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The Victorians as Dark Tourists: Mortality, Morbidity, and the Macabre.

Dark tourism is an umbrella terms that usually refers to sites, archaeology, museums, and other aspects of heritage linked to the themes surrounding death, tragedy, and destruction. It is quite difficult to define what exactly counts as dark tourism, but usually it counts places such as medical museums, graveyards, disaster sites such as Chernobyl, or murder trails (Jack the Ripper comes to mind). According to Psychology Today, the reasons people visit these sites vary. A ‘dark tourist’ may feel drawn to a site/attraction as they may be feeling curious, empathetic, nostalgic, or perhaps they have an interest in horror or simply want to educate themselves. Whatever the reason, dark tourism is on the rise in recent years (I would probably describe myself as a dark tourist)- but when we think of a past population fascinated with the macabre, who do we think of? The Victorians are usually top of the list.

Whether you think the Victorians had a morbid fascination with death and the macabre, or whether you think they were simply realistic about their own mortality, it cannot be denied the Victorians DID death to an extreme by modern, western standards. Mourning and the dead played a large role in everyday life, with much influence stemming from Queen Victoria’s 40-year mourning period of her husband Prince Albert. In this blog post, I will highlight some examples that can be used to call Victorians the ultimate ‘dark tourists’. Even though death played an important role in their everyday, personal lives (with extended mourning periods the norm and showy funerary monuments sought after), it can be said the Victorians sought out the macabre as a means of entertainment as well. These are just a few examples I have highlighted- there are many more I simply cannot fit into a blogpost.

Medical Museums

One of the most famous examples of the Victorian medical museum is that of Dr Joseph Kahn’s. In the first half of the 19th C there was a growing interest in anatomy amongst the public for a couple of reasons. One was the case of the infamous murderers Burke and Hare in the 1820s, and the other was the incorporation of waxworks to display anatomical structures. Kahn opened his anatomical and pathology museum on Oxford Street in the 1850s, and consisted of specimens preserved in fluids, as well as wax models. Initially the museum was highly praised by the Lancet, but there was some distaste shown concerning the sections showing venereal disease and embryology. Ladies were admitted separately and were not allowed to view some specimens. The museum collection toured around Britain, with separate sections only allowed entry by ‘medical men’. The tour was extremely successful amongst the Victorian population but failed to turn over a lot of financial prophet. Kahn’s downfall came with his involvement in quackery, particularly surrounded his selling of venereal disease cures on site. The medical profession began an anti-quackery campaign against Kahn, and many suggested he should have been prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 (the Kahn Museum under the Jordan’s was prosecuted in 1873). Eventually the museum closed and was broken up, but there are surviving accounts from the general public on visiting the museum. Many members of the population described their visits as a harmless day out, and it is thought that many likely learned the facts of life there as well as other anatomical aspects of the body. ‘Medical dark tourism’ is a category defined in dark tourism and describes visits to medical museums with human specimens amongst other medical related sites. It is clear many Victorians fell within this category in the same manner many do today.    

Medical Museum of Dr Kahn

The Morgue

When one thinks of death as spectacle in the 19th century- the Paris Morgue stands out. The Morgue became one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris by the late 19th century – around 40,000 people are thought to have visited a day at its height. Public access initially allowed members of the public to view unidentified dead to see if they were a missing family member. However, most viewers simply went to the morgue as a means to view death up close. Cold water dropped from the ceiling to stall decomposition before refrigeration, and visitors were protected from the smell of decomp by a viewing screen. They went to the morgue as a ‘dark tourist’, and often the crowds became so large that the police had to be called to keep everything in order (This often happened if it was a child on display). Guidebooks of the time mentioned the morgue as a tourist attraction, with many vendors outside selling snacks to the visiting crowds- it sounds almost like a fairground. Many described the morgue as ‘theatre’ which often became the case when police publicly brought suspected murderers to the morgue to confront the sight of their victims on display. Victorian high society in London was aware of the morgue, attracted to the idea of death as entertainment, but afraid to engage in a typically working-class activity. Dickens wrote about the Paris Morgue in his travel writings, which London society members read about. In London at the time, a morgue opened but did not allow public access like Paris- any unidentified dead were described on paper and put up outside. Although the London morgue was not a tourist site like Paris, the London Victorian population obviously revealed in death, with public execution and Madame Tussaud’s executed criminals wax works attended by large crowds.

People visiting the morgue in Paris to view the cadavers
Viewing at the Paris Morgue

Mummy Unwrapping

In times past, a trip to Egypt would not have been complete without bringing home a mummy or a piece of a mummy as a ‘souvenir’. ‘Egyptomania’ swept across high society, with archaeological human remains at the centre of the fascination. In the mid-19th century, Egyptologist Thomas Pettigrew was interested in the cranial shape of mummies and staged public mummy unwrappings (often at the Royal College of Surgeons). Many paying spectators attended these unwrappings, with audience members allowed to sometimes handle the mummy and its wrappings. Many referenced ‘mummy dust’ that would be inhaled upon the unwrapping and handling of the remains – Dickens himself also referred to ‘mummy dust’ in his writings. It is debated how many of these mummies were unwrapped at Victorian parties, but one cannot deny the mix of archaeology, anatomy and death would have been irresistible to the Victorians if these parties did indeed take place. The Duke of Hamilton was so taken with ancient mummies that he asked Pettigrew to mummify him upon his death – Pettigrew obliged, and the duke is apparently still sealed in a sarcophagus. Pettigrew went on to become a founding member of the British Archaeological Society, with mummy unwrappings eventually falling out of favour. It is suggested that Victorians did not feel ‘shocked’ after numerous unwrappings – if you had seen one, you had seen them all (They were probably onto looking at modern specimens at the medical museum as a means to entertain their morbid curiosity). Again, we see the Victorian fascination with death as entertainment, as a mean to satisfy the ‘dark tourist’ within them.     

   

A ‘mummy unwrapping’

Sources

Bates, A. W. (2006) ‘Dr Kahn’s Museum: Obscene Anatomy in Victorian London’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99(12), pp. 618–624. doi: 10.1177/014107680609901209.

Classen, C., 2014. Touching the deep past: The lure of ancient bodies in nineteenth-century museums and culture. The Senses and Society9(3), pp.268-283.

Martens, B. (2008). Death as Spectacle: The Paris Morgue in Dickens and Browning. Dickens Studies Annual, 39, 223-248. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/44372196

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-excess/201912/dark-tourism

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/paris-morgue-public-viewing

https://www.unjourdeplusaparis.com/en/paris-insolite/morgue-visite-favorite-paris-au-19e-siecle

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/victorian-party-people-unrolled-mummies-for-fun

https://historyofyesterday.com/the-macabre-history-of-victorian-mummy-unwrapping-parties-70adccfab463

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Coffin Ships: Death whilst trying to escape death during the Irish Potato Famine

‘Coffin Ships’ were the name given to the emigration ships that carried members of the Irish population across the Atlantic to North America and Canada during the Irish famine. Emigrants were trying to flee from the devastating potato famine which began in 1845, when the potato crop began to fail from blight (P. infestans). Ireland’s population has never gotten back to the numbers it was before the ‘Great Hunger’ (An Gorta Mor as Gaeilge). Between the years of 1846- 51 one million people died in Ireland due to starvation and disease, with a further two million people emigrating to places such as North America and Canada between 1845-55. Growing up in Ireland, we were always taught about the devastating effects of the famine, even as far back as primary school. I remember reading the fiction book ‘Under the Hawthorne tree’ by Marita Conlon-Mckenna. This was a children’s book, but it was set during the Irish Famine and dealt with death and dying during this period. The famine is often a politically charged topic, as it is often questioned how effective the British government were in assisting the Irish. Debates surrounding the inaction of Queen Victoria, and around that fact that exports to Britain during the famine may have actually increased during the years of starvation, are often discussed by historians. Tony Blair issued a formal apology to Ireland for the British governments mishandling of the crisis in 1997 when he was prime minister.

