6 More Restless Corpses

Many people are so fascinated with earthly remains that they want to view them long after death. To some, it's a sign of devotion to the person who once inhabited the body. For others, it's just plain morbid curiosity. And for a few, it's something even stranger. More stories can be found in the previous post 6 Restless Corpses.


Bernadette Soubirous is St. Bernadette of Lourdes. Her 18 visions led to the establishment of a chapel at the grotto in Lourdes, France, and her later sainthood. She died at age 35 in 1879 and was buried. Her body was exhumed three times, in 1909, 1919, and finally in 1925. The church declared her body to be "incorruptible", as it showed no signs of decomposition. The face was discolored, so a wax mask was added. St. Bernadette was canonized in 1933. She remains on display in a glass-topped coffin at the Chapel of St. Bernadette in Nevers, France. (image credit: PETF)


Samuel P. Dinsmoor built the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. He spent his life building the concrete compound adorned with statuary illustrating the Bible. It is open to the public as a tourist attraction, including the remains of Dinsmoor in a concrete coffin with a glass lid, where his body has been since his death in 1932. Dinsmoor prepared for his death to be a part of the attraction. He sold a double-exposed photograph of himself looking at his "corpse" as a postcard. The photo now hangs in his mausoleum.

Continue reading for more restless corpses. Some images may be disturbing to the sensitive.

Rosalia Lombardo died in Italy at the age of 2 and was interred in the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo. She has lain in a glass-topped coffin since 1920, showing little signs of decomposition, earning her the nickname "Sleeping Beauty". Some people believe that Rosalia's mummy opens and closes her eyes, which you can see here, but it's an optical illusion. The same cannot be said for the thousands of others on display in the catacombs. Although she has always been in her final resting place, she is included here because she is on view to so many visitors.
Sylvester is the nickname of the mummy of an unnamed man who died in the late 19th century from a gunshot wound and was preserved with arsenic. His body was retrieved from a dentist's attic in 1955. He is on display at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle. In 2001, Sylvester and his "companion" Sylvia were scanned at the University of Washington Medical Center. Although Sylvia was found to be quite desiccated, Sylvester is remarkably preserved. (image credit: Joe Mabel)


Floyd Collins was a lifelong caver in Western Kentucky. He was trapped by falling rock that wedged his body inside Sand Cave in 1925, and he died two weeks later. Collins' life and death make a fascinating story, which continued after his death. Rescuers reached his body several days after he died and decided it was too dangerous to move him. Collins stayed in Sand Cave for two months until his brother and friends retrieved his body (pictured). He was buried on family land for two years, but after the homestead was sold, the new owner dug up Collin's body and exhibited it under glass inside Crystal Cave for tourists. The body was stolen in 1929 and found with a leg missing. Afterwards, the coffin was chained inside the cave. In 1961, the cave was purchased by the National Park Service as part of Mammoth Cave National Park. Collins' family had objected to his display in the cave for decades, and he was finally buried in a nearby cemetery in 1989, 64 years after his death. See more photographs here.


Maria Elena Milagro "Helen" de Hoyos was a Cuban-American tuberculosis victim. She was only 21 when she died in 1931. At a hospital in Key West, she met a radiologist named Carl Tanzler (also known as Carl von Cosel) who was smitten with Hoyos. He treated her with various therapies and paid for her funeral and mausoleum, which he visited every night. In 1933, he retrieved Hoyos' corpse and took it to his home, where he lived with it for seven years, even sleeping with it in his bed. He made gradual repairs to the decomposing corpse, covering it with wax and plaster and wiring parts together as they separated. Hoyos' sister discovered Tanzler's secret in 1940. He was charged with grave tampering, but the statute of limitations had passed. Hoyos was reburied in an undisclosed location. Tanzler then built himself a wax effigy that resembled Hoyos, and lived with it in his home until his death in 1952. He wrote an autobiography that appeared in a pulp fiction periodical. You can see photographs of Hoyos at Wikipedia.

Further reading: 6 Restless Corpses and 6 Restless Corpses: Heads of State Edition.

