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Grave Robber Foiler

on October 3, 2012 - 10:07am

While scrolling through my reader, I came across an image of The Baker Burglar-Proof Metallic Grave Vault which promised protection for those who couldn't afford a mausoleum but still want to be buried like a king (a king safe from grave robbers). 

It caught my interest because - besides the obvious reasons - I've been reading Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930, a book described by Publisher's Weekly as "a startling window into the education of American doctors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries-on both a visceral level and for its revealing cultural record. Cringe-worthy shots of medical students-bare-handed gentlemen and a few ladies in street clothes show off their scalpels, saws and textbooks-while their cadavers, mostly poor and black, are awkwardly posed, and exposed."

The book's beginning talks of how early North American medical schools acquired their first subjects for dissection during a time when the concept was taboo to say the least (while in Europe the practice was more accepted).

We've all seen movies with Igor helping his master to gather fresh corpses for his Frankenstein Monster, or grave robbers digging up the dead for valuables, or mad doctors paying for corpses. For some reason, I had believed it was only in these rare situations that someone would steal a body. 

According to the book, I'm wrong. At one point, stealing corpses was the only way many North American medical schools could get their hands on cadavers for study. The practice was known within the educational community (and sought out by medical students), but students were told to be discreet. This, of course, didn't stop them from posing for pictures to capture these rare moments of having a body to work on.

As the description above points out, the corpses were "mostly poor and black" because at the time, they were the least likely to be missed, or the least likely to offend should the school be found out.

I mean, I knew it happened, I just didn't realize it happened all over the country. That is was so common.

I got curious and decided to do a search for the grave vault online. What I came up with were newspaper ads from the Cape Vincent Eagle that had the vault settled in among other advertisements promoting "reliable remedies" of various sorts, patent companies, funeral services and of course, the Hotel Iroquois in Kingston, Ontario. 

The add for the vault goes on to say:

"Grave robberies don't occur every week and perhaps some cemeteries are never visted by ghouls. Many graves, however, are opened and the dirt so carefully put back, and all the tracks so skillfully covered as not to attract attention. Your cemetery may be visited any night.


What then indeed! 

I'll place an order for mine right away! And while I wait for it to arrive, I will read the charming jokes and stories on the newspaper spread about a man who asked a woman to marry him despite the fact she was wicked and whipped him, or how Solomon was crazy for having so many women while Noah had one and knew when to get in out of the rain. Take a look for yourself.

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