Plus ça Change…

My daughter Suzanne will be graduating from high school in ten days. Last week was her prom, after which she and a gaggle of her classmates rented a beach house on the Texas coast for two days, doing what high school seniors since time immemorial have done when the end is nigh. I was speaking to her earlier by phone, and I asked how it all went. She said they had “fun” – a suitably vague answer – but then she added that a police officer had stopped at the rented quarters after they had arrived to give them a stern talk about proper behavior and what was expected of them. Apparently they listened, because no one wound up in either the county jail or the emergency room I’m told.

Still, I was quite impressed to think that the local cops did this. I suppose they’re acclimated to visiting students and the havoc that can be wreaked, and wisely try to be proactive. And that got me thinking back to my own pre-graduation beach trip, at which time, luckily, there were no police to be seen anywhere. Nor landlords.

Let me explain.

I didn’t go to the beach before my high school graduation, but I did go before college commencement. As with Suzanne, a group of my classmates and I had planned to rent a beach house on the Carolina coast and spend several days ‘relaxing.’ The only problem was that, unlike the modern Texas scenario in which the cops were firm but apparently resigned to the influx of young partiers and their wallets, the realtors along the Outer Banks in the 1980s did NOT want to rent their properties to irresponsible college punks at any price.

The solution? Find religion.

I’m not sure that this was a compliment at the time, but it was decided by acclamation that I was the most ‘proper looking’ of the bunch, and therefore that I would be the spokesman. The group – all in beach wear and flip-flops except for me – drove to Nags Head in several cars, with me being the only one wearing a suit and tie in the heat and humidity of late spring. That’s because I was purportedly the organizer of a gathering of young Christians who wanted to rent a place at the beach for solitude as we studied scripture. No joke.

Like the frauds that we were, they dropped me a block away from the realtor and parked around the corner so that the party-wagon, with several kegs precariously balanced in the back seat and trunk, wasn’t visible from the front office.

I must have done a convincing job of appearing pious (oddly, my ex-wife oft opined that my late former mother-in-law thought I was the “religious one” in the family, but I’m not sure why). I don’t remember much of my conversation with the realtor, except that he did make passing comment about “rowdy fraternity boys” and how pleased he was that such a nice group of young people was coming to enjoy the property instead.

Keys in hand, once at the house, off came the tie, on went the trunks, and out came the beer. The Rolling Stones replaced contemplative church music, and girls in bikinis materialized out of nowhere.

I stressed during the trip that the realtor would make an unannounced visit to greet the “nice group of young people” about which he had only heard secondhand… from me.

He didn’t. And we did no damage to the house. A win-win.

But I’ve still not determined in which layer of Dante’s Inferno are incarcerated those who falsely profess piety for debauched purposes.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Death Takes A Holiday (X)

to wit, a middle-aged peripatetic shrink undertakes the Great American Cross-Country Road Trip with help from little leaguers, German bikers, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, porn stars and an abandoned brothel, a flock of domesticated ducks, the Department of Homeland Security and the West Memphis police, a decommissioned atomic warhead, some dodgy motels… and a strange rider in the back of a 2013 Ford Fusion.

Bone-man and I sailed east along I-10 until we connected with state route 90, at which point we turned south. At Sierra Vista, we followed state route 92, which eventually brought us to the odd little hamlet of Bisbee, Arizona.

Bisbee has a population of 5575, and is located 82 miles southeast of Tucson as the crow flies. Nestled in folds of the Mule Mountains, it was founded in 1880 as a small copper mining camp, but eventually grew to the point that the seat of Cochise County was moved there from the better-known Tombstone in 1929.

Bisbee is the site of the Copper Queen Mine, about which I’ve posted previously:

When commercial mining dried up in the early 1970s, Bisbee was headed for oblivion. Wisely, the town decided that marketing their mining heritage would potentially keep Bisbee alive. Tours were started. Shops returned. A funky little artists’ colony – one that has been visited by over 1M tourists in the past 35 years – has grown from the withering corpse of the original hardscrabble company town.

Sadly, the Copper Queen Mine was the only destination of our cross country trek that Boney and I missed. We arrived… just as a gaggle of Asian tourists, cameras-around-necks, donned their hardhats for the last subterranean trip of the day. Despite pleadings about the distances we’d traveled to get there, the mine foreman refused to allow an extra person on the sold-out tour. Oh well.

