Episode 134: Disturbing the Peace
There’s nothing more certain in life than death. No matter how rewarding or challenging our days on this planet might be, for as long as humans have been around, we’ve viewed death as something akin to slumber, however natural or untimely it might be. But not all that sleep are left undisturbed.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
rest in peace. It's a common
response to the death of some one well known or well loved and has been for a very long time. While it's been popular since the eighteenth century, instances of it can be found all the way back to the fore hundreds when people die. We truly do wish that they will rest in peace but, of course,
that's not always the case. Is it in two thousand thirteen researchers working at a progenitors historic Jamestown site uncovered the bodies of four men that are believed to be part of the original leadership of the colony? And yes, I could tell you all about them who they were and what they did. But that would be missing the point they were at rest for a long while, but eventually that rest was disturbed.
Archaeologists are good at that. It's part of their job really to study the remains of the past. In order to put the puzzle of ancient history back together, again, researchers aren't the only people digging up graves and disturbing the rest of those within them.
watch. Any documentary on ancient Egypt and you'll eventually be introduced to the concept of tomb robbers, individuals who made a living by breaking into tombs and stealing the valuable goods inside them. That's what made king.
To him so spectacular. He was a minor pharaoh who didn't rule for very long, so it safe to assume
other rulers would have had much more lavish collection valuables in their tomb. No King Tut was exceptional because his tomb managed to evade the tomb robbers, but there is a third group of people who break that sacred boundary and disturbed the sleep of the dead. Although we ten-
forget about them, partly because we honestly just never expect to find them in the first place, but also because we have so much faith in humanity that we don't expect them to exist, and yet, for a very long time, they not only existed
the thrived and they earned a name that has become synonymous with disrespect and violation, because every one feared the body snatchers aim, Aaron Monkey and this is lower.
What started out as a simple renovation had become something more mysterious
In July of nineteen, ninety nine workers were onsite at Harvard Universities, Holden Chapel, where they discovered something wholly unexpected and equally unsettling. The walls of the chapel basement were lined with bones human bones. It did it take long for their true nature to be discovered. The bones dated two, the late seventeen hundreds and represented one of the darkest chapters of the universities, long history, because the bodies weren't stash, thereby prolific killer or even a public afraid of plague.
In remains. No, they were put there by faculty. You see the late. Seventeen hundreds was a boom era for medical schools. More and more hopeful students were pursuing a career in medicine, and that meant that schools were beginning to overflow with fresh minds to train, but with that influx of students
a new problem. There are no longer enough human corpses to go around for everyone to study. It's a problem, that's most often discussed,
in the framework of England and Scotland and stories of people like Birchen
air have gone a long way towards planting that dark chapter in british history into our modern minds. But it's not a problem that state across the Atlantic. It seems that even in America, that challenge of supply and demand was met with a less than savory solution allow.
Of it came down to the laws in the United Kingdom, the only bodies that were legal for dissection were those of executed criminals, which happened rarely enough to effectively choke the supply of medical school cadavers and because Massachusetts began as an english colony. It shared many of those same laws and the restrict
and is caused by the which explains all those bones beneath harboured, Holden Jabber, one man even try to build a bit of organization around it. Joseph Warren was the son of Doktor John Worn, professor of anatomy. At Harvard now, maybe young Joseph had heard his father's com
it's too often to ignore, or perhaps his father was in on the idea of lung
sometime around one thousand seven hundred and ninety six Joseph formed a secret society called the anatomical club. It wasn't to study group, though. Instead it was a group of men committed to the art of body snatching, and I don't use the term art lightly. This group developed a set of best practices and general philosophy
About their work, for example, the proper crew for an evening, a body snatching was apparently three people to to do the digging and dragging and another to transport. The corpse to the customer.