There is an extremely rich narrative surrounding the Irish Potato Famine, but for this blog post I will be focusing on ‘Coffin Ships’. I grew up outside the town of New Ross in Wexford which has a replica of the Dunbrody famine ship, so my interest in these floating ‘coffins’ has a long history. JFK visited New Ross five months before his assassination, as his great grandfather sailed from New Ross to Boston during the famine in 1848.

Due to the large number of evictions of poor Irish tenants during the famine, many ended up on the streets. This resulted in many having no choice but to flee the country on a ship, or it was often more economical for a landlord to pay for a poor family’s crossings- making false promises of a better life. The ships immigrants boarded in the hope of a new life during the famine were often not seaworthy, as well as being overcrowded, and unsanitary. There was a severe lack of food and clean water on board, and it was clear the people who set sail on these ships were in a desperate situation. The ships during the famine also set sail during the winter months to accommodate the demand (and to make more money) of those wishing to flee, meaning they were sailing during icy, bad weather – before this, transatlantic crossings were mainly done during the Spring and Summer months. Death was all around the Irish population at home, and now it was all around them as they hoped to sail to a better life. On board the ship there was no escape from disease, dehydration, and starvation either- the very things they were trying to flee. Steerage passengers were only allowed outside on deck for a very limited amount of time each day.

Artwork showing steerage conditions- Below Deck by Rodney Charman (1970) – Image: https://www.amusingplanet.com/2017/11/the-coffin-ships-of-great-irish-famine.html

Thousands of ships left the country full of passengers, mostly setting sail from the west coast. Disease such as typhoid, typhus, dysentery, and cholera would spread rapidly throughout steerage- the average death rate on board was 20% but could be as high as 50%. Bodies were usually buried at sea. The British built ships were not required to have doctors on board, and even those who were ill upon inspection by doctors before boarding were still allowed to travel. Passenger shipping laws were neglectful of the passengers, with many taking double the number of passengers the ship was meant for.

If passengers managed to survive the six-week journey, the were often infected with disease and extremely weak upon arrival – they were not exactly opened with open arms when they reached their destination either. Families had been surrounded by death and dying, and now found themselves in a new country where they were poor and illiterate. Many were thought to spread disease amongst the Canadian and American populations, thus resulting in shunning of these immigrants – there was also a lot of anti-Catholic sentiments at the time.

These ‘Coffin Ships’ are an important aspect in Irish history that touches upon the themes of death, dying and bereavement – all over the world we see memorials to those who died during the potato famine. Many were trying escape death, but instead died upon these ships. Many died when they reached the shores, and many were accused of causing death in the populations they newly inhabited. Bereavement was everywhere, with families even holding an ‘American Wake’ for those who purchased a one-way ticket to America – as it was highly likely they never see their family again (and that is if they survived the journey). Many mourned their dead, for the life they once had, and for those who left Ireland.

Famine memorial in Custom House Quay, Dublin- Image: http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-famine-memorial-ireland-image21629846

References

https://www.history.com/topics/immigration/irish-potato-famine

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

https://www.amusingplanet.com/2017/11/the-coffin-ships-of-great-irish-famine.html

https://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/coffin.htm

https://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/coffin-ships.html

https://scalar.usc.edu/works/star-of-the-sea-a-postcolonialpostmodern-voyage-into-the-irish-famine/horrible-coffin-ships

https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/irish-term-american-wake#:~:text=As%20the%20name%20suggests%2C%20an%20American%20wake%20is,one-way%20ticket%20and%20never%20seeing%20your%20family%20again.

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From Embalming to Eyeballs: Five (More) Fantastic Books About Death

A while back I did a blog post on five fantastic books about death. It was quite a popular post, and I thought there are so many more fantastic books out there that deserve some recognition! Despite coming from an archaeological background, my book collection extends to all aspects of death and dying. These aspects include bereavement, cemeteries, the human corpse, anatomical history, and mortuary science to name a few. Subjects related to death are extensive, and I am sure I will have another blog post soon with even more excellent books for the morbidly curious to check out.

Technologies of the Human Corpse by John Troyer
John Troyer grew up in the American funeral industry and is now an associate professor at the University of Bath. He is the director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University. Troyer discusses the human corpse and its relationship with material and conceptual technology. Technologies of the Human Corpse examines topics such as AIDS/HIV, embalming, death photography, the 1970s ‘happy death movement’ as well as the Body Worlds exhibit and the black-market trade of cadavers. The politics associated with the dead body are complicated and sensitive, Troyer expertly navigates and discusses controversial topics. Troyer also wrote an introduction for the 40th anniversary edition of Lyn H. Lofland’s book The Craft of Dying: The Modern Face of Death. Lofland’s book is also essential reading for those interested in death studies.

Technologies of the Human Corpse

Death: A Graveside Companion by Joanna Ebenstein
Joanna Ebenstein is the founder of Morbid Anatomy, an online blog, website and now a museum. Joanna has recently realised a book called Anatomica: The Exquisite and Unsettling Art of Human Anatomy, which looks at artworks associated with human anatomy. Another fantastic book by Joanna is called The Anatomical Venus, which discusses the famous Venus waxworks of Italy- particularly the work of Clemente Susini. Whilst both books are associated with aspects related to death, the book I will be suggesting in this blog post is Death: A Graveside Companion, which is edited by Ebenstein. The contents include works by John Troyer, anatomical sculptor Eleanor Crook, Elizabeth Harper (who runs the excellent blog All the Saints You Should Know), and a piece on death themed amusements by Ebenstein herself. The book is beautiful and has outstanding imagery and font. An essential for anyone interested in death and dying.

Death: A Graveside Companion

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty, who also featured on my last post, has realised her new book Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Doughty has also wrote From Here to Eternity and When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Doughty is also the founder of the Order of the Good Death and runs a YouTube channel called Ask a Mortician. Caitlin Doughty worked in the death industry and now advocates online for more death education, as well as working towards a ‘good death’. A self-labelled ‘funeral industry rabble-rouser’, Doughty is not everyone’s cup of tea, but her books are accessible and humorous for those interested in the death industry. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Chronicles the answers to questions Doughty has gotten over years concerned death and dying.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

Let’s Talk about Death (Over Dinner): The Essential Guide to Life’s Most Important Conversation by Michael Hebb
As someone who often talks about death, I was very intrigued by Michael Hebb’s book. Hebb states that we have so many conversations with each other, but we are not having one of the most important ones – the one about death. Hebb is also the founder of deathoverdinner.org, encouraging families to gather around the dinner table and chat about the end of life in an engaging, insightful, and empowering way. Let’s Talk About Death shares prompts that have led to numerous discussions about death and gives a fascinating insight into the challenges that come from talking (and not talking) about death.

