New York circa 1911. “Grant’s Tomb. Rubber-neck auto on Riverside Drive.” Via Shorpy.

New York circa 1911. “Grant’s Tomb. Rubber-neck auto on Riverside Drive.” Via Shorpy.

This is a watchtower in Dalkeith Cemetery, near Edinburgh, Scotland. It was built in 1827, when folks—particularly in Scottish communities near the medical schools in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen—felt a real need to have their dead protected, and those with enough money were able to do something about it.
The well publicized crimes of the Williams Burke and Hare in 1827 and 1828—men who escalated body-snatching from mere grave-robbing to actual murder—didn’t help, either. Some communities built structures called morthouses to temporarily house the dead as they made their journey from freshness to putrefaction. This one is in Udny, in Aberdeenshire:

This particular morthouse is unique because of its clever design. Inside was a sort of lazy Susan for the dead. From Geograph: 

This circular stone building houses a revolving wheel upon which a coffin would be placed and kept securely under lock and key. When another body was deposited, the wheel would be turned slightly to accommodate the new coffin. Eventually, when a coffin had been rotated one full revolution, it could safely be buried because the corpse would be sufficiently decomposed as to be of no use to the body-snatchers.

Only a few of these structures still exist. Here’s a recent article about plans to restore a deteriorating morthouse in east Perthshire, Scotland.
Top image: Photograph by Kim Traynor, via Wikipedia. Bottom image: Lynette and Malcolm Johnson, via Geograph.

This is a watchtower in Dalkeith Cemetery, near Edinburgh, Scotland. It was built in 1827, when folks—particularly in Scottish communities near the medical schools in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen—felt a real need to have their dead protected, and those with enough money were able to do something about it.

The well publicized crimes of the Williams Burke and Hare in 1827 and 1828—men who escalated body-snatching from mere grave-robbing to actual murder—didn’t help, either. Some communities built structures called morthouses to temporarily house the dead as they made their journey from freshness to putrefaction. This one is in Udny, in Aberdeenshire:

This particular morthouse is unique because of its clever design. Inside was a sort of lazy Susan for the dead. From Geograph: 

This circular stone building houses a revolving wheel upon which a coffin would be placed and kept securely under lock and key. When another body was deposited, the wheel would be turned slightly to accommodate the new coffin. Eventually, when a coffin had been rotated one full revolution, it could safely be buried because the corpse would be sufficiently decomposed as to be of no use to the body-snatchers.

Only a few of these structures still exist. Here’s a recent article about plans to restore a deteriorating morthouse in east Perthshire, Scotland.

Top image: Photograph by Kim Traynor, via Wikipedia.
Bottom image: Lynette and Malcolm Johnson, via Geograph.

Triumph of Life: Plague Columns

From Atlas Obscura’s Morbid Monday, many Mondays back:

After the second wave of the Black Death swept through Europe in the 17th century, the survivors burned the bodies, thanked god, and built monumental tributes to their deliverance.

On a grand scale, plague memorial churches, like Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, were built to celebrate the end of epidemics.

On a smaller scale other cities erected “plague columns”, public statues that  served as calls to faith, indirect memorials the thousands lost, and a symbol of hope for the future sprang up across Europe.

Read the article.

Exquisite Corpses: The Art of the Cadaver Tomb

From the ever-great Atlas Obscura:

Something strange happened to funeral monuments in the 15th century. Across France, Italy and England the long standing practice of carving recumbant effigies in poses of gentle rest was replaced by depictions of rotting corpses.

Read more.

10 Creepiest Abandoned Morgues on Earth

Interesting photos in here. However, it kinda bums me out that this site can’t spell “Archaeology” correctly.

