At the beginning of the 19th Century (that's the early 1800's for those of you who like to convert), there was a high demand by surgeons for cadavers to dissect in order to figure out what the heck was really inside the human body and how all those systems were connected. Most of these fresh cadavers came from murderers who had been hanged.
Unfortunately, at the period of time we are concerned with, only 55 murderers took the trip to the scaffold, whereas 500 cadavers were needed to teach new surgeons how to best operate. Since good money was being paid for fresh corpses, local entrepreneurs, known as resurrectionists, soon stepped forward to fill the gap. Fresh holes began to pop up in cemeteries where the recently deceased had been buried. More on this in a minute.
SIDE NOTE: While most resurrectionists plied their trade in the church graveyard, there was one grim pair of partners who took the occupation to a new level. In Edinburgh, Scotland, William Burke and William Hare became best known for their innovation of creating their own fresh corpses via the lure and murder method. Their system for increasing inventory was quickly adopted by a group later known as the London Burkers. Poor Mister Hare, even though equally as infamous as was Mister Burke, did not get equal billing with the London Burkers. I guess that the London Burkers as a name had a better sound bite in the media than the London Hares would have had. In any case, Burke was hanged for his crimes, subsequently dissected (nice of him to have provided one last fresh cadaver on his way out), and his skeleton preserved in the Anatomical Museum at the Edinburgh Medical School. Hare, who had turned Queen's evidence, got a walk. After testifying in Burke's trial, Hare left town under duress (sticks, stones and several different angry mobs). He then disappeared into the world at large. Unless of course, a more surreptitious mob found him walking on the road to England.
|Mort safes in a Scottish cemetery|
A mort safe was a contraption of various designs built over the grave to deter anyone from digging up and removing the coffin. The so-called safe was usually constructed from thick interlocking metal rods or bands in an accumulative weight so heavy as to make it too difficult for a grave robber to get at the coffin while trying to work in quiet secrecy during the dead of night. Several examples of these mort safes still exist in some Scottish graveyards.
|Udny Mort House|
The use of mort safes and mort houses gradually fell into disuse a few years after The Anatomy Act of 1832 when other methods of obtaining fresh cadavers, other than grave robbing or executed murderers, became legal. The Udny Mort House itself ceased business in 1836 after its last meeting of the board.
Since grave robbing as an occupation these days has taken a great decline, you can probably now rest in peace, assured that your remains are not likely to be sold at a back alley door to some cutup in the dark of night.
So, sleep well and pleasant dreams this Halloween.
Although, you might want to lock all the doors and turn on the security cameras just to be sure.