Friday, August 3, 2012

Mort Mortification

No source to protect the guilty. It's also all over Tumblr.

In case you can't read the text, it says:

"This is a grave from  the Victorian age when a fear of zombies and vampires was prevalent. This cage was intended to trap the undead just in case the corpse reanimated."

Is it?

No. No it's not. 

It's what is called a "mortsafe." It's literally a safe for dead bodies. They were mostly used in Scotland, with its large number medical schools driving demand for fresh dead people. Victorians weren't scared of coming back as vampires or zombies -- they were scared of having either their own body, or the body of a loved one, stolen out of its gave and sold off for medical research.

You see, the only bodies available to medial students at the time for autopsies for instructional use were a limited number of executed criminals. I've read that there was on average a demand for about 500 cadavers a year, and there really weren't enough to go around; so the sale of dead bodies was a booming black market. People came up with all sorts of ways to keep their loved ones from being dug up and sold --  many cemeteries were donated large rocks by philanthropist benefactors to put on top of the graves to keep the body safe until it had decomposed to the point of medical uselessness

The rich could afford something more permanent -- a mortsafe. They took various shapes, some being entire coffins made of metal that were permanently secured shut, others were cast iron bars. The mortsafe in the picture above is one of the second type. 

What about Victorian beliefs in zombies and vampires? Zombies weren't really even a thing outside of Haiti and certain areas of Africa until the 1930s. That's well into the Edwardian era. Vampires showed up in a handful of stories (you can read them HERE) but they didn't believe in them any more than the average person today does. 

Who needs to worry about things like vampires when you've got men like Burke and Hare running about?

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