Grave-robbing

From Ohio History Central
Harrison, John Scott.jpg
John Scott Harrison

During the 1800s, medical schools routinely stole recently buried cadavers to demonstrate medical procedures to their students. Cadavers from across Ohio were illegally exhumed for this purpose. Perhaps the most famous person illegally exhumed was John Scott Harrison from Congress Green Cemetery in North Bend, Ohio. Harrison was the son of President William Henry Harrison and the father of President Benjamin Harrison. Family members soon discovered Harrison's body at the Ohio Medical College in Cincinnati, Ohio, and eventually placed the corpse in the Harrison Tomb near his parents' remains.

To prevent grave-robbing from occurring, numerous people tried to develop inventions to deter the robbers. Philip K. Clover of Columbus, Ohio, developed a device that was to "prevent the unauthorized resurrection of dead bodies." Clover named his device the coffin-torpedo. Buried underground, the torpedo would fire several lead balls into the thief. Clover received a patent for this device on October 8, 1878. On December 20, 1881, former Probate Judge Thomas N. Howell of Circleville, Ohio, received a patent for an exploding shell that was buried underground above a coffin. If robbers tried to dig up the coffin, the shell would explode, injuring or killing the thieves.

As Ohio's state government began to allow people to donate or sell their corpses to medical schools and as penalties became harsher for the thieves, grave-robbing declined in popularity. By the 1890s, very few cases of grave-robbing occurred in Ohio.

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