New post over on Morbid Anatomy excerpting Sir James George Frazer’s discussion of the hand of glory in The Golden Bough:
If a candle made of the fat of a malefactor who had also died on the gallows was lighted and placed in the Hand of Glory as in a candlestick, it rendered motionless all persons to whom it was presented; they could not stir a finger any more than if they were dead. Sometimes the dead man’s hand is itself the candle, or rather bunch of candles, all its withered fingers being set on fire; but should any member of the household be awake, one of the fingers will not kindle. Such nefarious lights can only be extinguished with milk. Often it is prescribed that the thief’s candle should be made of the finger of a new-born or, still better, unborn child; sometimes it is thought needful that the thief should have one such candle for every person in the house, for if he has one candle too little somebody in the house will wake and catch him. Once these tapers begin to burn, there is nothing but milk that will put them out. In the seventeenth century robbers used to murder pregnant women in order thus to extract candles from their wombs.
Image source: Haunted America Tours, via Morbid Anatomy.
Civil courts sentenced suicide murderers to be pinched five times with red-hot tongs on their way from the prison to the scaffold. Then their hands were chopped off, followed by the head, after which the dead body was displayed on a big wheel as a warning to others.
Image: The Royal Library, Copenhagen; via Past Horizons.
The thought of designing an apparatus to stimulate death by electrocution first came to dentist Dr. Albert Southwick in 1881, who watched a drunk man touch the terminal of an electricity generator in Buffalo, New York. Impressed at how quickly and painlessly the man died, he mentioned the incident to his friend, a state senator, who promptly brought the matter to the attention of the governor. The state legislature was then asked to consider how modern day electricity might emerge as an alternative to the often grisly process of hanging, in which incompetent executioners often inadvertently subjected prisoners to slow deaths by strangulation or decapitation.
Photo taken moments before the execution of prominent Mormon John Doyle Lee in 1877 for his role in the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. Lee is shown seated on his coffin.
Find out more about the massacre in this article on the Smithsonian’s Past Imperfect blog.
On March 28, 1877, John Doyle Lee, wearing a coat and scarf, took a seat atop the coffin where his body would lie. A photographer was nearby. Lee asked that whatever photograph was made be copied for his last three wives. The photographer agreed. Lee posed. And then an hour before noon, he shook hands with the men around him, removed his coat and hat and faced the five men of the firing party.
“Let them shoot the balls through my heart!” Lee shouted. “Don’t let them mangle my body!”
On U.S. Marshal William Nelson’s command, shots rang out in the ravine where so many shots had rung out twenty years before, and Lee fell back onto his coffin, dead.
gunhilde asked: I may be wrong about this, but from what I remember, that diary is actually the sole known instance of a Resurrection Man keeping any such record of his activities. Obviously, there were good reasons not to do so.
You’re probably right; it makes sense that somewhere between only one and just a few of them would ever commit this stuff to paper.
So, my post earlier today should have said, “One of them kept a diary.”
Article from The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice on the “Tyburn Tree,” notorious site for public hangings in what is today London:
Beginning in the 18th century, Tyburn became a battleground between the surgeons who needed to procure corpses for dissection and the mob who fought ferociously to protect the dead from this indignity.
William Burke (1792- 1829)
A bodysnatcher, who murdered about 15 (rather 30) people. In Dec. 1828 he was found guilty for the murder of one of the victims, and sentenced to death and public dissection. “Burke’s body is to be dissected, and his Skeleton to be preserved, in order that posterity may keep in remembrance his atrocious crimes,” read the handbill that circulated at the time. He was hanged before a crowd of 20,000 on Jan. 28th, 1829, and his body was brought to Dr. Alexander Monro tertius (1773-1859), Dr. Knox’s rival. During his dissection, the anatomist made a death mask, the cast of which was recently found in storage at Inveraray jail in Argyll. After some 24,000 people filed past Burke’s mutilated body, his skeleton was processed and his skin was tanned so that it could be crafted into souvenirs.
Excellent photos in this article. I’m not sure I buy the Shakespeare death mask story, though.
Looking into the face of a mass murderer: haunting death mask of William Burke on display in macabre exhibition of medical artefacts
The haunting facial cast of mass murderer William Burke, taken shortly before his execution, is to go on display later this month.
It will be shown alongside Burke’s skeleton at the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Museum as part of an exhibition of medical artefacts.
Together with accomplice William Hare, Burke carried out at least 15 murders in the 1820s and sold the bodies for use in anatomy lessons.
When the pair were caught, Hare was offered immunity from prosecution if he confessed and agreed to testify against his former partner.