If You’ve Ever Seen a Ghost, Science May Explain Why

Despite all the reports of ghost sightings (28 percent of Americans report having ghostly encounters), there’s zero evidence to support the presence of supernatural beings among us. Science may not prove the existence of ghosts, but it can help explain why people think they see ghosts in the first place.

In this video from Vox, paranormal investigator Joe Nickell identifies some of the phenomena believers may mistake for paranormal activity. One possible explanation is infrasound, or the sound waves that fall beneath levels of human perception. Though we can’t hear these noises firsthand, our bodies sense them in other ways. This can cause chills, feelings of unease and depression, and even hallucinations.

Other contributors may include sleep paralysis (when you wake up while your body is immobile and experience waking nightmares) and grief. There are also a few less common possibilities that aren’t covered in the video below: Mold poisoning, for instance, can lead to irrational fear and dementia. Suddenly, a visit from a poltergeist doesn’t sound so scary.

[h/t Vox]

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Charles Dickens, Part-Time Mesmerist
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Madame Augusta de la Rue dreaded the end of each day. After settling into bed, her anxiety kept her alert with visions of a figure that followed her into her dreams. When it wasn’t insomnia, she dealt with headaches, a nervous tic, convulsions, and a “burning and raging” mind that was impossible to quiet. Her symptoms became so severe that in 1844 she sought a trendy and controversial treatment known as mesmerism. Her mesmerist: the famous author Charles Dickens.

When Dickens encountered mesmerism in the 1830s, the practice was well-established in the medical community. The German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer had introduced it in the 1770s as a means of manipulating something he called animal magnetism—the magnetic fluid Mesmer believed flowed through the bodies of all living things. According to his theory, the state of this liquid energy was closely tied to one’s health: An uninterrupted flow led to wellness, while blockages caused problems ranging from vomiting to hysteria. Fortunately, Mesmer claimed, these conditions could be cured with a magnet and a steady hand.

By guiding magnets along his patients’ bodies, Mesmer thought he could redistribute the fluid, although he eventually ditched the magnets in favor of his bare hands after discovering they worked just as well. Soon, anyone who shared Mesmer’s supposed magnetic gifts could practice mesmerism by laying or passing their hands over the afflicted. (On top of adding animal magnetism to the lexicon, Mesmer is said to have given us the flirtatious phrase making a pass.) Although responses to mesmeric sessions varied, some claimed it gave them full relief of various physical ailments.

Mesmer died in 1815, a couple decades before the start of the Victorian era. With that period came a nationwide obsession with the metaphysical that renewed public interest in mesmerism not just as a medical treatment, but as a form of entertainment. Practitioners would mesmerize patients into trances and parade them around parties. But some were more than performance artists—John Elliotson, one of the most prolific figures in the field, was a well-respected surgeon famous for popularizing the stethoscope. He was also good friends with Charles Dickens.

Dickens first witnessed mesmerism up close at a demonstration Elliotson gave at London’s University College Hospital in 1838. The writer was intrigued, and implored Elliotson to show him more. Not everyone had a knack for mesmerism, but Dickens was a natural. He wrote years later, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a Frying-Pan.”

Around the same time he took on Dickens as his pupil, Elliotson watched his career implode. The medical community was then embroiled in a fierce debate over whether or not mesmerism was a legitimate science. One of its staunchest opponents was Thomas Wakley, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet. Wakley affirmed his suspicions after conducting a trial in which the O’Key sisters, two of Elliotson’s more colorful patients, failed to respond to certain "mesmerized" metals yet produced fits in response to materials they were only told were mesmerized. The results of the trial seemed to prove that mesmerism was fake, and Elliotson resigned from his job at University College Hospital shortly after that.

Throughout the controversy, Dickens remained a loyal friend—he even asked Elliotson to be the godfather of his second child. He also continued pursuing his new hobby. In 1842, while in Pittsburgh with his wife Catherine as part of the research for his travelogue American Notes for General Circulation, he first put his mesmerism skills to the test, with Catherine agreeing to be his guinea pig. After several minutes of waving his hands over her head just like Elliotson had taught him, she devolved into hysterics and promptly fell asleep. Dickens took her dramatic response as a sign of his power, and he considered the trial a great success.