And I can't move on without mentioning that one of Joseph warrants partners in this endeavour was a guy named John Revere sigh,
of the legendary Paul Revere, but this activity
the limited to Harvard University or even Massachusetts. It was cool
and at other medical schools, including those in Baltimore and Philadelphia anywhere. There was demand. Certain people rose up to meet it and they got really really good at it too and tricky. There are reports of medical students, pain women to go to local poor houses and claim fresh bodies pretending to be their grieving relatives. In other cases, students would bribe lamp lighters in the city to take. The night
or at least skip the area of town near their preferred graveyards. According to historian Michael Sample, this activity even became organised across entire communities in eighteen. Twenty eight, a group of anatomy professors in Philadelphia all signed a treaty that set the terms for who receive corpses for their classrooms. How many? And how often, if any one had problems? The mayor was designated as the person to resolve the disagreements. It was literally a conspiracy that went all the way to the top and it worked
but body snatching like so many other human activities, quickly became yet one more arena where human flaws were reflected. Medical
it is in those who worked for them typically avoided the graves of people from middle and upper class. Instead, they focused on potter's fields and the poor of their communities, because in their minds at least people mattered, less Anne had fewer rights when they were poor and other favorite spot tended to be military burial grounds, especially those of sailors. They were poor, typically disconnected from a local family and quite often were from a minority group, and there is one place where
prejudice was put unfold, display New York City, but the big apple has never been the sort of place to take things lying down. The people there have a way of fighting for a better life and they always have so in practice as unethical as body snatching moved in and took root in the late seventeen hundreds, you can probably guess how the people of New York handled it. Sadly,
things didn't end well for anyone involved, and yet it lined up neatly with something that history has proven. We are very, very good at tragedy and violence and death
It was easier than you might have thought,
Becoming a medical doctor in New York City in the late, seventeen hundreds wasn't, the nearly endless gauntlet of schooling and residency that physicians face today back then folks had a couple of options and actual medical, school or private lessons from a practising doctor for the official track. There was
Colombia College, as New York cities only medical school at the time. This was where
who could enroll and work towards a real degree. But if that wasn't an option, one could go to the New York Hospital or Doktor Richard Bailey offered to teach classes of his own each option firm. All their differences had the same problem, though they were just not
cadavers to go around, which meant that a lot of students lack the hands on experience. They needed to truly master their lessons. Thankfully, for them there were
Stan savory alternatives. Colombia college sat conveniently close to a pair of cemeteries, although their demographics should in surprise you one was a potter's field, a burial place for the poor,
unclaimed, while the other was called the negroes burial ground, and although it was a few blocks away, the New York Hospital made use of those cemeteries as well.
Now Colombia Colleges, medical programme was run by amending Doktor Charles midnight, he
solid reputation in the community and didn't blatantly instruct his students to provide their own cadavers through body snatching, but he didn't tell them not to
stands as a perfect illustration of how silence from authorities can often empower the worst in people. However, now
New York, hospitals, Doktor Bailey, had a less than perfect reputation. He was rumor,
to be a cruel man who experimented on the sick against their wishes, as patients were often poor and without the social clout to fight back making them. The perfect choice for a medical teacher looking for hands on experience for his students
In January of one thousand seven hundred and eighty eight, the city's medical students began to increase their activity at night, robbing dozens of grass. One reason was that snow is still on the ground and body stay fresh longer in the cold.
Typically dissection, had to begin immediately after the body was dug up for obvious reasons, but the cold and snow allowed for a bit more time. In fact, there are stories of severed limbs being stored in bundles of.
No, while internal organs were often pickled and whisky or vinegar to fight off the k, it was messy and most likely took a strong stomach to handle it all. But the students did at every single night rather than keep their activity discreet. They became more and more bold, which left evidence around for the general public to notice and be disturbed by two things happen as a result of their bold and obvious crimes burst the local community of free black New Yorkers, gathered together a committee and sent them to Town Hall, which was located near by they stood before the City Council and ask them to find the people who were stealing the bodies of their loved ones and require them to be more discreet about it, and I know what you're
thinking. Why didn't they just ass the city council to stop them completely? And the answer is complex because, yes, the medical students were being disrespectful and the way they handle things was ham, fisted and sloppy, but there were
also, a large percentage of new Yorkers who understood the upside to body snatching because of students didn't get a proper hands on education. They wouldn't make for good doctors, and that has the potential to turn into decades of pain and suffering for their future patience. Was it an easy choice? Absolutely not
but they felt like they were picking the lesser of two evils. The second major events kicked off by the increase in body. Snatching was a letter sent to the local paper. The daily advertiser. This letter, addressed to the editor of the paper, complained about the criminal deeds taking place, and it suggested that laws should be passed to prohibit it, pointing to just how insidious disrespectful and race.
