The Mind Reader Who Was Killed By His Own Autopsy
Washington Irving Bishop was an American mentalist and mind reader of some repute toward the end of the 1800s. Born in 1855, he built up his act, and would tour the world showcasing his "thought reading" skills. Bishop was adamant that he had no supernatural power or gift, rather that he just was extremely skilled at picking up the bodily signals people often unconsciously give off. However, Bishop suffered from cataleptic fits, which sometimes saw him go into prolonged states of unconsciousness. The resultant comas could last anywhere up to 18 hours. He would travel with a note in his pocket, explaining that the state he would get into shouldn’t be confused with death. Not everyone got the memo. On May 12, 1889, Bishop was performing his act at the Lambs Club in New York City when he began falling into a coma. He recovered and continued the show, only to suffer another attack. This time, however, he was pronounced dead. Just a few hours later, two doctors—Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Irwin—performed an autopsy on Bishop’s body, cutting out and removing his brain, reportedly without the coroner's consent. Bishop had collapsed around 12 noon that day and the autopsy was performed at 3:45 p.m., leading some—including Bishop's mother—to believe that the mentalist was actually still alive when his autopsy commenced. In short, it was Bishop's autopsy that killed him. As Atlas Obscura writes, “whether or not that note warning potential physicians of Bishop's condition was on his body, and why the brain was so quickly removed, were the subject of debate and litigation for years to come." Bishop’s mother, Eleanor, would fight for the next nearly 30 years to bring the doctors who performed the autopsy to account. Her son’s cause of death remains listed as “hysterocatalepsy."
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