Lets Talk About Death (Over Dinner)

Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catharine Arnold
Arnold’s excellent book chronicles the history of London and its dead. Starting off discussing roman burials, Arnold moves onto to the plague outbreaks, the erection of Victorian cemeteries, and moves all the way to the mourning associated with the death of Princess Diana. The book has numerous aspects of death, including archaeology, history, death studies and architecture. Necropolis can really be considered an ‘all-rounder’ particularly for those with a fascination of history. Catharine Arnold has written an array of books, including Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History, and City of Sin: London and its Vices to name a few. I am looking forward to exploring more of her work and cannot recommend Necropolis enough.

Necropolis: London and its dead

Sources
https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/technologies-human-corpse
http://www.allthesaintsyoushouldknow.com/about
https://thamesandhudson.com/authors/joanna-ebenstein-64571
http://caitlindoughty.com/
https://deathoverdinner.org/

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The Archaeology of Vaccination (18th- 20th Centuries): An Examination of Four Diseases

With the recent development of Covid-19 vaccines by Moderna, Oxford University and Pfizer, there seems to be little else on everyone’s mind. Vaccination against deadly diseases has a history that can been illustrated in archaeological examples left behind. Death rates from crude attempts at ‘variolation’ (the practice of grounding up smallpox scabs for inhalation or scratching onto the skin) had a death rate as high as 30% in China during the 16th century. Refining of such techniques using inoculation and vaccination has led to a revolution in global health, with some diseases such as smallpox eradicated completely.
This blog post will examine the history of vaccines in the last 300 years, associated with four deadly diseases, by examining archaeological examples in museums. There are many more vaccinations for an array of diseases, but I have narrowed it down to four for this blog post. Although proven to be safe and effective, vaccines are becoming more and more controversial in today’s society- something that can be traced back to past societies as well.

Disease: Smallpox
Symptoms: Fever, aches, vomiting, rash, sores, and pustules that eventually scab and fall off.
Objects: Civil War Era Vaccine (Mutter Museum) and Lancets of Edward Jenner 19th century (Science Museum)

When one thinks of vaccination, Edward Jenner and smallpox usually springs to mind. Inoculation was being practiced in China as far back as 1000 years ago. This inoculation was being carried out using pus or scabs from smallpox to boost immunity against the disease. It was around the 18th century this concept began to develop in Europe. Lady Wortley Montagu seen the ‘scratch method’ of inoculation in 1721 in Turkey and used this method to inoculate her own children against smallpox. She is credited with introducing this method to London high society.
Edward Jenner (1749-1823) noticed a similar practice on English farms and in the surrounding communities. Milkmaids in the countryside were renowned for having a clear complexion. This was because they were often infected with cowpox, meaning they were often left immune to smallpox (thus not having any facial scarring). Locals began to inoculate themselves with cowpox to immunize against the deadlier smallpox. Jenner adapted this method in his own practice, applying pus from a milkmaid’s cowpox pustule (these were usually on the hand) to that of a young boy in 1796. You can still see the lancets Jenner used to apply the pus to the boy’s arm, he would have used the scratching technique. He later exposed the boy to smallpox, after which no disease developed. In 1798, Jenner published his findings in a book entitled ‘An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae; a Disease Discovered in some of the Western Counties of England, Particularly Gloucestershire, and Known by the Name of The Cow Pox’ (Vacca is the Latin word for cow).

George Washington insisted on quarantining regulations within the Continental army in the 1770’s when smallpox outbreaks occurred, eventually crudely inoculating the army in 1777. A higher percentage of British troops had already suffered from smallpox, unlike the Americans who were more susceptible to catching the disease. Unlike Jenner, Washington was inoculating the army with the live smallpox virus- a very risky procedure instead of using a milder related orthopoxvirus. Vaccination was also being carried out in the army during the American Civil war (c.1860’s), an example of a lancet vaccination kit can be seen at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. Like Jenner’s kit, it consisted of lancets for scratching. DNA testing of the blades revealed a virus used for vaccination was present, there were no signs of the smallpox virus itself.

Six lancets of Edward Jenner used for vaccination
Civil War era lancet kit for vaccination

Disease: Cholera
Symptoms: Diarrhoea, vomiting, thirst, cramps.
Objects: Glass Amboules of Cholera Vaccine 1924 and 1892 (Wellcome Collection)

Cholera is most associated with the physician John Snow, who mapped the cases of cholera in Soho, London in the 1850’s – Asiatic cholera reached Britain in 1831. This allowed him to conclude that the water supply was the source of the disease, debunking claims concerning miasma theory. Prior to this there had been numerous outbreaks of cholera in Britain, with 1854 becoming the worst year of the disease to take hold. Snow realised sewerage contamination was the cause of the disease, suggesting the removal of the pump handle in the affected area.
However, it was not until 1885 that the vaccine was developed by Spanish physician Jaime Ferrán (1852-1929). The cholera vaccine was the first vaccine to protect humans against a bacterial disease. The vaccine was developed when Ferrán cultivated bacteria from an ill person and then administered injections into the arm (not the scratch technique). He went on to develop vaccines for plague, rabies, and tetanus. Louis Pasteur is also credited with developing a cholera vaccine using chickens. He used a weakened culture to inoculate the chickens, after survival they were immune to the disease. The Wellcome collection houses a 1892 example of the vaccine that had been developed from inoculating guinea-pigs.
In the Wellcome Collection, there is an example of the cholera vaccine dating to 1924. The amboules are French (from Paris), and have the name of a laboratory that developed vaccines for the army. Because of the water-borne nature of the disease, cholera, as well as typhoid, were considered serious threats to soldiers. Vaccination was a part of an initiative to keep the army healthy. This strongly echoes the times of the smallpox outbreaks amongst American soldiers in the previous centuries – however we see the move away from the previously crude ‘scratch’ technique with a lancet.

1892 cholera vaccine example
1924 French cholera vaccine

Disease: Influenza
Symptoms: Fatigue, aches, chills, cough, sore throat, fever, headache.
Object: 1919 Influenza Vaccine (Pharmaceutical Society Museum)

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, there has been many comparisons drawn between today’s pandemic and the Spanish Flu H1N1 pandemic of 1918. The spread of the disease was exacerbated by movement of troops at the end of World War 1. Half a billion people all over the world were infected, eventually killing somewhere between 50-100 million people- the most severe pandemic in recent history. Mortality rates were high in children under 5, the elderly and those aged between 20-40 years old (the healthy being susceptible was unique in this pandemic). Prior to the vaccine, interventions such as quarantine, hand hygiene, social distancing, and disinfecting were used to control the illness.


Vaccines had been developed for other diseases at the time of the outbreak, so it was hopeful a vaccine could be developed for influenza. A few vaccines developed around this time are now thought to have been ineffective. As the disease was viral influenza, it would not have been treated by these newly developed bacterial vaccines, but many may have prevented pneumonia from developing. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that researchers realised that influenza was caused by a virus (in the 1918 case it was influenza A strain) – it was successfully isolated in 1933. It can be said then that the 1919 vaccine example from the Pharmaceutical Society Museum was likely ineffective during the outbreak. This had been developed by the Royal Army Medical College using lung scrapings from infected patients.
The influenza A vaccine was developed in the 1930’s, followed shortly by the influenza B vaccine in 1942. In 1945 the vaccine (for both A and B) was approved for military use in the US and for public use in 1946. Both Dr Thomas Francis and Dr Jonas Salk were involved in flu vaccine research and development after Ernest William Goodpasture was able to grow viruses using chicken embryos in 1931.

