in 1905 and became a nude dancer and courtesan. She eventually became successful as a dancer and moved among the highest circles of Europe. By 1914 she was the highest paid courtesan in Europe. Her notoriety made it easy for her to travel to various European countries during the war.
By 1905, Mata Hari began to win fame as an exotic dancer. She was a contemporary of dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, leaders in the early modern dance movement, which around the turn of the 19th to 20th century looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Critics would later write about this and other such movements within the context of Orientalism. Gabriel Astruc became her personal booking agent.
On August 7, 1876, Mata Hari was married at 18 to Campbell Macleod, a Dutch Army officer of Scottish origin. The marriage was a disastrous mistake (although she did give birth to a son and daughter). In 1897 she accompanied her husband to Dutch East Indies (Java Island), where he had been given a Battalion command. Macleod frequently physically abused Hari, drank heavily, and once threatened her with a loaded revolver. During the time she was in the Dutch East Indies, she learned erotic temple dances and called herself "Mata Hari." Shortly after returning to the Netherlands in 1902, Hari separated from her husband and divorced him four years later. Leaving her daughter with relatives (no information on the son).
Mata-Hari meant 'Eye of the Morning'. Mata-Hari was born plain Margaret Gertrud Zeller. Mata-Hari's father was a Dutchman who married a Javanese woman while working in the Far East. The couple returned to Holland where their grown up daughter gained a reputation for exotic Oriental dancing rarely seen in Europe. The then Margaret Zeller was considered to be beautiful and intelligent. A fine linguist, she was also a very good conversationalist.