So I’ve been away, in San Francisco on business, and now I’m back home, basking in the Austin heat.
I did have some down time while I was there. On Saturday, I walked to the halfway point of the Golden Gate Bridge and back again. Being the person that I am, though, I couldn’t not think of suicide the whole time I was walking it. Not my suicide (I frankly don’t have the guts or the will to do that, ever), but others’.
Back in 2003, I read “Jumpers,” Tad Friend’s article in The New Yorker. Until then, I didn’t know how frequent Golden Gate Bridge suicides were. More than 1,300 people are known to have jumped to their deaths from the bridge since it opened in 1937, though the actual number is probably much higher. It’s the most popular suicide destination in the world.
Inspired by Friend’s article, in 2004 a filmmaker named Eric Steele set up cameras to record the bridge non-stop during daylight hours with the intention of capturing the inevitable suicides on film. The result is The Bridge, a documentary released in 2006. I just watched the film on Hulu Plus, and it’s fascinating, though not without some controversy. Interviews with jumpers’ families and friends are interwoven with long-distance footage from the bridge. Mostly, it’s tourists stopping to take pictures, talk on their cell phones, or peer down to the bay below. But every now and then, one of them abruptly hitches him/herself over the railing and jumps off. It’s disorienting, fascinating, and hard to watch.
On the bridge in person, I was shocked at how low the railings were, how simple it might be to just straddle your way over the thing. From Wikipedia:

Various methods have been proposed and implemented to reduce the number of suicides. The bridge is fitted with suicide hotline telephones, and staff patrol the bridge in carts, looking for people who appear to be planning to jump. Iron workers on the bridge also volunteer their time to prevent suicides by talking or wrestling down suicidal people. The bridge is now closed to pedestrians at night. Cyclists are still permitted across at night, but must be buzzed in and out through the remotely controlled security gates. Attempts to introduce a suicide barrier had been thwarted by engineering difficulties, high costs, and public opposition. One recurring proposal had been to build a barrier to replace or augment the low railing, a component of the bridge’s original architectural design. New barriers have eliminated suicides at other landmarks around the world, but were opposed for the Golden Gate Bridge for reasons of cost, aesthetics, and safety (the load from a poorly designed barrier could significantly affect the bridge’s structural integrity during a strong windstorm).

(Image source: David Corby, 2006.)

So I’ve been away, in San Francisco on business, and now I’m back home, basking in the Austin heat.

I did have some down time while I was there. On Saturday, I walked to the halfway point of the Golden Gate Bridge and back again. Being the person that I am, though, I couldn’t not think of suicide the whole time I was walking it. Not my suicide (I frankly don’t have the guts or the will to do that, ever), but others’.

Back in 2003, I read “Jumpers,” Tad Friend’s article in The New Yorker. Until then, I didn’t know how frequent Golden Gate Bridge suicides were. More than 1,300 people are known to have jumped to their deaths from the bridge since it opened in 1937, though the actual number is probably much higher. It’s the most popular suicide destination in the world.

Inspired by Friend’s article, in 2004 a filmmaker named Eric Steele set up cameras to record the bridge non-stop during daylight hours with the intention of capturing the inevitable suicides on film. The result is The Bridge, a documentary released in 2006. I just watched the film on Hulu Plus, and it’s fascinating, though not without some controversy. Interviews with jumpers’ families and friends are interwoven with long-distance footage from the bridge. Mostly, it’s tourists stopping to take pictures, talk on their cell phones, or peer down to the bay below. But every now and then, one of them abruptly hitches him/herself over the railing and jumps off. It’s disorienting, fascinating, and hard to watch.

On the bridge in person, I was shocked at how low the railings were, how simple it might be to just straddle your way over the thing. From Wikipedia:

Various methods have been proposed and implemented to reduce the number of suicides. The bridge is fitted with suicide hotline telephones, and staff patrol the bridge in carts, looking for people who appear to be planning to jump. Iron workers on the bridge also volunteer their time to prevent suicides by talking or wrestling down suicidal people. The bridge is now closed to pedestrians at night. Cyclists are still permitted across at night, but must be buzzed in and out through the remotely controlled security gates. Attempts to introduce a suicide barrier had been thwarted by engineering difficulties, high costs, and public opposition. One recurring proposal had been to build a barrier to replace or augment the low railing, a component of the bridge’s original architectural design. New barriers have eliminated suicides at other landmarks around the world, but were opposed for the Golden Gate Bridge for reasons of cost, aesthetics, and safety (the load from a poorly designed barrier could significantly affect the bridge’s structural integrity during a strong windstorm).