1919 Influenza Vaccine

Disease: Tuberculosis
Symptoms: Cough with bloody phlegm, weight loss, sweats, fever, fatigue, neck swellings.
Object: Freeze dried BCG (bacillus Calmette-Guerin) Vaccine 1980 (Science Museum Group)

The BCG vaccine is made from a weakened strain of Mycobacterium bovis, close in nature to M. tuberculosis which causes TB. Bacteriologists Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin are credited with developing the vaccine between 1908 and 1921 at the Pasteur Institute, Lille, France – the oral dose was endorsed by the League of Nations in 1928. Calmette was a pupil of Louis Pasteur and had acquired Mycobacterium bovis from the milk of an infected cow. The vaccine was adopted in France and Scandinavia initially, with widespread distribution stalled due to a contamination that killed 75 babies vaccinated within 10 days of birth- known as the 1930 Lubeck Disaster. The vaccine eventually became widespread after the Second world war and is administered via needle into the arm today.
The Science Museum houses a set of freeze-dried intradermal BCG vaccine dating to 1980-85. Made by Evans Medical Ltd, freeze drying allowing for transportation over long distances. This would have been particularly significant at the time as in the 1980’s there was a rise in TB cases in developed countries due to healthcare complacency, movement of people from countries with a lot of TB cases, and the spread of the HIV (there is evidence of co-infection). According to the World Health Organisation, TB kills 1.8 million people every year, with one third of the global population infected but asymptomatic. Despite initial reluctance in uptake, over 4 billion people have now been vaccinated against TB, making it the most widely used vaccine in the world. Unlike the UK, the US has never introduced mass use of the vaccine as it is thought there are not many cases of TB in America- vaccines can be purchased privately for around $100-200.

Freeze dried BCG Vaccine dated between 1980-1985

Sources
https://wellcomecollection.org/works?query=cholera%20vaccine
https://www.phillyvoice.com/mutter-museum-smallpox-vaccine-artifacts-civil-war-philadelphia/
https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_720069
https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline/all
https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co148572/edward-jenners-lancets-lancet
https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jenner-tests-smallpox-vaccine
https://www.jenner.ac.uk/about/edward-jenner
https://www.history.com/news/smallpox-george-washington-revolutionary-war
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/04/george-washington-beat-smallpox-epidemic-with-controversial-inoculations/?awc=19533_1606143282_1e295409c678607b5b4cc03d4ffaf60c
https://www.phillyvoice.com/mutter-museum-smallpox-vaccine-artifacts-civil-war-philadelphia/
https://www.cdc.gov/smallpox/symptoms/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/cholera/illness.html
https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/history-of-cholera
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cholera#Vaccination
https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline#EVT_101034
https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/ferr%C3%A1n-vaccinating-cholera
https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-flu/early-flu-symptoms
https://advisor.museumsandheritage.com/features/spanish-flu-100-florence-nightingale-museum-explores-worlds-deadliest-pandemic/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Pasteur#Chicken_cholera
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html
https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/blog/vaccine-development-spanish-flu
https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/812621
https://www.historyofvaccines.org/timeline#EVT_101053
https://www.immunology.org/chickens-egg-1931
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tuberculosis-tb/
https://www.britannica.com/science/BCG-vaccine
https://www.britannica.com/science/history-of-medicine/Immunology#ref412887
https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/blog/july-18-90-years-tuberculosis-vaccination
https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co8064748/freeze-dried-bcg-vaccine-england-1980-1985-vaccine
https://www.britannica.com/science/tuberculosis/Tuberculosis-through-history
https://www.who.int/teams/health-product-and-policy-standards/standards-and-specifications/vaccines-quality/bcg
https://ourworldindata.org/vaccination#tuberculosis-vaccine-bcg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BCG_vaccine
Arnold, C., 2008. Necropolis: London and its dead. Simon and Schuster.
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/how-vaccines-changed-the-world/ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/well/family/covid-vaccine-smallpox-coronavirus.html

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Death Folklore in Ireland: Three Examples of Death Omens in Irish Culture

Growing up in rural Catholic Ireland I often came in across traditional stories associated with death. As far back as primary school, I was warned all about the Banshee and her screams and attended traditional Irish wakes of loved ones. Death was an important part of our culture. I recently read Dr Marie Cassidy’s book ‘Beyond the Tape: The Life and Many Deaths of a State Pathologist’, her memoir which recounts her years as Ireland’s State Pathologist between 2004 and 2018. One statement in her book stood out to me, ‘The Irish are obsessed with death’. No truer words were spoken in my opinion, and since moving to the UK 5 years ago that has become more apparent to me as I talk about death with others. Cassidy states attending funerals in Ireland is a national sport and instead of checking your horoscope, the Irish listen to the death notices on the radio- this conjures up so many memories from my childhood! The Irish feeling comfortable with death likely steams from our past, including stories of folklore and mythology. In this blogpost I will discuss three examples of death omens in Irish culture.

The Banshee (Bean Sidhe)
Perhaps the most famous of all Irish legends associated with death is the Banshee or Bean Sidhe, meaning ‘woman of the fairies’. Most children in Ireland know about this legend, usually told by grandparents to give them a scare. There are endless sources on the Banshee, all stating she is a supernatural being whose scream foretells the death of a loved one. She usually wears a dark cloak, has a ghostly complexion and has flowing red or white hair. There are conflicting ‘first-hand’ accounts of her age, either stating she is young or siren like, or old with a hag like appearance – either a maiden or a crone. It is her cry or scream that terrifies anyone who crosses her path, with Irish families with O’ or Mac/Mc as part of their surname most likely to become a victim to her shrieking. She often combs her long hair and will only turn violent or aggressive if someone finds her comb and steals it. I was often told as a child not to pick up any comb if found near a graveyard as it was likely the Banshee’s.
Keening women or bean chaointe (as Gaeilge) were a part of Irish mourning tradition and may have associations with the origins of the Banshee legend. Many writers state she only cries for the families of the O’Briens, the O’Connors, the O’Neills, and the O’Gradys to name a few. Sometimes she is described as a washer woman (bean nighe) seen washing the blood-stained clothes of the family member about to die.

The Banshee with flowing hair and red eyes from crying

The Coiste Bodhar (Death Coach or Coach-a-bower)
The death coach in Irish folklore is often thought to be summoned by the wails of the Banshee. A headless horseman drives the coach, sometimes thought to carry a black coffin, and pulled by headless horses (very similar to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow). Like the Banshee, the coach foretells the death of a loved one, and will only leave once it has claimed a soul. The creature known as the Dullahan drives the coach (sometimes called Gan Ceann as Gaeilge), a headless male figure that sometimes carries their own head with a hideous grin. WB Yeats mentions the coach in his collection of Irish Folk Tales. Yeats states the coach will rumble to your door and, if you open it, blood will be thrown into your face. Yeats also states that as well as the coach and the banshee, some families know death is near by the crack of a whip or the attendance of ravens. Often it is stated that the coach travels so quickly it sets fire to the road, and that locks on houses and gates would not deter the coachman- the only thing to scare away the Dullahan was the sight of gold.

The Death Coach driven by the Dullahan

Fetch
In Ireland, a Fetch is a supernatural double of a living person – like that of a doppelganger. Sighting of a fetch, particularly at night, signifies the death of that person. Some suggest the word originates from the Irish word for seer or prophet (fáith), other than that there is very little said about the origins of the term (it may also have some association with Norway). It is thought the term dates back as far as the 16th century but rose to prominence in the 19th century when mentioned in the gothic story ‘The Fetches’ by John and Michael Banim. The Fetch was also mentioned in the letters of Sir Walter Scott on Demonology and Witchcraft, 1830.