We buy us the crimes were the Daily advertiser published that letter in MID February, a one thousand seven hundred and eighty eight generating a storm of dialogue and concern within just a couple of weeks
Another anonymous letter was sent to the paper this time. A rebuttal of the first.
The author of the second letter was most likely a medical student, so we have to acknowledge the obvious bias that drove them to write it
made that same old argument as before. More cadavers meant better doctors in every one, once a skilled medical professional on their side when life go sideways.
Alongside this new letter, the Daily Advertiser publish news of another body, snatching in the city. Now, obviously,
for far too many taking place to report on all of them- and it is rare for poor and minority communities to get print space, this one, though, was different.
It seems the body of a woman was stolen from the graveyard of Trinity Church and the church wanted to offer a financial reward for her return. All of this tension began to put a strain on the people of New York City.
of war between the need for better medical education and the common decency than all graves should receive the balance between desperation and morality and the clear
differences between the way graves of the middle and upper class retreated and those of the poor and under represented restoration like that, doesn't just go away. Instead, it Sir
yours and builds and become something more and more volatile over time and then in April of seventeen. Eighty eight all of that came to a boil and the results were terrified
what set it all off was a wave of the hand
understand what I mean, though we need to back up slightly, because I need
Help, you understand exactly what most of these medical students were like in seventeen. Eighty eight,
to historians. A good majority of doctors began their training around the age of fifteen, and while we could do that, dance where we talk about maturity levels over the past few centuries, but how fifteen year olds back then were getting married and working jobs there still the glaring fact that those teenagers or bear
separated from their childhood, so medical school or not, they worked the most mature, in fact, despite the public uproar over the rat
the body, snatching that everyone knew was being done by these students. They would frequently dress up in the traditional clothing of their trade and walk through the streets. It was almost as if they were taunting the people of their community. They seem to be saying yes, we know you disapprove and we don't care
But I mentioned a wave didn't I the way the story has been recorded. A group of children were plain in the empty field beside the New York Hospital when one
them spotted something frightening. He pointed up toward a window in the rest of his friends, followed the gesture
Their dangling out of a second story window was a severed human arm.
In one record of the events. One of the boys found a ladder and climbed up to the window for a better look. Once
level with the opening he saw that the room was occupied. In fact, it was a dissecting room where a student named John Hicks was working on the corpse of a woman when Hicks noticed the boy he
Stop the severed arm, told him that it belong to his recently deceased mother and then shook the arm at him, causing the limp hand to flop back and forth in a morbid wave. Understandably, the boy was frightened out of his mind and he quickly descended the ladder and ran home
and to his father- a man still grieving the loss of his wife. At the news of what John
Ex had done and what he had claimed in his words to the boy, this father rushed from the house in a rage ass quickly, ass. He could he arranged for his wife's grave to be exude looking for proof that the young man,
Do student had been guilty of nothing more than being a petulant teenager, but the coffin was empty. I have a feeling John Hicks knew that he had crossed the line. Yes digging up. The bodies of the recently deceased without permission was miles pass the line already, but this felt different. He had flaunted that disrespect to a young boy, and I have to believe that he quickly realized. It was a mistake in the moments after the boy had been frightened off Ex made his own escape
running for the home of a retired physician by the name of Doktor John Cochrane, the boys, father, though didn't hide,
he gathered a mob of equally angry members of his community
together, they all marched toward the hospital where they were
stay inside and discovered a number of bodies laid out on dissection tables to the medical students
was nothing more than homework to the angry mob, though it looked like brutal mutilation proving once again
that just about everything in life is a matter of perception. The mob, exploded in rage and began to drag every cadaver. They found out into the streets where they tossed them into a bomb
fire, then perhaps because their anger had clouded their judgment, they rounded.