From then on, he practiced his talent on whoever was game. His sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth reacted much like Catherine, slipping into a hysterical episode almost immediately. John Leech, who did the original illustrations for A Christmas Carol, came to Dickens for treatment after injuring his head while swimming. Leech felt much better following their session and Dickens took credit for his recovery. The actor Charles Macready, however, was the rare person who didn’t buy the shtick. After Dickens tried to mesmerize him, Macready described the experience as “very unpleasant,” saying “it could not effect me.”

Dickens’s dabblings with mesmerism culminated with a visit to Italy beginning in 1844. He was once again traveling in the name of research, this time for his nonfiction book Pictures From Italy. While staying in Genoa, he became good friends with the Swiss banker Emile de la Rue. He also became close with the banker's English-born wife, Madame Augusta de la Rue—the woman destined to become his most challenging patient. Madame de la Rue suffered from a host of ailments that stemmed from her anxiety, and after hearing about her issues, Dickens offered to help the only way he knew how.

Their first session, which took place in December 1844, may have discouraged a less-experienced mesmerist. Instead of easing her discomfort, his gestures made her more agitated. Madame de la Rue succumbed to a massive anxiety attack, and Dickens took her sensitivity to the treatment as a good sign. They both agreed to see each other again, and soon the meetings became part of their routines.

Madame de la Rue’s response to the therapy grew more promising with each encounter. Her face, once tense with muscle spasms, started to soften. The volume of her thoughts dropped a few notches and she was able to fall asleep much faster. Satisfied with his success treating her physical suffering, Dickens delved deeper into her psyche. He asked her to describe her thoughts and dreams, hoping to get to the root of her illness. The most persistent vision she shared was one of a “phantom” that dogged her whether she was asleep or awake. Dickens described the power it held over her in a letter to her husband:

“That figure is so closely connected with the secret distresses of her very soul—and the impression made upon it is so entwined with her confidence and trust in me, and her knowledge of the power of the Magnetism—that it must not make head again. From what I know from her, I know there is more danger and delay in one appearance of that figure than in a dozen fits of the severest bodily pain. Believe nothing she says of her capacity of endurance, if the reappearance of that figure should become frequent. Consult that mainly, and before all other signs.”

Decades before Sigmund Freud adopted hypnosis as a psychotherapy tool, Dickens was using mesmerism to trace his patient’s visible symptoms to her subconscious mind.

Catherine Dickens didn’t share her husband's excitement for the situation. She had always been jealous of the women her husband mesmerized, and she felt especially threatened by his relationship with Madame de La Rue. And if she thought she’d have her husband’s full attention when they left Genoa to see the rest of Italy in the spring of 1845, she was mistaken. Letters from de La Rue updating Mr. Dickens on her status followed him around the country. Even though they couldn’t be in the same room, the pair continued their appointments remotely by attempting to connect through telepathy for one hour starting at 11 a.m. each day.

Though her condition had vastly improved since their first meeting, the Madame hoped to see Dickens one last time when he finally returned to Genoa in May 1845. Unfortunately a stomach bug prevented the pair from reuniting. He wrote to her in a letter:

"You must not think I am sending you an excuse in lieu of myself. I am in a hideous digestive state, cross, uncomfortable, bilious, blah and limp. A mutton chop and a long walk, and nobody to be contradictory to, are the remedies I have prescribed myself.”

After he resettled in England, Dickens’s passion for mesmerism cooled. He indulged in other mystical hobbies, however: In 1849, he performed stage magic under the pseudonym The Unparalleled Necromancer, Rhia Rhama Rhoos; in 1852, he wrote a spontaneous combustion scene into his realistic fiction book Bleak House, a decision he defended with conviction after it angered scientists. Like many fads to emerge from the Victorian era, those areas of interest have since largely faded from fashion. Mesmerism, on the other hand, laid the foundation for modern hypnosis—but today the treatment is administered by mental health professionals, not young novelists on vacation.


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