1891 depiction of a Fetch

Sources
https://www.pinterest.ie/pin/519813981974706033/
https://www.celtic-weddingrings.com/celtic-mythology/legend-of-the-banshee
https://www.britannica.com/topic/banshee
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banshee
https://www.irishpost.com/life-style/exploring-irish-mythology-banshee-170287
https://irishfolklore.wordpress.com/tag/banshee-comb/
https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009217/4998868
https://www.connollycove.com/insight-irish-wake-superstitions-associated/
https://www.yourirish.com/folklore/coiste-bodhar
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Coach
https://books.google.co.uk/books?redir_esc=y&id=pp_SVHuVsFoC&q=bodhar#v=snippet&q=bodhar&f=false
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dullahan
https://celticmke.com/CelticMKE-Blog/Irish-Headless-Horseman.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetch_(folklore) https://www.pinterest.ie/pin/360358407661878293/ https://www.libraryireland.com/LegendaryFictionsIrishCelts/Contents.php

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Death and Sex: The Sexualisation of Victorian Women’s Mourning Attire

In 2014-2015, the Met Museum in New York held an exhibition entitled ‘Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire’. The exhibit displayed 30 pieces of Victorian mourning attire (for female mourners) dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The exhibit gave a fascinating insight into the standards women were expected to uphold during their period of mourning in the 1800’s. When we think of Victorian bereavement rituals, we automatically think of the ‘widow’s weeds’ all black ensemble. And whilst we might think this attire might have been just been about death, dying and grief, it may also may have been about something else- sex. The Death Becomes Her Exhibit illustrated this point.

According to one of the curators for the exhibit, Harold Koda, “The veiled widow could elicit sympathy as well as predatory male advances. As a woman of sexual experience without marital constraints, she was often imagined as a potential threat to the social order.” This suggested that the widow’s weeds were a symbol of sexual experience- she was no longer virginal (unlike the white worn at a wedding), and likely viewed by men as a candidate for casual sex. If she was a willing participant or initiated this arrangement, as Koda remarks, she was a threat to the social order.

In her article, ‘Sex, Death, Glamour: Victorian Funeral Style at the Met’, Bess Lovejoy discusses the Met exhibit and the links between Victorian widows and sex. The widow was a figure that aroused sympathy as well as sexual appeal. The long dresses oozed glamour, with black seen as ‘becoming’. As Lovejoy states- black is chic and sophisticated, along with beautifully made mourning jewellery the ensemble must have been striking. Mirroring a wedding dress with a veil, voluminous skirt and corseted waist, one can see how the lines were blurred between sex and death when one viewed the widow’s weeds. It is even suggested in the article that death can evoke interest in the opposite sex (as studies have shown). One glamourous dress that stands out in the exhibit is the ultra-glitzy purple sequined gown Queen Alexandra wore when she was mourning Queen Victoria (It was due to Queen Victoria and her prolonged mourning of Albert that mourning periods in black became commonplace).   

Dress worn by Alexandra whilst in mourning for Queen Victoria

The burden of wearing black during the mourning period mainly fell to the woman of the house. In full mourning garb, the woman would wear all black, eventually ‘diluting’ to a ‘half mourning’ period. During this period muted colours like grey and purple were worn. The intense period of mourning could last two years before muted colours became a wardrobe stable. Death was such a regular part of Victorian society that women could be wearing black for years on end. Interestingly, it was thought that ending the mourning period early meant a woman was sexually active. To see a widow out of her mourning dress was scandalous and once again linked to sex.

Dress similar in appearance to a wedding dress

It is suggested that these dresses were used to restrain men from making sexual advances. The wearing of black in fact was meant as a deterrent to male suitors – even though this likely had the opposite effect, especially if the widow was young. Society viewed a young widow as dangerous- she was untethered by marriage but had full sexual experience. She may have been vulnerable, having lost her social and financial status through her husband, but the black dress was a reminder to many of her associations with death as well as sex.  

Sources

https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2014/death-becomes-her

https://www.racked.com/2014/10/28/7571465/metropolitan-museum-of-art-funeral-attire

https://www.thecultureconcept.com/death-becomes-her-a-century-of-mourning-attire-at-the-met-ny

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/grief-as-a-fashion-statement-in-death-becomes-her-at-the-metropolitan-museum-of-art/2014/11/12/819527a4-65f4-11e4-836c-83bc4f26eb67_story.html

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The post-mortem fate of Marilyn Monroe: a case study of bodily integrity in death

When we think of the famous starlet, Marilyn Monroe, we think of the vivacious blond bombshell so full of life on our movie screens. Marilyn, born Norma Jean Mortensen, is by far one of the most well-known faces from the golden era of Hollywood. Like her life, her death was also full of controversy and is subject to conspiracy. I have read numerous articles and books, watched documentaries and listened to podcasts surrounding the circumstances of her death- with accusations of murder against the Kennedys, the Mafia and her medical team in numerous sources. Instead of discussing the topic of her death, I have decided to discuss the post-mortem treatment of Marilyn’s body. In life, her bodily autonomy was a subject of discussion for many a Hollywood executive. Whilst Marilyn was proud of her body and her overt sex appeal, one cannot deny how she was manipulated and used by many around her. She was painted as the ‘dumb blond’, despite the fact she was extremely intelligent and well read, she had an interest particularly in art history and classical literature. Unfortunately, issues regarding her bodily integrity also became apparent upon her death.

Marilyn died in her home on the 5th of August 1962. She was naked in her bed, with her telephone in her hand having died from an apparent overdose. Once the news had broke of her death, paparazzi surrounded her house and images taken of her dead body in her bedroom by the police were later publicly released. The bottles of prescription drugs on her bedside cabinet were pointed out by someone posing in the infamous photograph beside her corpse. Videos were taken of the gurney rolling out of the house with her lifeless body laying upon it. Just mere hours after her death, Marilyn was already being exploited by the media- they swarmed the funeral home she was taken to (there have been reports her corpse was stuffed in a broom closet away from prying eyes).

Newspaper headline with Marilyn’s Death

An unsavoury article released by the Daily Mail in 2015 discusses the claims made by the famous funeral service, Abbott and Hast, that Marilyn looked awful upon her death. Abbott and Hast were famous during the 1960’s as the funeral service used by the rich and famous, having also handled the bodies of Natalie Wood and Clark Gable. According to Allan Abbott, he states when he saw the body of Marilyn that she ‘looked like a very average, aging woman who had not been taking very good care of herself’. He even goes on to comment on the condition of her manicure, her hair colour and the fact that she had not shaved her legs in ‘at least a week’. Her appearance was scrutinised even in death, even then she was held to the highest of beauty standards. She was still a female subject that could be criticised by the male gaze, worsened by the fact Abbott was trusted to care for her in a confidential, respectful manner but decided to make his comments public. Abbott further discusses her case in his book ‘Pardon My Hearse’, chronicling his time as a mortician in Hollywood. Marilyn’s makeup artist Whitey Snyder came to the funeral home to do her makeup and to fit a wig that was used on one of her movies. Synder discussed Marilyn’s breasts with Abbott in the funeral home, stating that they had begun to sag at her age and that she wore ‘falsies’ to keep her physique. One of the workers exclaimed ‘what happened to her boobs?’ when they first saw her after the autopsy, as the incision in her chest area and rib cutting had caused them to change shape. Once the employee had decided to stuff her bra with cotton wool in the coffin, they stood back and stated, ‘Now that looks like Marilyn Monroe!’ Sexualisation and scrutinization of her physique deemed acceptable even as she was laid out to be viewed by loved ones. As someone who has trained in a funeral home setting, I cannot but feel disgusted by this blatant lack of disrespect and breach of confidentiality. Abbott even auctioned off the ‘falsie’ breasts brought to the funeral home by her executrix, and some of her hair that was removed by the embalmer. It is unsettling but not unsurprising that these items were deemed acceptable to auction.