every medical student in the building, along with one of their instructors, a man named Doktor Right post and remove them from the building some in the crowd, suggested that they be tossed into the fire as well
The next morning, the mob moved on to a new target Colombia College
news of their arrival had preceded them, though, and when they arrived, one of the college's former students was standing on the front steps of the school ready to send them home. But despite the fact that this man,
none other than Alexander Hamilton, the mob pushed right past him and search the school for more bodies, and it wasn't a small crowd either. Both
Estimates placed the size of the mob at around a few thousand, making it something too serious to ignore. In response the governor sent in the militia
but with tensions already as high as they could get armed military.
Personnel was the last thing. The situation needed in the confrontation that followed at least
Three militiamen were killed by rocks at the mob had thrown in response. The soldiers fired back killing just as many.
When it was all over the conflict moved on to the courtroom. Some doctors produce sworn affidavits the clay.
They had no idea their students were robbing grace. Others dodge the issue by remaining in hiding
student who had said it all off John Hicks, never appeared in court despite being ordered by the authorities to do so. In fact, they did manage to track him down to the home of that retired physician Doktor John Cochrane, but they never found Hicks, which is amazing really because, according to one historian, the search team actually went as far as to stand in front of the window and looked out on to the roof of Cochrane's home, but they never opened it and climbed outside if they had, they might have been tempted to look around, and that would have been bad news for young John Hicks because he was killed.
Up in a ball on the roof of the house next door, hiding in the shadow of the chimney like a common thief and considering what he had done to get there, I'm glad to hear he could find no peace.
It's easy to look back on earlier moments in history and pass judgement. We can find flaws in just about everything done by the people who came before us, and I took a clean, try to see past all of that to understand the particular situation. They might have been
and whether it was unusual behaviour driven by superstitious, folklore or the pursuit of scientific disk.
Worries that we now know were impossible or laughable. The actions of those who came before us can certainly seem primitive, but that attitude would be misguided in most situations. The people who came before
or ass did their best with what they had and we can learn a lot from their tenacity. The doctors
I had of seventeen. Eighty eight, though, is an exception. Yes, it's true that medical students needed cadavers to further their education. No one is disputing that trust
but the natural and social laws that they broke in pursuit of that education aren't something that looks better if we could only just put ourselves in their shoes what they did was wrong plain and simple, and they knew it
I understand that hands on experience with the human body help these students become better physicians. I think all of us get that, but the respect and dignity that we show toward the dead isn't a passing fad. It's been part of human culture
since the very beginning, as one headstone in Savannah Georgia, so eloquently states after life's fitful fever, they sleep well or at least that's the hope.
The practice of body snatching continued for many years and with
There were more riots like the one in New York, in fact, in the rough
ninety years, between one thousand seven hundred and sixty five and one thousand eight hundred and fifty four there were at
seventeen similar riots by angry communities, from Baltimore and Philadelphia to Cleveland and beyond. And if you,
the news carefully enough these days, you might just catch the occasional modern rendition of these events. Because body snatching
sadly, still something that takes place even today, criminals harbours
organs and other body parts from the dead authority
is called them body brokers because they gather and sell here
and body parts like inventory in a warehouse rest in peace is a wonderful sentiments in one that all of us hope is true. Life is often difficult and painful, as history is so quick to remind us when it's all over most people cling to the promise.
But they'll finally get some rest. One last detail about the seventeen eighty eight doctors riot. It turns out doctors
Cochrane was probably the most powerful person John Hicks could have fled to considering his options. Why? Because not only was Cochrane a doctor who understood the complex nature of the situation,
because he also served as a surgeon in the revolutionary war before becoming the fourth surgeon general in american history. That was part of his power arrest, came through relationships and that Cochran was part of that legendary crossing of the Delaware River. On Christmas night in one thousand, seven hundred and seventy six, the one that's depicted in that famous Emanuel, Lutz Painting and because of his participation in such a pivotal moment in american history, he had a very powerful friend, a friendship that practically guarantee that the people who are
Jeanne Cochrane's house, wouldn't have free rein to violate the doctors rights and that friend, beyond being a heroic general who is loved and admired by nearly every one in the young nation. He was
so serving that nation as its president, its first in fact, Doktor John Cochrane's, powerful friend, of course, with George Washington,
I hope that you enjoy this brief tour through the world of american body snatching and while
I fully admit that some of the details are hard to here. There is so much.
