Monday, October 31, 2011

The Empty Grave

After last year's post about genealogy encounters of the Creepy kind, my creepy meter has been getting a work out all year. My above title does not refer to the Resurrection, but to those monsters of the cemetery: The Resurrectionists (cue evil cackle and lightning/thunder.) My interest in this macabre group came about after two incidents. Late last year I became acquainted with the cemetery/burial issues concerning the Eastern State Hospital in Lexington KY. During a period of time spanning from 1824 to the 1950s, patients dying while residing in the "lunatic asylum" were believed to have been buried on the premises, especially when family members could not afford the cost of hometown burial. Unfortunately, finding the "missing" remains has been a huge challenge. The records are "missing" from the state, and apparently, so are the bodies. Some bodies have been discovered on the premises, but the number is very low compared to the amount that should be there. One of the documents I viewed in regard to this issue was a letter from a health nurse in the 1980s. She suggested that perhaps many of the bodies are missing because they were never buried, but instead, transported north to the Cincinnati Medical College for post-mortem use: ie: dissection.

I don't think many people took this suggestion very seriously, but I suspect it is a distinct possibility. Eastern State Hospital sits right next to the railroad line, and reports have surfaced that the Cincinnati to Indianapolis to Michigan network for cadavers was a true network that involved pickle/paint vats and the train system. For those of you not familiar with Cincinnati's grave robbing history, I suggest three things: 1. Read up on the grave-robbing scandal involving the Harrison family. 2. Check into some of the publications written by Dr. Linden Forest Edwards at Ohio State University. He wrote a series of articles for the Ohio State Medical Journal back in the 1950s that were later re-published in the form of small booklets by the Wayne County Indiana Public Library. These articles/booklets explored the medical practice of employing grave robbers to fill the need of fresh cadavers for medical dissection. (I will provide a small reading list at the end of the post) 3. Watch the video posted at the end from the History Detectives. They are researching a grave alarm which in turn leads them to go over some of the numbers associated with the grave robbing "industry" of the time. With each medical college in the area advertising a cadaver for each student, the number of fresh cadavers needed each year was pretty staggering.

The Cincinnati area was rife with the problem. Bodies were being stolen all the time during this period (1860s-1880s)....many from poorer cemeteries. Dr. Edwards wrote about the stories that were being told, and people were so aware of this problem that they employed night watchmen to guard over fresh graves - if they could afford this service.....otherwise, sometimes carried out by family members. Ironically, in the largest Cincinnati Cemetery, Spring Grove Cemetery, the Medical College erected a headstone in memory of all the bodies used for scientific purposes. I think that alone speaks volumes about the number of bodies we might be talking about.

So what about the central Kentucky area? Were these areas susceptible to the crime of stealing bodies? Without any real proof, my gut says, not as much as the Cincinnati/Louisville area. We had Transy's Medical School here, but I would imagine the need for them was not as large. Louisville was noted to have a bit of a problem there, but like Cincinnati, they were on a river. I would say, unless we used the railroad heavily, I would guess the easiest victims were had more along the river. After all, the grave robbers may have sold the fresh bodies to the medical colleges, but they were essentially on their own. If arrested, it was clear the men acted "on their own", with the doctors nor colleges feeling any heat with the arrest. Public sentiment grew pretty hostile against this practice, but things did not change until laws were passed that allowed legal acquiring of cadavers, including the donation of bodies.

This regional issue brings me to my second encounter with grave robbing. It came when I stumbled upon a note in the E.E. Barton papers of Pendleton County KY. One of my distant cousins related a tale that had been passed down in the family about the burial of my fourth great grandfather, Samuel Cox: "My Mother never did think that her grandfather rested in his grave, for just in a night or two at 12 o'clock, a man left that grave with something wrapped in white lying across his horse in front of him. The man was a truthful man, and is a brother-in-law of my father, Newton Humble was the man. (Speaking of the witness). We always thought that it was old Dr. Thomas, and that he probably took the body to Cincinnati and the medical college to find out what was the cause of his death."

What really struck me about this report was the proximity of Samuel's is a small family plot on the side of the road, out in the rural areas of northern Pendleton County, which is a pretty hilly place. If I was going to snatch some bodies, I wouldn't want to have to trek up those hills an back down again carrying a body, just for $10. But then, it wasn't too much farther to Foster in Bracken County which was right on the river. What better way to transport bodies? So, it has all just made my head spin a little to many of our ancestors are not in the cemeteries we visit? I don't really mind them being used for science.....but it kinda makes me mad in a way....our ancestors were so against it, for religious/principle reasons.....what gave these colleges the right to steal what belonged to our families? And once they were done, I'm assuming the bones were burned, etc. Which means we no longer have true knowledge of a final resting place. I think the headstone placed in Spring Grove is a nice gesture, but I would like to know where they deposited the post-dissection pieces or ashes. I think that would be the proper place for a memorial - and a place we could point to as a final resting place. Anyway, just some points to ponder - especially on Halloween :-)

Watch Cemetery Alarm on PBS. See more from History Detectives.