More than the mine, the entrance to which is decidedly non-descript, the visual ‘gem’ of town is the late Victorian Copper Queen Hotel.

the Copper Queen Hotel

the Copper Queen Hotel

It is located just down the street from its namesake. Originally offered to any local resident for $1 by the mining company as it closed-up shop, it was eventually purchased by an artist couple as the anchor to the soon-to-be-reborn downtown – now ranked one of the ‘quirkiest’ places in the US by AAA and AARP. Before long, not only artists, but counterculture types and hippies who were fleeing the gentrification of California, Arizona, and Colorado, found Bisbee much to their liking. Coffee shops and galleries cropped up in place of dance halls and saloons. And property values soared.

Quirky? Take for example the Ice Man Competition held yearly in town. It celebrates the guys who once delivered ice to people’s homes before electricity. Entrants race up 155 steps carrying 10lb blocks of ice with antique ice tongs to cheering crowds.

It’s a shame that wasn’t happening when we were there.

Back in the car, we wound our way up state route 80 to nearby Tombstone, population now 1504.

Tombstone was founded in 1879 by one Ed Schieffelin on a mesa above the Tough Nut Mine. He had been staking claims in the area, then still considered dangerous because of the presence of hostile natives. One of his colleagues had said that the only “rock” he’d find there was his own tombstone – hence the name of Schieffelin’s original claim, and then the town which sprang from it.

Lots on Allen Street – the main dirt thoroughfare in town – sold originally for $5 each. Soon, there was the luxurious Grand Hotel, an opera theatre, an ice house, a school, two banks, two newspapers (the Nugget and the Epitaph), an ice cream parlor… and more than 125 saloons, gambling halls, and brothels, all built on top of the labyrinthine mine tunnels below.

And of course Tombstone was the site of the immortalized Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on 26 October 1881.

Although it reached a maximum population of more than 14,000, by 1890, the mines started to dry up. Several devastating fires that swept through flimsy wooden buildings didn’t help matters. Tombstone’s population dwindled to less than 650 by 1910. And it was that precipitous population drop that preserved our site of main interest on this trip.

You see, history records the generals and kings and cardinals of days past. But it is the life of the common man, anonymous and forgotten, that is almost always lost to future researchers.

On 25 December 1881, the Bird Cage Theatre opened on Allen Street.

the Bird Cage Theatre

the Bird Cage Theatre

A favorite of Doc Holliday’s and Bat Masterson’s, it was a combination show venue, saloon, gambling parlor, and bawdyhouse, taking its name from the dozen curtained private boxes, called ‘cribs’ or ‘cages,’ that overlooked the main stage, and which were used for, er, visiting with very friendly barmaids.

the Bird Cage cribs

the Bird Cage cribs

The year following its opening, the New York Times described the Bird Cage as “the wickedest, wildest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” Still, it drew some big name entertainers of the day – Lillian Russell and Lillie Langtry to name two. It was open 24/ 7/ 365 until it closed its doors eight years later, and is said to have been the site of the longest running poker game in history (in the basement) – one in which more than $10M changed hands over its eight years, five months, and three days in operation.

When the Bird Cage went bust in 1889, it was boarded up and abandoned. For over 45 years on Allen Street it sat. The town’s population had shrunk to the point that no one wanted the old building, and it was too much effort to tear it down.

When it was finally purchased in the mid-1930s, much to the shock of the new owners, the entire building was furnished and stocked as it had been on its last day in business. Nothing had been removed. Dishes, glasses, chairs, and tables were all still there. Bottles of liquor were lined up on the bar. Musty carpets and pictures and wallpaper stood sentinel. The player piano was sitting by the stage, and props were backstage. Beds and linens remained in the girls’ rooms. Plus there were more than 120 bullet holes in the ceiling and walls. It was an unprecedented time capsule of the common man’s Wild West, and one, to my knowledge, that has never been replicated anywhere else.

And it’s been featured on Ghost Hunters (2006), Ghost Adventures (2009), Ghost Lab (2009), and Paranormal Files (2011). I’m not sure what they found.

Don’t miss seeing it when you’re next in Tombstone.

[to be continued…]

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Edward Rulloff

“In the prison in Binghamton there is a man awaiting death who is too curious an intellectual… to be wasted on the gallows.” ~Horace Greely, publisher of the New York Tribune.