Medical attendants removing the body of Marilyn Monroe

Before Marilyn was transported to the funeral home at Westwood Village Mortuary for preparation, her body was brought in for autopsy. Her autopsy was carried out by Dr Thomas Noguchi, the deputy chief examiner. Her death was ruled a probable suicide from barbiturates, most notably Nembutal and Chloral Hydrate. At the morgue, a Life magazine photographer bribed a mortuary attendant with a bottle of whiskey to take a photo of her un-embalmed, freshly autopsied body. Another infamous photo of her corpse has been the subject of much scrutiny, with even more derogatory commentary made concerning her appearance in the years following her death (there have even been sickening claims of necrophilia). There have also been allegations that the Hollywood Museum of death stored and displayed some of the post autopsy images of her. Marilyn or her loved ones had no control over the photos being taken of her body, and she had no control over their subsequent distribution and display in the years following.

Pills on Marilyn bedside table

Marilyn’s funeral took place on the 8th of August 1962 at the Westwood Village Mortuary Chapel, she was buried afterwards in the Westwood Village Memorial Cemetery. It was organised by her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio; she was dressed in green Pucci dress with a green chiffon scarf with the casket opened for the ceremony.

Having recently listened to the excellent podcast episode by Morbid Podcast on the death of Marilyn Monroe, there are even more disturbing facts surrounding her resting place. A man named Richard Poncher requested to be buried in the space above Marilyn, he also requested to be buried face down so he could ‘lie on top of her’- this wish was granted upon his death. Hugh Hefner, the infamous mogul of Playboy magazine, was buried next to Marilyn. This was the very same man who used her nude photos without her permission in the first playmate edition of the magazine in the 1950s. If you visit her grave today, bright pink and red lipstick marks adorn the monument from her fans- particularly unsettling as Marilyn never wanted to be remembered as the ‘dumb blonde’ lipstick wearing sex pot she was portrayed as onscreen.

Marilyn’s body serves as a reminder of the importance of bodily integrity in death as well as life. Her case is a poignant study of how death does not make one exempt from bodily scrutiny and exploitation. The legal issues regarding the rights of the dead and bodily integrity are complicated and controversial. We are concerned with the autonomy of the dead as they are strongly linked to the body of the living who expresses their wishes whilst alive. The question arises as to whether the dead provoke feelings of concern regarding the treatment of the corpse. Using Marilyn as an example, it does not seem that controversial to say the dead deserve the same respect as the living.  

Sources

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3117211/Marilyn-Monroe-purple-blotches-face-neck-swollen-lips-badly-chapped-dire-need-pedicure-high-school-buddies-old-hearse-ended-preparing-tragic-star-burial.html

https://www.qcc.cuny.edu/socialsciences/ppecorino/SS680/Funeral_Marilyn_Monroe.html

http://morbid-curiosity.com/id139.htm

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7367199/Photos-Marilyn-Monroes-naked-corpse-taken-just-hours-death-new-doc-reveals.html

https://www.dailystar.co.uk/showbiz/marilyn-monroe-autopsy-pictures-uncovered-21318242

http://www.marilynmonroe.ca/camera/about/facts/funeral.html

https://www.morbidpodcast.com/

Taraborrelli, J.R., 2009. The secret life of Marilyn Monroe. Grand Central Publishing.

Young, H., 2012. The right to posthumous bodily integrity and implications of whose right it is. Marq. Elder’s Adviser14, p.197.

https://www.startribune.com/marilyn-monroe-s-death-suspicions-linger-50-years-later/164679796/

Documenting Death: Netflix Documentaries on Death Worth Watching

With a never-ending tier system and lockdown inevitability, Netflix has become a familiar fixture in most households. At a time when going out to the pub with friends or a restaurant with your partner has become a thing of the past (and the very distant future), the streaming service has become more popular than ever. In taking a break from the usual Netflix recommendations (i.e., Stranger Things and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), for this blog post I will be discussing some documentaries which explore the topic of death- more important than ever amid the Covid-19 pandemic and emerging vaccination programme. I will not be discussing docuseries (including the new series Surviving Death), only ‘standalone’ documentaries. Viewer discretion is advised, as some may find the topics triggering and upsetting, particularly if recently bereaved.

End Game (40 minutes)

This film follows the palliative care teams and patients (and their families) reaching the end of their life at the University College San Francisco hospital and the Zen Project Hospice. All different types of people working in end-of-life care are featured, including nurses, doctors, and hospice volunteers. One case looks at a lady called Mitra as she approaches the end of her life, and the conflicting opinions of her husband and mother in deciding what to do about her care. They also find themselves making the decision on whether Mitra should be autopsied after she passes, removing her cancerous organs for medical donation, or if she should die at home or in hospice. This documentary focuses on the difficult decision’s family members’ must make, as well as the decisions patients may have to make whilst in pain, facing their own mortality or under the influence of medication. Emotional, raw, and often difficult, End Game highlights the importance in discussing and accepting death.  

Image from: lifemattersmedia.org

Extremis (24 Minutes)

Like End Game, Extremis looks at the patients in hospital settings and the decisions families must make regarding the end of their life. The shortest of the documentaries, Extremis also touches on topics related to religion (we see a Christian family discuss a loved one), and hope (families praying for a miracle). Unlike End Game, we only see the patients in a hospital setting, not a hospice, and all the patients are much further along in their end-of-life journey. Again, the discussion and acceptance of death is highlighted in this very short documentary, with medical professionals struggling with giving families a false sense of hope, not giving families enough hope, and ultimately making the best decision for their patients with the inclusion of their loved ones.    

Image from: media.netflix.com

Hope Frozen: A Quest to Live Twice (1 Hour 19 Minutes)

The popularity of cryonics has rose in recent years. A controversial method of preservation, cryonics supposedly allows for cellular viability to be maintained in death by keeping the body in an intense state of hyperthermia – for the price of $200,000 (or $80,000 to just preserve the brain). This documentary follows Thai parents Sahatorn and Nareerat. Their daughter, Matheryn, nicknamed ‘Einz’ (meaning Love), was diagnosed with an ependymoblastoma as a toddler. This is the deadliest form of brain cancer – a parents’ worst nightmare. Einzs’ father Sahatorn worked in the scientific field and thought cryonics would be the best option for his daughter. Seeing this little girl endure endless surgeries and treatments is heart-breaking, and it is understandable to see these parents trying to do what they feel is best for their little girl. The cryonics process was begun straight after her death at the age of two, with the hope she will be revived and given a second chance at life in the future. A difficult watch, this documentary shows the lengths a family will go to hold on to someone they love, bringing up many important talking points regarding death and the dead body.        

