The 'Stiff' Drink's Dark, Disgusting Creation

"Hey, let's get a couple of cold ones."
The 'Stiff' Drink's Dark, Disgusting Creation

Ever wonder why you feel that much closer to death after a few stiff drinks? Well, that's probably because way back in mid-1800s America, it literally involved drinking the dead. 

At the time, the grave snatching business was a lucrative career for those who didn’t squirm at the thought of digging into a person’s final resting place to excavate their decomposing body. Why would anyone go out of their way to exhume the dead? Well, universities needed bodies for their anatomy classes, and, as a more effective medical process to properly handle that didn't exist, kidnapping corpses seemed like the way to go. Much of this occupation went unregulated, and people felt iffy about donating their bodies to science because not much had been discovered yet concerning human anatomy. A bad time to be a dead person, but a perfect time to be a coffin thief.  

Anyone could be a grave snatcher and get paid well to do it- from janitors to doctors. Graveyards were often in on the cadaver kidnappings, so they enabled snatchers to do their job. But what does this have to do with alcohol?  

Hablot Knight Browne

A sad ending if you really thought this was your final destination.

Well, the bodies had to be preserved for transportation on trains from state to state. To subdue the awful smell, grave robbers counted on a trick up their sleeve: adding liquor to the recipe. The grave thieves would stuff the bodies into barrels for shipping, filling the rest of the space with booze. The dead bodies were soaked in the alcohol, hiding the stench they somehow forgot to take with them to the grave. And why not make money from selling that very alcohol later on in the process? A real Bezos-in-the-making, this shipping system was their idea of efficiency, as they certainly got their cut of the deal.  

As liquor was often presented in barrels, it wasn’t unusual to drink directly from the vessel. Sailors would do it; your average Joe wasn’t above it. And so, eager for more pocket money, the sly snatchers decided to sell the leftovers. The liquor that once preserved the departed was now in the hands (and passing through the livers) of people simply looking for a buzz. They were, essentially, drinking dead-infused whiskey.

David Teniers

Making drinking a corpse look easy since the 1800s.

Eventually, laws were established that set back the entrepreneurial spirits of the grave snatcher, and state Anatomy Boards were founded as a means of distributing unclaimed cadavers for their scientific studies. The brightest side about this, be there one at all, is that advancements were made about the inner workings of the human body. Sure, they were retrieved from bodies drenched in alcohol against their dying wills, but they could sure handle their liquor.

Top Image: felix_w/Pixabay


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