(Image source: David Corby, 2006.)

Another view of the Capela dos Ossos in Évora, Portugal. Source: Wikipedia.

Another view of the Capela dos Ossos in Évora, Portugal. Source: Wikipedia.

 
Inscription above the entrance to the Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapel) in Évora, Portugal.  Translation: “We bones, lying here bare, are awaiting yours.”

Inscription above the entrance to the Capela dos Ossos (Bone Chapel) in Évora, Portugal.  Translation: “We bones, lying here bare, are awaiting yours.”

Henry Bedford Lemere, “Exeter Cathedral Tombs,” ca. 1865-85. Source: Cornell University Library on Flickr.

Henry Bedford Lemere, “Exeter Cathedral Tombs,” ca. 1865-85. Source: Cornell University Library on Flickr.

Chandelier containing at least one of each bone in the human body. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic. (Source: Todd Huffmann on Flickr. He has a ton of great Sedlec shots on there.)

Chandelier containing at least one of each bone in the human body. Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic. (Source: Todd Huffmann on Flickr. He has a ton of great Sedlec shots on there.)

The Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic contains the bones of somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 people. Wikipedia's got a pretty solid article explaining the site's history:

 
Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Palestine (Holy Land) by King Otakar II of Bohemiain 1278. When he returned, he brought with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha and sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery. The word of this pious act soon spread and the cemetery in Sedlec became a desirable burial site throughout Central Europe. During the Black Death in the mid 14th century, and after the Hessian Wars in the early 15th century, many thousands of people were buried there and the cemetery had to be greatly enlarged.
Around 1400 a Gothic church was built in the center of the cemetery with a vaulted upper level and a lower chapel to be used as an ossuary for the mass graves unearthed during construction, or simply slated for demolition to make room for new burials. After 1511 the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking their bones in the chapel was, according to legend, given to a half-blind monk of the order.
Between 1703 and 1710 a new entrance was constructed to support the front wall, which was leaning outward, and the upper chapel was rebuilt. This work, in the Czech Baroque style, was designed by Jan Santini Aichel.
In 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver, was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to put the bone heaps into order. The macabre result of his effort speaks for itself. Four enormous bell-shaped mounds occupy the corners of the chapel. An enormous chandelier of bones, which contains at least one of every bone in the human body, hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vault. Other works include piers and monstrances flanking the altar, a large Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms, and the signature of Rint, also executed in bone, on the wall near the entrance.

Image Source: Wikipedia. Photographer Kenneth Depoorter’s site also has a really stunning gallery of the ossuary.

The Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic contains the bones of somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 people. Wikipedia's got a pretty solid article explaining the site's history:

Henry, the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Sedlec, was sent to the Palestine (Holy Land) by King Otakar II of Bohemiain 1278. When he returned, he brought with him a small amount of earth he had removed from Golgotha and sprinkled it over the abbey cemetery. The word of this pious act soon spread and the cemetery in Sedlec became a desirable burial site throughout Central Europe. During the Black Death in the mid 14th century, and after the Hessian Wars in the early 15th century, many thousands of people were buried there and the cemetery had to be greatly enlarged.

Around 1400 a Gothic church was built in the center of the cemetery with a vaulted upper level and a lower chapel to be used as an ossuary for the mass graves unearthed during construction, or simply slated for demolition to make room for new burials. After 1511 the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking their bones in the chapel was, according to legend, given to a half-blind monk of the order.

Between 1703 and 1710 a new entrance was constructed to support the front wall, which was leaning outward, and the upper chapel was rebuilt. This work, in the Czech Baroque style, was designed by Jan Santini Aichel.

In 1870, František Rint, a woodcarver, was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to put the bone heaps into order. The macabre result of his effort speaks for itself. Four enormous bell-shaped mounds occupy the corners of the chapel. An enormous chandelier of bones, which contains at least one of every bone in the human body, hangs from the center of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vault. Other works include piers and monstrances flanking the altar, a large Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms, and the signature of Rint, also executed in bone, on the wall near the entrance.

Image Source: Wikipedia. Photographer Kenneth Depoorter’s site also has a really stunning gallery of the ossuary.

Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.

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