“If [any] life be offered up to the gallows to atone for the murder… will that suffice? If so… I will bring forward a [dullard] who, in the interest of learning and science, will take [the] crime upon himself and submit to be hanged in [the accused’s] place.” ~Mark Twain.

Edward Rulloff

Edward Rulloff

The man whom Greely felt was too valuable to kill – the man whom the sarcastic Twain felt was a total fraud – was one Edward Rulloff, a noted inventor of his day. But he was also known as James Nelson, E.C. Howard, James Dalton, Edward Lieurio, &c., and claimed at various times in his life to be an attorney, a physician, a schoolmaster, a daguerreotypist, a carpet designer, an artist, a philologist fluent in six modern and two ancient languages, and a phrenologist.

You see, Rulloff enjoyed writing. Whether he actually had expertise in the stated fields is debatable, but it is know that he financed his passion for writing with criminal activities, and did a lot of his composition while in prison.

Before the age of 20, he had successfully clerked for a local law firm – and had been incarcerated twice for theft.

In 1844 his wife disappeared. Charged with her murder, Rulloff acted as attorney pro se and beat the rap, though he was convicted of a lesser charge of abduction and spent almost ten years in the penitentiary in Auburn. More scholarly articles followed from his cell, since he had a lot of time on his hands.

In 1870, again a free man, he was working on what was to be his opus, Method in the Formation of Language, which he believed would revolutionize the field of linguistics.

That same year, while taking study breaks, he was running with a gang of petty thieves under a number of aliases, and broke into a dry good store in Binghamton. In the process, the night watchman was shot and killed.

Rulloff’s trial for the murder of that watchman was a national sensation, and this time, again as attorney pro se, the charge stuck. He was sentenced to death.

Appeals and debate followed – should a man so academically prolific be lost to civilization’s benefit, especially when he said that he was on the verge of a great intellectual breakthrough?

As time ran out, Rulloff confessed to having killed his wife by smashing her skull with a pestle he used to grind medicine.

He asked to be buried in a vault to prevent post-mortem desecration. The request was denied.

Edward Rulloff was hanged on 18 May 1871.

His body was put on public display, then given to Dr George Burr of the Geneva Medical College, who kept the head and buried the torso. The torso was later stolen by medical students. The head – now just the brain – resides to this day in the Wilder Anatomic Collection of Cornell University.

And his purportedly promising breakthrough in linguistics? The manuscript was never finished.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Hygiene is Overrated I

[Today’s post is sponsored by my stepdaughter Anna Maria… and she knows why]

Perhaps you recently read about one Amou Haji, an 80 year old fellow in the tiny village of Dejgah in southern Iran who claims not to have bathed in over six decades, in part because he fears that cleanliness will make him ill.

Go ahead. Google him.

His beliefs aren’t as rare as you might think, at least by historical standards.

In early Christian centuries, authorities allowed the public to use bathhouses just as had been the case in Roman times. However, as it became apparent that the baths were being used for hedonism as much as, or for more than, hygiene, church fathers began to crack down on such licentiousness. Starting in the early 5th century CE, first women were banned from the baths, and then nudity in general was prohibited. Finally, the whole concept of public baths was largely proscribed.

Bathing, it was proclaimed, lead to immorality, promiscuous sex, and the spread of diseases.

Sin aside, by the 400s, it had become widely accepted that water could carry diseases from the air directly into the body via the skin’s pores, so the church’s ban on bathing as a (primitive poorly understood) public health measure had traction, and held sway in Western medical circles for more than a millennium.

This meant that – not having to be told more than once – most of the lower classes began foregoing baths altogether, opting instead to wash their hands, parts of their faces, and mouths (by rinsing) only.

[sidebar: washing the entire face was believed to risk developing catarrh and weakening the eyesight]

The upper classes restricted their bathing to a few times a year, trying to balance the desire to avoid diseases against overpowering body odor.

Case in point: one Russian ambassador to France in the early 18th century noted that Louis XIV “stunk like a wild animal,” as court physicians regularly advised His Gallic Majesty to bathe as infrequently as possible to maintain good health. Louis was apparently a good patient, bathing only twice in his lifetime it is said – at his birth and at his wedding.

