Last week I wrote about a nineteenth-century safety coffin invented by Franz Vester which allowed someone who was buried alive to escape the grave. In the 1800s, however, there was another way bodies found their way of their coffins: they were stolen.
Resurrection men, as they were known, would steal fresh bodies for money, often for the benefit of anatomists wishing to study their craft. The fresher the corpse, the more valuable it was to the anatomist.
Body snatching was a competitive and gruesome business—and sometimes deadly, as the following article from the March 12, 1859 Weekly Vincennes (IN) Gazette reports:
A Man Hung By A Corpse
The Cincinnati (Ohio) Gazette states that on Saturday night, a fellow was stealing a dead body from the graveyard at Cumminsville near that city, when in crossing the fence, he slipped and fell on the outside, and the rope which held the sack containing the corpse, sliding from his shoulders to his neck, at daylight his body was found hanging on the outside of the graveyard fence, while the corpse he had stolen, hung on the inside, both equally lifeless.
The above article is reproduced from The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, which is filled with other bizarre stories of the deceased.
More to come on the retrieving selling of dead bodies to anatomists soon.