The 1800’s brought an increased interest in the medical profession with medical schools increasing in size and number.
English writer Mary Shelley is best known for her horror novel Frankenstein, or the secondary title Modern Prometheus (1818). With a growing interest in the human body in the 1800’s there was a marked increase in grave robbing in North America, Europe and other parts of the world.
Daniel Rudolph who committed suicide in Topeka, Kansas, in late 1879. His body was shipped to Sugar Grove, Ohio, for burial. Grave robbing was at epidemic proportions in Ohio at the time because of the numerous medical schools located there. Several individuals at Rudolph’s funeral noticed three or four strangers prowling around the graveyard after the interment. The sexton was aware of the increased incidence of grave robbing and made it a point to visit the grave during the next two nights.
Just before midnight on the second night he spotted three human forms near the new grave as he approached. The moon shone bright as he neared the fencing, enabling him to see a pile of dirt that the men had shoveled from the grave. He knew they were grave robbers and could tell by the size of the dirt pile their mission was nearly complete.
“Hey, what’s going on here,” the graveyard overseer shouted before discharging his pistol into the air several times. He didn’t want to make himself a target should they be armed so he remained undercover. He knew they would either take to their heels or, if armed, force the issue with him. As he hoped, they quickly ran into the darkness.
In the village of Gann, Ohio, near the same time, three men were attempting to rob a grave when their shovel struck a bomb of sorts that had been placed atop a concrete slab above the casket. The device, which was called a torpedo in the newspapers of the day, was devised to prevent the grave from being robbed and to discourage grave robbers. One of the men was killed by the blast and another suffered a broken leg. The third, who was assigned to watch, hoisted his comrades into their horse-drawn sleigh and took flight.
The Ohio General Assembly passed a measure the following year legalizing human dissection in the medical schools of the state. It was a paradoxical situation as the public opposed the practice of human dissection yet expected medical practitioners to be well trained. Bodies were needed for study and dissection. Lawmakers refused to pass laws that would permit medical schools to use unclaimed bodies. Medical schools would have to discontinue dissection or bodies would have to be procured through grave robbery. Does this remind you of the great Frankenstein movies of the past? Frankenstein was comprised of pats from more than one body.
An investigation of these thefts in Ohio suggested as many as 5,000 graves were disturbed and bodies stolen for anatomical instruction during the 1800’s. The practice was not unique to Ohio as all areas with medical schools needed cadavers.
“Bodies are buried by day and forbidden resurrectionists dig them up by night,” the Ohio State University Journal, Columbus, Ohio, reported on the Ohio Penitentiary Cemetery on February 17, 1871.
“As the medical colleges are beginning winter terms, every good citizen would do well to be on the alert to prevent grave robbing and for the detection for any who may engage in the practice,” medical school authorities related.
“The trustees of Ohio State University have appropriated $40 for hauling dead horses, cows and other animals too large for the students to carry to the zoology laboratory,” the Columbus newspaper reported in that era. “These snatchers are much less to be feared than those who take corpses for medical colleges.”
Dr. Frederick C. Waite said it was a misconception that grave robbing was a normal part of life for medical students, that if they didn’t have a body-stealing experience then they haven’t been fully initiated. Some heard doctor’s stories of bold adventure and hair-breadth escapes while robbing graves during the time they were in medical school. copyright 2018 jadon gibson
Editor’s note: Read more from the era of the body snatchers in an upcoming posting at bereaonline.com. Charlie Chaplin’s body was snatched as was the son and father of a United States president. Several attempts were made at snatching the body of Abe Lincoln. Gibson, a graduate of Caney Junior College (now Alice Lloyd College) and UK, is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN.
A Voice for God – a voice for good
My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. There are many nice places on earth to live but we are fortunate to have been born and raised in the United States of America, the land of the free and home of the brave.
The land of opportunity. There’s no limit to what someone can be or become if they have the dream, wish and drive. We must have high dreams, not small dreams of little consequence.
What do you want to do or become? Think of it often and picture yourself in the position you want to be. If it’s something worthwhile and you really desire it you’re on the right track. Think of the pathway you can take to accomplish your dream. If you think of it enough it will probably become a reality.
It will likely require study. Consider how you can best prepare yourself. If you are going on a trip it is important to know where you are going and how to get there otherwise you’ll have a more difficult journey and not may not reach your destination .
Parents can help ingrain positive thoughts in their youngsters. I was fortunate to be born to working and supportive parents. I got a spanking or two (actually more) for missteps I made growing up. I learned limits and consequences. Those were important lessons that would last a lifetime.
Most importantly Mom taught us about Jesus from a young age. She made sure we were in Sunday School. We learned God’s laws. By so doing our circle of friends had higher aims in life. That will likely work for your children.
It is disheartening to see news accounts of people with little hope living in rubble. We are fortunate to live in a land of peace and prosperity with opportunities for our youngsters to chase their dreams. Our good Lord in Heaven has been so good to us. Thank you Lord for all you do for me! Dear Lord, we pray that you continue to bless America.