[sidebar: the Eastern Orthodox churches didn’t get as agitated about bathing as did the Western church, and therefore Russians of this era tended to bathe more frequently than those of the Pope’s domains – perhaps as frequently as once per month; Russians were therefore held by many in the West to be sexual perverts]

To get past eye-watering stench, many aristocrats in the Middle Ages rubbed their bodies with scented rags, and used perfumes liberally. Both men and women wore small bags containing herbs between the layers of their clothing, especially in their undergarments.

Amazingly, this complete lack of personal hygiene in parts of western Europe lingered in some circles into the early 19th century.

Rock on, Amou!

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

A Futile Search For Virility

It seems that the promise of restoring youth to aging men appealed as strongly in days past as it does in the present.

In the 1920s, testicular tissue transplantation was the ‘little blue pill’ of the era, purported in many medical circles to reestablish lost-function in the old and infirm [it was also used to address skin problems, neurasthenia, epilepsy, dementia praecox, senility, alcoholism, prostatic hypertrophy, cancer, rheumatism, gingivitis, paralysis, arteriosclerosis, and the “moral perversions of old age,” whatever that is]. In some quarters, testicular tissue transplantation was attempted as a treatment for male homosexuality, albeit without any measurable success.

One proponent of testicular tissue transplantation was Leo Stanley, the chief surgeon of San Quentin prison in California and a devotee of the theories of the late-Serge Voronoff.

Monkey Bread (aka Monkey Balls)

Monkey Bread (aka Monkey Balls)

Dr. Voronoff, you see, had started his research and resulting scrotal activities using parts from (willing?) monkeys at the turn of the 20th century, opining that “the monkey is superior to man by the sturdiness of its body, the quality of its organs, and the absence of those defects, hereditary and acquired, with which the main part of mankind is afflicted.” Though he had plenty of detractors, Voronoff’s theories were accepted by a large minority of (male) physicians up until WWII, and there was never a shortage of middle aged volunteers desiring to freshen up their manhood.

Given the placebo effect and wishful thinking, it was only a hop-skip-jump from (unsuccessful) monkey-donor tissue transplants to (unsuccessful) human-donor tissue transplants.

[sidebar: Voronoff’s monkey-grafts have been postulated as one possible way in which HIV made the jump from simians to homo sapiens, though nothing has been proven]

Anyway, our Dr Stanley was responsible for autopsies once the condemned at San Quentin were launched into eternity. In May 1928, one Clarence Kelley – having been convicted of multiple counts of murder during an armed robbery spree in San Francisco – swung by the hempen necktie, after which his body was released to the family for burial. Only then was it noticed by then next-of-kin that the corpse was missing that part of the anatomy which renders the bearer male. Upon investigation, it was learned that Stanley had helped himself to the junk of the decedent – he wouldn’t be needing it, right? – and had accordingly transplanted some bits into a patient in a nearby hospital.

Further inquiry revealed that Stanley had been cutting off the balls of hanged inmates and putting them into other men’s coin purses since at least 1918. Being a doctor on one of the nation’s busiest death rows gave him a steady supply of human tissue – that is, when he wasn’t doing futile experiments with the testicles of goats, boars, rams, and stags. And astoundingly, despite threats of lawsuits and the absence of any semblance of informed consent, Stanley kept his job at San Quentin until 1951. He spoke freely of his testicular activities and the >10,000 transplants in which he was involved over his career, basking all the while in the laudatory op-ed pieces of many papers of the day.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Death Takes A Holiday (IX)

to wit, a middle-aged peripatetic shrink undertakes the Great American Cross-Country Road Trip with help from little leaguers, German bikers, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, porn stars and an abandoned brothel, a flock of domesticated ducks, the Department of Homeland Security and the West Memphis police, a decommissioned atomic warhead, some dodgy motels… and a strange rider in the back of a 2013 Ford Fusion.

Although Boney and I were heading due east, there are no easily traversable roads in that direction when one exits the missile facility – there are goat paths and large mountains on the horizon ahead. Thus, it’s either turn-right/ south into Mexico, or turn-left/ north to the interstate. As my friend did not have a passport, we opted for the latter.

It’s only a dozen miles to the highway near Tucson, and this backtrack gave us an opportunity to quickly visit a site I’ve seen several times previously, but one that I never miss if possible.



Paradoxically, the giant saguaro cactus, Carnegiea gigantea, is a universally recognized symbol of the American West – its blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona – and yet it grows in the U.S. in only a relatively small swath of territory south of Flagstaff and in a sliver of southeastern California (there are far more saguaros in Mexico than in this country).