About our countries early years that we can learn from the practice and if you stick around through this brief sponsor break, I have one more tail left to tell you. This episode was made possible by staff stock. Come if you're a small business owner you're busy enough as it is needed, have time to deal with the hassle of going to the post.
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Ben arrived early for his father's funeral. His father John Scott, had been
twenty three years old and had passed away peacefully in his sleep just four days earlier, and it was on his walk toward the grave site that Ben noticed something odd one of the nearby graves, that of a young tuberculosis victim named Augustus Devon. I've been dug up and emptied
body statures. Of course, that's not a reassuring thing to see. On the morning of your own fathers funeral, so
Once the ceremony was over Ben pulled two of his brothers aside Carter and John, and together
they planned away to make sure their father didn't meet the same fate according to this
worry. They had workers enter their fathers script and lay three stone slabs over the top of the coffin before covering it all with concrete brow
safety. The brothers slip some cash to a local man to stand watch over the tomb for a full month, plenty of time for nature to take its course, making their fathers body less than desirable to potential thieves Ben was finished just yet. He spent the past three decades of his life working as an attorney and knew just how insidious these body snatching operations could be so he pulled some strings and obtained a search warrant for the Medical College of Ohio in Cincinnati. There had been reports of strange
time, deliveries to the back alley, and he had a few suspicions about that. The day after his father's burial Ben showed up with an entire team behind him. His brother John, was there, as was a cousin in George, and there were three Cincinnati police officers ready to assist if needed and after being led inside by a janitor. They quickly found with it.
looking for it seems that the back Alley Door had led to a small room with a tunnel built into the ceiling almost like looking up into an elevator shaft IRAN's straight up into the darkness. There is plenty to look out right there in the basement room. According to reports, they found multiple bodies, men and women, and even children that had all been stolen from local graves,
and the evidence was damning, but they still needed to see what was at the top of that vertical shaft. So they followed the janitor up.
driving a short while later in a room at the top of the building that was fitted with a winch expertly, designed to haul heavy objects up from below whether it had been installed for a more mundane purpose. Long before no one knew what it was clear to ban and the others that are now served as a mechanism for lifting bodies up from the seller. Out of curiosity and still hoping they might find the stolen body of Augustus Devon, one of the police officers turned the crank to raise the rope as it inched upwards. So too did a body laid on the small ones,
platform, its form covered with a white sheet Ben glanced at it and remarked to his brother that the body seemed too heavy to be that of a former tuberculosis patient and that they should look elsewhere. But his brother John was more persistent. Perhaps he suggested we should check beneath the sheet, just in case Ben nodded and then reached out and tongue, the white cloth away a moment later, both brothers caught their breath he had been
right. It was it the body of Augustus Devon, but someone much more familiar to both of them. It was their father, David,
later discover how it all happened. The details must have been frustrating for the family. They had gone to such great lengths to make sure the body snatchers would be held off, and yet it hadn't worked, and not only that, but they must have believed that the thieves would avoid the grave site, thanks to how well connected and powerful their father had been after all,
be more connected and powerful than being related to two american president's. You see not only had John Scott Harrison lived, his life as the son of former President, William Henry Harrison adjusted decade after his death and the theft of his body is own son would take up that mental. That's right, Ben, the intrepid investigator who broke up a body snatching ring in Cincinnati, went on to serve in the highest elected office in the nation, becoming America's twenty third President's Benjamin Harrison,
this episode of war was written and produced by me. Aaron monkey with reach
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Transcript generated on 2022-03-12.