Image from:about.netflix.com

Ram Dass, Going Home (31 Minutes)

This documentary follows Ram Dass, an American spiritual leader, as he is approaching the end of his life. ‘A short film about being’, Ram Dass discusses his spiritual beliefs, recounts stories from his life (including his experimenting with drugs), and his health issues. Despite suffering a stroke, he remained upbeat and was thankful for the ‘grace’ it brought him, as he thought it allowed him to look more inwardly. His guru, Maharaj-ji, allowed Ram to embrace his spiritual practice fully – love is mentioned numerous times and seems to be at the core of his practice. Intellectually heavier than the other documentaries, this film is for those interested in the spiritual side of death, particularly incarnation. Death is discussed as just another stage in life or ‘another step towards home’.

Image from: uk.newonnetflix.info

Dick Johnson is Dead (1 Hour 30 Minutes)

This film is for those who may find the topic of death and dying difficult. It follows filmmaker Kirsten and her father, Dick, as she documents his mortality in an accessible, off beat manner. Kirsten stages Dicks death in numerous comical ways, to ‘soften the blow’ of his impending death. Having lost his wife to Alzheimer’s disease some years previously, Dick is now battling against dementia. Dick, a retired psychiatrist, goes along with his daughters’ dark humour. In the opening scene of the documentary, Dick is seen acting out his own funeral by climbing into a coffin with one of his close friends observing. A critically acclaimed documentary, Dick Johnson is Dead is well worth a watch, particularly for anyone who wants to learn more about the topic of death but finds its challenging or unsettling.

Image from: imbd.com

A Bearded Woman, Embalmed: The post-mortem display of Julia Pastrana in the 19th century

Who was Julia Pastrana?
Julia Pastrana was a Mexican woman born c.1830-34 in the Sierra Madre region. Julia suffered from a disease known as hypertrichosis, among other conditions. Standing at no more than 4ft 5 inches, Julia’s face and body were covered in hair, and her overgrown gums cause her mouth to protrude in a grotesque manner. There is much uncertainty surrounding her early years, with rumours stating she was sold by her parents or abandoned in the wilderness before being stumbled upon and rescued. Eventually she was adopted by Governor Sánchez in Sinaloa and worked as his maid before leaving his employment in 1854. The ambiguity of her early years is likely due to suppression of the truth by the freak show circuit who wanted to make audacious claims about her origins (including that she was a ‘unholy union of man and beast’).

Julia Pastrana

Life as the ‘Bear Woman’ or the ‘Baboon Lady’
Julia was likely recruited to become a member of a ‘Freak Show’ by an eager entrepreneur, and she began to tour under the showman Theodore Lent who she would marry in 1855. She went on tour in numerous cities across America before debuting in London in 1857, all the while under the direction of her husband who used her body for profit in both life and, eventually, in death. Control was likely the reason Lent married her, as seen when P.T. Barnum met her in 1857. She would not remove her veil for him until her husband entered the room. Pastrana went on to tour across Europe under the supervision of her husband, making sure she performed on stage, submitted to examination, and posed at social functions.

Death and embalming
Julia died in childbirth in 1860 along side her baby son who had also inherited her condition. She was in Moscow at the time, and Lent sold her body (as well as their baby’s) to a Professor Sokolov of the Anatomical Institute at the university so he could embalm them. The embalming technique used by Soklov was a success, with many praising his experimentation to benefit anatomical collections. His method was thought to blend aspects of both mummification and taxidermy, with the whole process taking around 6 months. The colour and texture of the corpses gave them a wax work like appearance, and images of her dead naked body and her son’s during the embalming process were published for academic research. Lent reclaimed the bodies in 1862 and began to tour with them as ‘curiosities’. Her display in death continued to allow her husband to profit from her body, in death it was easier for the public to view her body and discuss her openly in medical fields- she had become more object than person as she could be displayed for however long Lent required.

Image of Julia

What happened to the bodies?
Lent went on to marry another ‘bearded lady’ called Marie Bartel, presenting her as Zenora Pastrana, the little sister of Julia. Like Julia, Marie performed on tour for her husband before he was committed to an asylum in Russia after he began to lose his mind. He died shortly afterwards, and Marie sold the bodies. They were displayed at numerous exhibits across Europe for years to come. The bodies were touring up until as recently as the 1970’s until Sweden banned the exhibition in 1973 putting a stop to the display of the corpses. A break-in to the storage facility in 1976 where the bodies were kept resulted in extensive damage to the body of Pastrana’s son- the corpse was disposed of and Julia was moved to the University of Oslo.

In 2005, petitioning began for the repatriation of Pastrana back to her native Mexico. After over a decade of campaigning by artist Laura Anderson Barbata, Pastrana was brought back to her native home in 2013. She was laid to rest in a white coffin after a Catholic mass. Finally, Julia was given a dignified end to her story.

The story of Julia Pastrana is tragic and unsettling. Bodily autonomy in life and death was taken from Julia without her say in the matter. After a lifetime of scrutiny surrounding her appearance, despite Julia showing intelligence and a loving nature, this only continued at the hands of her husband after her death. To Lent, his wife was profitable, and whats even more disturbing is the fact that Lent did not seem upset in anyway to display his dead wife and son years after their passing. This questions his motive behind the marriage in the first instance, with the union likely more of a business plan than a loving partnership to the scrupulous businessman. It took years of body on display and a decade long campaign for Julia to finally be laid to rest- even then it is sad to think this would not have happened organically were it not for the relentlessness of Anderson Barbata.

Julia on displayed after her death

Sources

https://wellcomecollection.org/works/z9f8368a

https://www.buzzfeed.com/timstelloh/behold-the-heartbreaking-hair-raising-tale-of-julia-pastrana

The Sad, Grotesque Life of “Baboon Lady” Julia Pastrana

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21440400

https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/julia-pastrana-a-monster-to-the-whole-world

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1875067216300827

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/003591577406700229https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/bitstream/handle/10036/3599/PettitF.pdf?sequence=1

‘World’s Ugliest Woman’ Finally Given a Dignified Burial, 153 Years After Her Death

The Archaeology of Witchcraft in England: An Examination of a Dark History Through Five Objects

The Historical Background of English Witchcraft

Witchcraft has a long, complicated history in England. In comparison to other countries, the hysteria surrounding witchcraft came quite late to England, but prior to the 16th century it was still considered a punishable offence. The Inquisition never had a huge amount of success in English Society as there was denial in the use of torture to obtain a confession. Evidence had to be substantial in cases of maleficia, with confessions needing a large amount of support to be accepted. Henry VIII was the first monarch to introduce a statute to deal with Witchcraft. This was passed in 1542 and only saw one suspect arrested under the Act until it was repealed by Edward VI in 1547. It was Elizabeth I who introduced more substantial legislation in 1543, which seen the beginnings of ‘witch mania’ in England with the cases of the Chelmsford and St Osyth Witch trials.
It was with the 1604 Act introduced by James I that we see a real shift in societal attitudes. This Act is thought to have been the basis for the Salem Witch Trials, and this Act saw the biggest mass execution in this era of hysteria. The 1640’s saw the exasperation of this hysteria with the rise of the infamous ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins. Although torture was outlawed as a means of obtaining a confession, Hopkins used methods such as sleep deprivation, diet restriction and enforced walking to entice an accused witch to confess. Hopkins also stated that pricking and a witch’s mark were substantial evidence of witchcraft. The infamous method of swimming was also used by Hopkins, but this was outlawed in 1645. Victims were overwhelmingly women, usually poor and resented by their communities.
The 1604 Act was finally repealed by George II in 1736, it is thought that at least 1000 people were executed for witchcraft between the years of 1542 and 1736. Although witchcraft was not illegal after this time, communities still accused individuals of practising, including a woman called Ruth Osbourne who was stoned to death by locals in 1751. There have been isolated cases of witchcraft in the last few centuries, with a revival in interest particularly in the last 50 years after Parliament removed the last references to witchcraft in the statute book in 1951.
The archaeological material remaining from the eras of suspected witchcraft and persecution are fascinating pieces of paraphernalia. Between 2018-2019, the Ashmolean Museum held the exhibition Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, which displayed numerous archaeological objects associated with the theme of magic. That exhibition is the inspiration for this blog post, which asked viewers to examine their own beliefs and rituals through the examination of the presented objects. This important aspect in English history should remember its victims by showcasing what material has been left behind. I have chosen five archaeological objects to discuss- a scratch on the surface of the wealth of material available.