Burke was sentenced to death by hanging in 1829, and then publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College.
The dissecting professor, Alexander Monro, dipped his quill pen into Burke’s blood and wrote, ‘This is written with the blood of Wm Burke, who was hanged at Edinburgh. This blood was taken from his head.’
Edinburgh University’s Museum of Anatomy has now undergone a major revamp, and will open to the public on January 28 – the 183rd anniversary of Burke’s execution.
More than 40 masks, created from casts taken in both life and death, will be on display.
Historic faces on show will include Sir Walter Scott, Isaac Newton, Shakespeare and King George III.
Such masks were popular in the 19th century, when they were used in the now-discredited practice of phrenology.
This postulated that the shape and size of a person’s skull could help explain their mind and behaviour.
Other artefacts at the museum include 19th century anatomical teaching models made from wax and wood, as well as a preserved body from the late 1790s, which is exhibited alongside an etching carried out when the remains were embalmed.
Visitors to the museum at the Teviot Medical School, which opened in 1884, will also be able to see the historic anatomy lecture theatre.
Gordon Findlater of the university’s anatomy department said: ‘The museum provides a fascinating insight into how anatomy has progressed from the late 1700s to the present day.’
The Anatomy Museum, in Teviot Place, Edinburgh, will be open to the public on the last Saturday of every month, from 10am-4pm, starting on January 28.
A definite must-see! Click the photo for more great images!
This is the head of Porsmose Man, a skeletonized bog body found in 1946 near the town of Næstved in Denmark.
As fucked up as that arrowhead through the nasal cavity looks, that’s not even what killed him. Rather, he was killed by an arrow through the breastbone that pierced his aorta. The arrows were likely fired from above, at a close distance. Archaeologists suspect he was either surprised by his attackers or was the victim of an execution. In either case, he was thrown in a lake.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.
The night before his execution, Maximilien Robespierre tried to kill himself with a pistol, but he was unsuccessful. He merely shattered his jaw.
The next day, 28 July 1794, Robespierre was guillotined without trial in the Place de la Révolution. […] When clearing Robespierre’s neck the executioner tore off the bandage that was holding his shattered jaw in place, producing an agonised scream until the fall of the blade silenced him. Together with those executed with him, he was buried in a common grave at the newly opened Errancis cemetery (cimetière des Errancis) (March 1794 – April 1797) (now the Place de Goubeaux). Between 1844 and 1859 (probably in 1848), the remains of all those buried there were moved to the Catacombs of Paris.
Image: “Death mask of French Revolutionary & member of the Committee of Public Safety, Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) who was sent to the guillotine in 1794.” Unknown photographer, 1901. Source: LIFE Photo Archive, hosted by Google.
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave;
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave;
John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave;
His soul’s marching on!
On the morning of December 2, Brown wrote: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.” He read his Bible and wrote a final letter to his wife, which included his will. At 11:00 he was escorted from the county jail through a crowd of 2,000 soldiers a few blocks away to a small field where the gallows were. Among the soldiers in the crowd were future Confederate general Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Booth, who borrowed a militia uniform to gain admission to the execution. The poet Walt Whitman, in “Year of Meteors,” described viewing the execution.
Brown was accompanied by the sheriff and his assistants, but no minister since he had consistently rejected the ministrations of pro-slavery clergy. […] He elected to receive no religious services in the jail or at the scaffold. He was hanged at 11:15 a.m. and pronounced dead at 11:50 a.m. His body was placed in a wooden coffin with the noose still around his neck.
Image: John Brown’s Grave at North Elba, N.Y. [Reverse side.] by New York Public Library on Flickr. Ca 1870.
From Wikimedia Commons:
Public guillotining in Lons-le-Saunier, 1897. Picture taken on 20 April 1897, in front of the jailhouse of Lons-le-Saunier, Jura. The man who was going to be beheaded was Pierre Vaillat, who killed two elder siblings on Christmas day, 1896, in order to rob them and was condemned for his crimes on 9 March 1897.
Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.
Meet This Dead Person
Feats of Preservation
Skulls and Skeletons
Ossuaries and Bone Architecture
Incorruptibles and Saintly Relics
When Famous People Die
When Dead People Turn to Soap
Skeletons in Clothes
Dead People Sitting, Standing, or
Made to Look Alive
Death in Art
Accidents and Disasters
Morgues, Funeral Homes, and the
Business of Death
Mourning Customs and Imagery
Handling, Disposing of, and Storing
Posthumous Travels and
Cemeteries and Graveyard Scenes
Personal Details and Opinions
Just Plain Weird or Uncategorizable