The saguaro is often used – incorrectly – to convey a sense of the Southwest, even if the product in question has no connection to Arizona or the Sonoran Desert. For instance, no naturally occurring saguaros are found within 250 miles of Texas, but its silhouette is found on the label of Old El Paso brand products. And though the geographic anomaly has lessened in recent years, Western films once enthusiastically placed saguaros in Monument Valley far to the north, as well as in scenes from the Lone Star State, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.

Saguaros don’t sprout their familiar ‘arms’ until almost a century in age, and can then sometimes grow to a final height of more than 65’. When close, one can often see ‘bird holes’ drilled in the sides of adult saguaros, in which nest woodpeckers, martins, finches, and flickers. Even when they die, the saguaro persists in its stately presence; the endoskeletons – reminiscent of the staves of a barrel – can remain standing, bleached and firm, like ghostly sentinels. These living giants are a truly magnificent presence in the wild, and are not to be missed.

Saguaro National Monument was created by President Hoover in 1933. It was then elevated to National Park status in 1994. The park is divided into two sections lying east and west of downtown Tucson, the total area of which is over 91,000 acres. This protected wilderness is largely devoid of evidence of humans, despite its proximity to population centers; there is a one lane road that snakes through the park, plus hiking trails and scenic stops. Both sections of the park conserve impressive tracts of Sonoran ecosystem, which includes not only a vast number of saguaros, but also barrel cacti, cholla, and prickly pear. There are petroglyphs in the park, and more than a few endangered animals, including the Lesser Long-nosed Bat and the Mexican Spotted Owl. Plus there’s the abandoned Old Yuma Mine, though it’s off-limits to visitors.

Even outside the park, harming a saguaro in any manner, including cactus plugging (i.e., target practice) is illegal under Arizona law. When houses or highways are built, special permits must still be obtained to move or destroy any saguaro affected. Penalties for violators are stiff.

Time is of the essence, and the Bonemeister and I can only enjoy a brief drive around the perimeter road of the easternmost half. Those few minutes do not begin to do justice to these amazing giants, but I don’t pass up the opportunity to stop the car and stand next to them. The saguaros are best seen at twilight, when they are silhouetted in the beauty of a desert sunset. But my late colleague and I have miles yet to go, and we want to reach our favorite brothel before it closes that afternoon.

[to be continued…]

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

[from the medical records dept] Sorcery, Body Parts, and Pharmaceuticals

[some of the following was originally posted by the Alienist last summer, but you really can’t get enough of this stuff]

In keeping with April’s mummy theme – soap cadavers, artists’ corpses – I now complete the trifecta with observations on the use of dead people as medicinals and ingestibles.

Cannibalism has existed for as long as there have been humans, and probably longer. It’s the societal revulsion at such behavior, and not the actual metabolic issues of the consumption, that renders the subject anathema. But the proscribed always fosters lurid fascination, and makes for good press.

Take, for example, the British Gazetteer on 3 May 1718, wherein was reported:

“We have intelligence from Lincoln [of] a man being hanged there … [who] within three days after his execution, [had] … apothecaries contract[] with a butcher for a sum of money, to take the body out of the grave, and cut off all the flesh, fit for them to make a skeleton of; which flesh he sold for venison to an inn-keeper; who making it into a pasty, invited many of his neighbors to the eating of it; but sometime after the villainy being detected, the butcher and the two apothecaries were committed to [the] Lincoln [jail].”

Accurate? I’m not certain. And with apologies to honest druggists everywhere, and even the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, this is not really the flavor – pun intended – of today’s post. Instead, I wish to talk about the odd and surprisingly common archaic belief that noshing on the dead was somehow therapeutic, not just delicious. And we start with blood.

In order to restore vigor and youth, some medical practitioners of the late Middle Ages recommended drinking the blood of those not so aged. The physician Marsilio Ficino, in the 15th century, wrote, “why shouldn’t our old people, namely those who have no [other] recourse… suck the blood of a youth? A youth who is willing, healthy, happy and temperate, [and] whose blood is of the best but perhaps too abundant. They will suck, therefore, like leeches, an ounce or two from a scarcely- opened vein of the left arm; they will immediately take an equal amount of sugar and wine; they will do this when hungry and thirsty and when the moon is waxing. If they have difficulty digesting raw blood, let it first be cooked together with sugar; or let it be mixed with sugar and moderately distilled over hot water and then drunk.”