  1. The Discovery of Witches book by Matthew Hopkins, 1647, British Library.
    The book written by the infamous ‘Witch-finder General’ described the details of his profession. Hundreds of women were executed during his ‘reign of terror’, and Hopkins was on a mission to destroy the ‘works of the devil’. Hopkins made a substantial sum from his persecution, moving from town to town with his entourage charging for their services. He is thought to be directly responsible for the deaths of 300 women over a two- or three-year period in England, directly taking references of his dogma from King James’ Daemonologie. The Discovery of Witches pamphlet was published in 1647, the same year that Hopkins met his end in unknown circumstances. We can see parallels with this pamphlet and the infamous witch hunting treatise Malleus Maleficarum or The Hammer of the Witches written by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger in the 15th Century
The Discovery of Witches
  1. The Reigate Witch Bottle, c. 1685-1720, South London.
    The Reigate witch bottle was found buried under a house in South London. It contained urine, nine bent pins into an L-shape, human hair (likely eyelashes), wool and grass. In this example, the stopper was still in place and the bottle itself was made of glass. The use of glass was unusual as most witch bottles from the time in England were durable, brown, and bulbous- usually German-made Bartmann vessels according to MOLA. Most of these types of vessels are found beneath the floor of a house, up a chimney or under a threshold. The purpose of the bottle was to assist against a witch you believe had bewitched you. The bottle contained a ‘prepared cure’ against the witch before being sealed and was sometimes thought to explode once the witch who had bewitched you died. These bottles are a great archaeological example of the hysteria amongst the general population concerning witchcraft. The use of witch bottles in England is thought to have been introduced from the Netherlands, and their use was still quite popular up until the late 19th century (particularly in parts of East Anglia where jam jars of urine were often thrown into fires).
Reigate Witch Bottle
  1. The ‘Witch Pits’, c.1640- 1970, Cornwall.
    Archaeologist Jacqui Wood discovered a series of pits near the Hamlet of Savelock in 2003. The find revealed several pits thought to have been used by local women over numerous generations in Cornwall dating back to a coven in the 1640s and used as recently as the 1970s. The pits contained offerings of birds (notably swans and magpies), animal bones wrapped in twine, eggs, pebbles, claws and even a part of a cauldron. The symbolism associated with the birds and the eggs indicated some sort of fertility ritual that may have been carried out to increase the chance of pregnancy or marriage. The offerings may have coincided with the feast of St Brigid of Kildare (1st February), the Irish Saint of new-born babies and has often been referred to as the first abortionist in Ireland. She also has strong links to the pagan practices associated with Springtime. The finds highlight that witchcraft was still being used by women even in times when it was highly risky, and that it was passed down through the generations, so the traditions were not lost.
One of the Witch Pits containing a swan
  1. The Deviant Burial of Meg Shelton or the ‘Fylde Hag’, 1705, Lancashire.
    In the grounds of St Anne’s Church in Woodplumpton is the grave of Meg Shelton, an accused witch that was thought to use her powers to steal from the locals. The grave consists of a boulder, and it is alleged she was buried under it in a vertical position as to stop her escaping. Accounts state she had crawled out of her grave twice before the boulder was placed on top of her. This is an unusual burial found in England, particularly since it is on consecrated ground. Many accused her of shape shifting into different animals, it was even said she walked with a limp after transforming into a rabbit. She was found crushed to death between a barrel and a wall. The case of Meg highlights the accounts of accusations involving recluse women in local communities. Archaeologically, her grave is an interesting case. The boulder is only three feet by two feet as it is thought her grave was very narrow for her to be buried headfirst, a burial of indignity as well as practicality in the eyes of the accusers.
The grave of Meg Shelton
  1. Poppet Doll found in South Devon, 1909-13, Displayed for the Spellbound Exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
    A poppet doll was found in an Edwardian style black dress with a stiletto through the face in South Devon. The doll is quite late in age, dating to the early 20th century, showing witchcraft was still being practised. Poppet dolls were made to represent a person and were used to cast magic against them or to aid them in times of difficulty. The obvious aggressive act depicted in this case shows the poppet was intended to harm the individual, often penetration of the head with a nail or sharp object intended to cause the person to go mad. Poppets or ‘image magic’ were often made from clay, wax, wood or, as with this case, in the form of a rag doll. Some witches were thought to add ingredients such as fresh grave soil, cremated human bones, spiders, or any piece of biological material from the person they intended to target or protect. Pins, nails, or thorns were stuck into the doll to cause harm. Into the heart would cause instant death or the doll being buried in the ground would cause a slow, painful death. In 1960, a poppet dating to the 18th century was found in Hereford in offices. The name Mary Ann Ward was attached to the skirt of the doll.
Poppet doll from South Devon

Sources
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Matthew-Hopkins-WitchFinder-General/
https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-discovery-of-witches
https://www.ashmolean.org/spellbound
https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/specials/timeline/how-to-kill-a-witch-the-reigate-witch-bottle.htm
https://www.mola.org.uk/blog/what-should-you-do-if-you-find-17th-century-witch-bottle
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Matthew-Hopkins
https://archive.archaeology.org/0811/etc/witches.html
http://www.archeolog-home.com/pages/content/saveock-g-b-ancient-cornish-witch-pits.html
https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/discover/sorcery-display-witch-bottles
http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/folklore/meg-shelton-the-fylde-witch/
https://flickeringlamps.com/2015/08/14/buried-under-a-boulder-the-grave-of-a-lancashire-witch/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/lancashire/content/articles/2005/10/06/spooky_woodplumpton_witch_feature.shtml
https://www.facebook.com/ashmoleanmuseum/photos/poppet-with-a-stiletto-dagger-the-museum-of-witchcraft-and-magic-bocastle/10157080358473442/
https://archive.org/details/cunninghamsencyc00cunn_0/page/13
Dell, C. (2016) The Occult, Witchcraft and Magic: An Illustrated History. Thames and Hudson: London.
Lipscomb, Suzannah (2018). Witchcraft. illus. Martyn Pick. London: Ladybird Books.
Mackay, Christopher S. (2009). The Hammer of Witches: A Complete Translation of the Malleus Maleficarum (1 volume). Cambridge University Press.
Pickering, D. (1999) Cassell Dictionary of Witchcraft. Brockhampton Press: Great Britain.
Russell, J.B. (1999) A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans. Thames and Hudson: London.