The 5 Most Bizarre Things People Have Done With Dead Bodies
There are all sorts of hilarious things you could do with a corpse, if only society didn't so strongly disapprove. As great as it would be to, after the funeral, dress these life-size action figures in hilarious outfits or fire them out of a cannon, a lifetime of cultural conditioning prevents us.
Most of us, anyway. That hasn't, for instance, stopped some bodies from getting ...
Publicly Reanimated With Electricity
Hey, did you know that if you hook a dead body up to an electrical current, you can make the limbs flop around like it's alive? And that people used to pay to watch this happen, because the 19th century was the era of not giving a shit?
In January 1803, convicted murderer George Forster became the first galvanic corpse to be publicly exhibited, "galvanism" being the stimulation of muscles by an electric current, which works on a living person but is far more hilarious on a dead one.
"OK, stop! Man, fuck science so hard!"
Before the event, there were concerns about Forster's body actually coming back to life, because this was the 19th century and people didn't know things, but as the Newgate Calendar (a record of London executions) informed its readers, his sentence was that he should "hang until he be dead," which effectively meant that should he return to life, he would be marched directly back to the gallows.
The terrified imp on the far left is the only one in the picture with an appropriate reaction.
The experiment was carried out by Giovanni Aldini, who, by the time he zapped Forster in public, had not only mastered his core technique, but developed a theatrical flair. First, he applied the electrified conducting rods to Forster's face, which caused Forster's jaw to quiver and grimace horribly. His left eye popped open. Aldini then applied the rods to Forster's torso, causing the body to jiggle and contort and even blow out a candle. What, you couldn't flex the jaw and make it talk in a funny voice? The audience had to have been disappointed by that, but way to show some restraint there.
Wait, we take that back. Because nothing could have prepared audiences for the grand finale, in which Aldini shoved a conducting rod into the cadaver's rectum, causing it to punch a fist in the air (really, this is the type of climax that no one is prepared for).
"You keep your eyes open, people. This is the world."
Aldini continued touring with his show, but only used decapitated heads, presumably because they're much easier to travel with. His experiments would ultimately inspire Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein, which may explain why the monster staggers around like it has a stick up its ass.
Crucified, for Science
So, you've heard of the Shroud of Turin, right? An ancient piece of linen that was supposedly wrapped around the body of Jesus after he was crucified? Religious artifacts like that are a huge deal, of course, because proving the authenticity would go a long way toward proving that the Bible is true. So, if you wanted to try to authenticate the shroud, how would you do it? Well, first you'd need to know if the evidence imprinted on the shroud matches that of a real crucified human. And how else would you do that other than by taking some innocent corpse and crucifying it to see what it looks like?
There are probably lots of ways, actually. Still, in the 1930s, Dr. Pierre Barbet, a Parisian physician, sought to scientifically evaluate the authenticity of the shroud by nailing a dead body to some boards.
"I wanted to use a grad student, but whatever."
Specifically, Barbet wanted to determine the amount of skin tearing that would occur if a person were crucified in Destot's space -- that is, the part of the palm where the figure imprinted on the Shroud of Turin seems to have nail marks. The photos from this experiment are available here, but we're not including them for a reason.
Mostly because the pre-crucifixion massages were just flat-out creepy.
Barbet concluded that the tearing he found in his corpse-hanging did reflect that seen on the Shroud of Turin, which seemed to satisfy him enough to declare that the Shroud of Turin was a genuine religious artifact. We are curious as to whether anyone pointed out to Pierre that just because the imprint on the shroud could reasonably belong to a crucified man that there is nothing to indicate that that man was Jesus. But, we have a feeling this was all just an excuse for corpse-hanging anyway.
His experiments into the scientific validity of the crucifixion account continued, but don't worry. They didn't involve corpses:
"So, when do I get my beer money?"
Launched into Space
We've talked before about how you can get your ashes launched into space, but that falls far short of the space burials imagined in our awkward, sci-fi obsessed childhoods. We wanted our actual body to be fired out of a spaceship, either inexplicably turning into a comet and slingshoting around a planet like Spock in Star Trek II, or just kind of back-flipping through space with all the majesty of a Charmin-shrouded turd like John Hurt in Alien.
Well, in 2007, NASA finally gave civilians the chance to have their remains launched into space.
"This research is key to the future of astronecrophilia."
Or, more precisely, they took three random cadavers that had been entrusted to the Ohio State University Medical Center for medical research and fired those festering meat sacks into orbit to test the new Orion spaceship, which they hope will send astronauts to the moon in 2020.