For additional reading:
Body Snatching in Ohio During the Nineteenth Century by Dr. Linden F. Edwards
Cincinnati's Old Cunny by Dr. Linden F. Edwards
Dissection and Body Snatching in the Nineteenth Century by Heather Fox, The Filson, Volume 9, Number 2, Summer 2009
The Poor, the Black, and the Marginalized as the Source of Cadavers in United States Anatomical Education by Edward C. Halperin, Clinical Anatomy, Vol 20, 2007.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Willow Magic at the Stroke of Midnight!

It is that magical time of year, dear readers, when this genealogy addict flies off the handle and takes her blog on a flight of fancy! I beg indulgence once again as I attend the annual Willow Manor Ball! Held each each year by prolific and talented blogger/poetess, Tess Kincaid, it has become the cyber event of the year. When the invitations came around again this year, I scurried away to find just the right accoutrements, and the perfect date! The rules are simple: you have been invited to attend a magical ball at Willow Manor. This event is magical because time and human flaws do not exist! You may look any way you wish (Jean Harlowesque figure), dress any way you wish (money is no object), dance like a master, and your date can be anyone you choose since time does not exist here. In retrospect, this is not that out of character for a historian - after all, in order to do what we do, we must have complex and advanced imaginations in order to visualize what life was like before our time! Blog about your adventure and then visit the Life at Willow Manor blog to post your evening's report. Things get started at midnight, so off to the ball we go! BTW, there is one other way to attend, simply visit Ms. Kincaid's blog and leave a comment - but where is the fun in that?! Let your imagination loose for a change and dust off those magical dancing shoes! Blogging/comment entries are allowed for 24 hours beginning at the stroke of midnight, October 12th.....follow me, and I'll show you where my imagination took me this year.....

So, last year, my choice was extremely hard, but I settled on a light blue with silver trim dress, accented by diamonds - moonlight itself was my theme, but it had a hard argument to make when my other choice was so tempting - night itself. This year was easier as I knew the darkness, with a hint of blue would set off our dancing in a beautiful way.....I am of course talking about Sapphire. I almost chose a more Mad Men 50s/60s flare of the skirt, but was drawn back into a more sleek and sultry cut. After all, with this figure, why hide it on a night like this? Besides, when I think of "evening gown", I think long and flowing, something that drapes and silhouettes the body in a manner that is elegant, yet seductive. This sapphire blue gown was exactly what I had in mind, and fit like a kid glove.....

Only to be perfectly accented with the following....
This gorgeous necklace that drapes downward to follow some of the plunging neckline....yet with diamonds.....both whispering the phrase "Starry Night".
To continue this mix of rich hues and sparkles of light, these gorgeous pumps.....
Further accented by this amazingly unique handbag - slipping back into a little art deco element - my design motif of weakness!
Once my shopping was complete, I needed  one more perfect element - a special date for the evening. After last year's date, William Powell, made such a grand and dashing entrance, I was at a loss for this year's selection. After all, I refuse to give up any of my fantastical requirements for the perfect date: he must be able to walk into a room with an air of confidence and debonair charm. He must be able to carry a tux like he was born in one. He must be able to dance beautifully, and above all, he must make me laugh! No ultra serious men will have the honor of my company for the ball. The perfect mix lies in that sophisticated, intelligent, charming man, who is confident enough to smile and laugh in a way that proves he is enjoying life to the fullest! Throw in a charming British accent, and you have: David Niven.
After reviewing David's offer, it was discovered, that he was not only an amazing actor, completely charming and witty fellow, but a war hero, and overall honorable guy - who also loved to laugh! It was said that "Niv was the twinkling star, the meteor who lit up every room he entered." I always loved him as an actor, and for tonight, he is not the older, gruffer actor I remember, but the young, witty, with a dash of slap-stick actor that I remember so fondly from his 1939 stint with Ginger Rogers in The Bachelor Mother.....move over Ginger, this time it's my turn to dance with the legendary twinkling star of Hollywood! 
See you all next year! Thanks to Ms. Kincaid for another triumphant ball!


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