Evasion of the Bodysnatchers | Bleader

Friday, December 25, 2009

Evasion of the Bodysnatchers

Posted By on 12.25.09 at 10:00 AM

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Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1899. Yesterday I was considering having my earthly remains hung up to season in a smokehouse, but today I’m leaning toward the anti-cryogenic scheme proposed by the ingenious Mr. George R. Seamans of Chicago.

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"Powdered meat?," you're probably thinking by now. "Of what earthly use is that?" And that's just the sort of blinkered thinking that separates you from a visionary like George R. Seamans.
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"A warm advocate of cremation"—very witty, Wilde!
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This was actually a very real concern, though nothing about it was specific to the cremation side of the funeral business (which was tiny and marginal at the time). Fresh human bodies had significant cash value to medical schools, who used them for anatomical training. So lots of bodies got diverted from the morgue or the undertaker's to the black market. Those that made it into the ground were subject to being dug up and stolen. Sometimes the guys with the shovels were doctors and med students, but more frequently they were professional recyclers variously known as body snatchers, grave robbers, or resurrectionists.

There was rather less of this in Chicago than many other cities, owing to a progressive 1875 law that made automatic anatomical subjects out of all the sad bastards who died friendless and broke in hospitals, prisons, asylums, and workhouses. But the law didn't do anything to prevent out-of-town resurrectionists from raiding Chicago cemeteries and shipping bodies elsewhere. (There was a lot of interstate trafficking of cadavers).
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“We’ve secretly replaced the regular cremains at this upscale funeral home with Seamans’ Crystals™. Can these discriminating mourners tell the difference? Let’s find out.”*

Seriously though, Seaman's plan offers pretty good value, really. Try to get yourself ground to a fine, glittering powder and scattered to the four winds for $10 these days and see how far you get.

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Premature burial wasn't an entirely crazy thing to worry about either, if far less likely than becoming a human pickle on a dissection slab.
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For some reason this particular technological fix just didn't catch on. In any case, it didn't really provide superior protection against grave robbers than cremation.

*Thanks to HP for the Seamans’ Crystals™ joke. Shine on, you fine and glittering crystal.

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