The bodies are used to measure all sorts of ways space impacts the human body, like radiation exposure. So obviously the primary goal is to make sure space radiation doesn't reanimated corpses into zombies, and if so, to find a way to re-kill them. But they can also use them to measure the impact of various stages of launch and space travel on human physiology without killing a dude.
"When you're done with that, dig up six or so and just start whacking them with hammers."
Sure, NASA also uses mathematical modeling and data from high-speed crash tests, but neither of these methods is as precise as using an actual human body. At only $40,000, it's also fairly cost effective (keep in mind that we're talking about spaceships and astrophysics, not reasonable prices for a luxury sedan).
And ultimately, there's no better way to honor people selfless enough to donate their bodies to science than to fire them into an endless black void to test stress fractures on their dead bones and see if they get melted by the sun.
Leave it to rocket scientists to figure out the perfect murder.
Sold into Marriage
In China, there is a traditional practice known as "minghun," or "ghost marriage," in which two dead persons are married so that their spirits don't have to wander through the afterlife alone. And yes, you actually have the corpses there for the ceremony.
This may seem crushingly depressing at first glance, but the underlying idea is actually quite positive -- the wedded couple can have a happy (and potentially sexy) afterlife, and the living members of their families can bond, which is very useful when resources are scarce, like in poor farming communities where evidently people just can't afford to tie the knot until they're ripped from their mortal coil by the cold grip of eternity.
"I hate you so goddamn much. I want a ghost divorce."
Until recently, communist oppression caused this tradition to fall out of practice, and it was almost lost to history. While it still isn't exactly common today, ghost marriage holds heavy psychological sway in the rural areas where the practice has been revived. So much so, in fact, that people will pay 10,000 yuan ($1,200) as dowry to the corpse-bride's family, even though this is nearly four times the average annual income of a Chinese farmer. Not only does this make families even more eager to wed off their daughters, but it's also inspired a cottage industry in grave robbing, because anything worth selling is worth stealing.
Consequently, a few years ago the inevitable happened -- one corpse was married to two different husbands. Ms. Wu, a woman from the Hebei province near Beijing, may have the world's most marriageable corpse (her living body, apparently, could not be given away). After her death, her parents won a dowry of $5,500 (35,000 yuan) for wedding her to another eligible dead person. She eloped a few days later, or rather was stolen by a band of grave robbers who had arranged for her to be married to another rotting suitor (Chinese women, it seems, have as many rights in death as they do in life).
To be fair, she was totally hot.
This time, she only earned 30,000 yuan -- a 5,000 yuan discount to make up for "physical decay."
In April of 1955, Thomas Harvey was on call as a pathologist at the Princeton Hospital when the body of his idol, Albert Einstein, was rolled in. Einstein's wishes were to be cremated, and the ashes secretly scattered -- he didn't want his resting place turned into a tourist attraction. So, displaying a touching level of reverence for his departed hero, Thomas Harvey chose to remove Einstein's brain and eyes and put them in a jar.
His dates were even less impressed.
Harvey would later claim that an autopsy had been requested, although there was no documentation to support this, and anyway "autopsy" in no way rhymes with "take out his brain and put it in a jar." He briefly saved his job when Einstein's son gave him retroactive permission to remove and study the brain, on the condition that Harvey must share it with other scientists. When it became clear that Harvey had no intention of sharing, Princeton fired him for good.
"Fine, I'm outtie. You guys are assholes."
Despite being aware of everything we just explained in the last paragraph, they inexplicably thought this meant that Harvey would give Einstein's brain to them. He didn't. Instead, he took the brain to another hospital, where technicians divided it into cubes. It's the brain of Einstein, what else were they going to do?
For the next 40 years, Harvey and Einstein's brain would be partners in the world's strangest bromance. Although Harvey shipped some of the cubes to researchers upon request in whatever containers he could find (including used food jars), he kept the majority of it, constantly claiming that he was just about to have a breakthrough (how, or in what, is unclear). When Harvey took a road trip across the country to see Einstein's granddaughter, the brain rode along in the back. He even accidentally left the brain at the granddaughter's house (this is after stealing it from Einstein's corpse and defrauding an institution to keep it for himself).
"I assure you it's perfectly safe to eat. Though I wouldn't try this particular piece because I just fucked it."
Finally, Harvey did the right thing and returned the brain to Princeton. But the eyes are now sitting in a vault in New York, presumably waiting to appreciate in value.
For more things done with rotting meatbags, check out The 6 Coolest Things You Can Do With Your Dead Body. Or check out the The 11 Most Badass Last Words Ever Uttered.