Blood therapy was not a rare recommendation it appears.

Edward Taylor (c.1658–1702), a Puritan minister and lay physician in New England, wrote that “human blood, drunk warm and new is held good in the falling sickness [epilepsy].” In Denmark, the use of blood as a cure for epilepsy was widespread; it is documented that the sick and infirmed would gather under a scaffold hoping to catch the spilt blood of a freshly executed criminal for this very purpose. Many English physicians, too, believed in the curative potency of blood, and recommended it to patients as late as 1747.

Regarding other parts of the human corpus, physician [Nicholas] Lemery recommended mother’s milk for inflamed eyes, feces to heal sores, and skull, brain, fat, nails and “all the parts of man” to cure a variety of conditions in 16th century France.

axungia hominis (human fat)

axungia hominis (human fat)

In The Marrow of Physick (1669), Scotsman Thomas Brugis wrote, “a man’s skull that hath been dead but one yeare, bury it in the ashes behinde the fire, and let it burne untill it be very white, and easie to be broken with your finger; then take off all the uppermost part of the head to the top of the crowne, and beat it as small as is possible; then grate a nutmeg, and put to it, and the blood of a dog dryed, and powdered; mingle them all together, and give the sick to drinke, first and last, both when he is sick, and also when he is well, the quantity of halfe a dram at a time in white wine.”

Though a few formulas called for fresh, when fresh wasn’t available, dessicated would do; one of the most commonly advertised apothecary substances at that time was ground mummy, a preparation of the ancient remains of an embalmed or dried body from the distant sands of Araby. One 16th century surgeon, Ambrose Paré, noted that mummy was “the very first and last medicine of almost all our practitioners.”

Mummy heads were used to create plasters to assist with wound healing as late as 1750. Many practitioners were also prescribing “three drams of [crushed] human skull” for epilepsy, or “two ounces of mummy in a plaster against ruptures.” These forms of therapy, though, were beginning to fall from favor by the early 18th century as public opinion – not necessarily ‘science’ – turned against the practices.

That said, the best is never cheap, and mummy in 1678 was selling in London for 5s 4d for a pound! Thus, many apothecaries substituted, for a genuine Bedouin, cheap imitations that typically came from the corpses of east-side beggars, lepers, and plague victims.

Assuming one could afford it, perhaps the palate craved mummy with sweetener? Then mellified man, or human mummy confection, was for you. This was a legendary substance created by steeping a human cadaver in honey. Interestingly, it is only mentioned in a single Chinese source from the 16th century by one Li Shizhen, a pharmacologist relying on second hand hearsay (sound reliable?) Li wrote in his reference work, Bencao Gangmu, in the chapter entitled ‘Man as Medicine,’ that in the deserts far to the west, there were elderly men who would volunteer to undergo mummification in honey to create a medicinal suspension that would help their descendants. What separated this mellification process from simple body donation was that it had to commence ante-mortem. It was reported that the donor would stop eating all food other than honey. The donor would even bathe daily in honey. Soon, his feces became mellified, and even his sweat was said to be sweet and thick. When the diet or other illness finally proved fatal, the donor’s corpse would be placed in a stone coffin filled with honey… for about a century. By then, the contents would have turned into a thick rich yellowish goo that was said to be capable of healing broken bones and curing other ailments. Li claimed that this was available in Middle Eastern bazaars at a very hefty price.

Maybe one desired mummy, with sweetener or without, but just couldn’t afford it? Fear not, for you too could still partake of the goodness of the body tissues of others. In one 17th century French kabbalist’s magic book (the genre often doubling as a medical text), there is listed what we would call today a sedative, tranquilizer, or anxiolytic, one guaranteed to defuse those with short tempers and violent tendencies.

It involved scraping and collecting the white skin from the tongue of a newborn on a clean piece of linen, and then secretly placing it under the infant’s bonnet during baptism. The tongue, with its ability to curse or bless, was considered a potent anatomical part. Thus activated, the tissue was said to calm the angry, though whether it had to be ingested or just placed in close proximity to a potential outburst remains vague.

At first glance, quack practices such as these seem far removed from our own advanced healthcare. However, the utilization of body parts in therapy still persists. Though blood transfusions and organ transplantations are dramatically different than drinking blood or eating flesh, such interventions do share a core belief in the human body as an instrument of healing.

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[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]