Dr. Baxter: Grave Robber

Today I’ll be running my Grave Robbing 101 tour in Lincoln Park, the old City Cemetery, as part of Obscura Day 2016. It’s sold out, so no need to promote further, but since I’ll be quoting a bit of Dr. A.J. Baxter’s memories of robbing that particular graveyard, I thought I’d post his whole bit.

In 1890, the Tribune published an article called “Doctors All Agree,” in which doctors told some of the great stories they accumulated in their profession. One was Dr. A.J. Baxter, who told a long story about his adventures robbing the old city cemetery. I suspect that the reporter embellished a bit (the “what, going already?” at the end is a bit too cute), but it does tell us a lot of interesting things. Such as:

  • What conditions were like in the City Cemetery in the 1860s (by which time it was competing with Graceland and Rosehill)
  • What early medical colleges in Chicago were like.
  • Attitudes of Chicagoans towards the police in both 1890 and a generation earlier.

It also just happens to be amusing as hell, if rather dated in its attitude toward race (some lines about his assistant would have probably been seen as ‘all in good fun’ at the time, but would get you fired with good reason today; I’ve left them in for historical sake. Consider yourself warned).

DR BAXTER’s reminisces:out-67_pdf__1_page_

I will tell you, the starched and ramrody medical college professors of today would have opened their eyes if they had been around with the boys in the early sixties. The college were just gasping along, everybody was playing Ambition to win, and Get There for a place, and red hot hustle was going around on the run. A college professor then had not only to do his professoring but pretty nearly everything else around the shanty, including the chorea and the crowing. We were young, but we were right up to date and devilment.
It was 63 or 64 when I was first pressed into service by one of the budding colleges – now a high and mighty institution – so I won’t ‘give it away’ as well as myself. To my surprise I found myself Presenter of Anatomy, and almost before I had time to realize it I also had a private class in surgery.
A pooh-bah of Anatomy and Surgery requires some material to anatomize and surgerize upon or he might as well shampoo his scalpels. But cadavers were frightfully scarce. The hospitals were very small and awfully unaccommodating, and, anyway, people were not dying just then with any praiseworthy rapidity; probably they were too busy or doctors were not thick enough.  Science could not be allowed to suffer, however, and as I had no surplus of funds to hire a deputy I was perforce compelled to become a bold and burking resurrectionist.  With a light wagon or cart, a pick and shovel, and an assistant – in the shape of Nigger Jack, who hung around the college and is still alive and kicking – I made weekly or even more frequent visits to the cemeteries. We usually started out about 11pm and got through by 2 in the morning.
For a few weeks everything was high O.K. and the pickling vat and surgery class waxed strong and mighty in the land, but too soon, alas! Dame Fortune began to show the vinegarish side of her visage. The police  – who at that period were not loafing or interviewing bartenders all the time – got wind of my periodical night jaunts and began to take a hand. It soon resolved itself into a contest between mind and matter, and mind did not always come out topside up.
Was I ever caught? Never mind about that; anyway, a gold piece spoke just as many languages then as it does now. But I had many an awful close shave.
My favorite hunting field was the cemetery, then at the lake shore, and Schiller Street – right out in the country, for Chicago Avenue was the city limits at the time. It was a dismal, neglected place, and the burial ground was usually ankle deep in sand. One murky, chilly night late in the fall we started out at the usual time, and meant business, for the pickling vat was quite empty. On the road we discovered that the pick and shovel  had been forgotten, and stopped at the engine house, then at North Clark and Huron, to borrow one.  Chief Swenie, who was Captain there, obliged me and winked his dexter eye as he handed them over
We reached our destination just about the hour when churchyards are supposed to yawn (as for me, I’ve never seen one even gape) and, stripping off our coats, got right to work. In about an hour and a half we had three beautiful stiffs.  We had just loaded them in the wagon and were getting ready to skip when about half a dozen blue-coats swooped down and ordered us to surrender. I shoulted to Doc to sling the stiffs out of the wagon and trot for his life, and I took to my heels. I was a pretty swift runner those days, but one of the cops (who I afterwards found out was Officer Tom Speden) was no slouch at it himself. Three or four shots were fired at me, but of course I wasn’t hit, and Speden stumbling over something, managed to get clear off. 
Jack got away too, but it was a could of hours before I found him in the basement saloon on Kinzie street. The scare had almost made a mulatto out of the coal-black coon. I thought that the engine house pick and shovel (left behind at the cemetery) would cause trouble, but they didn’t, for I never heard anything about them from that day to this.
That month was very unlucky, anyway, for about two weeks after I had another unpleasant experience. We had got away with a couple of cadavers all right, but the police were on watch at the college when we returned and I had to temporarily deposit the stiffs at my office on Lake Street.
Next morning when I got down the office door was open, the place hadn’t been cleaned, and the old Irishwoman who attended to that was nowhere about. She didn’t show up either for fully ten days, and when she made her reappearance she cut loose in great shape. It appears that she had lifted the tarpaulin, caught sight of the stiffs, and then ran all the way to her home on the west side. She swore by all the stains that she had been so sick that they had to keep her alive on whiskey and handed me a bill for $16.75 – and whisky was awful cheap those days, too. Kicking didn’t count; I had to settle.
What, going? Well, when you feel melancholy and want cheering up drop around again and I’ll repeat the dose.”
Grave Robbing 101 runs today in Lincoln Park at 4. It’s sold out, but will surely be repeated, and is available as a private walking tour  any time. Email for info!

Grave Robbing Week: A Barrel Labeled “Poultry”


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in Lincoln Park


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Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
Father-son
grave robbing!
Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence
gang:

As late as 1884, Chicago was said to be the home of a “band of grave robbers.” The county board at the time had ceased the practice of giving bodies over to colleges, and, though colleges were insisting that they didn’t employ the services of resurrectionists, body snatching became common once again.

In December of 1883, an 85 year old woman named Mary Hoyt died of dropsy in the nearby town of Sycamore and was buried Sycamore Cemetery (which seems to be in about the same place as, and possibly a part of, Mr. Carmel Cemetery). The day after her burial, the cemetery manager saw that the grave had been disturbed and found the body was gone. Police found that a suspicious kerosene barrel labeled “poultry” had been shipped to “Wm. C Black, No 207 Paulina St, Chicago.” There was no 207 Paulina at the time. Speaking to the Northwestern railroad people, police determined that the guy who picked it up was the same guy who had shipped it. He was really a man named Tom Coffee, who lived on Hermitage Avenue near Van Buren. Police began to shadow him and found that he was a pretty serious grave robber.

One night he and two men dug up a corpse in LaGrange and sold it to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Chicago (who were back on the market by then). Another night the three went to get five bodies in Palatine (though the snow kept them from getting any). The “shadows” determined that the other two men were named Armstrong and Hall, and that they were sent by the college to go to Sycamore to get Mrs. Hoyt. The three were eventually caught and arrested, after a minor scuffle with the sheriff, in a saloon on LaSalle just south of Randolph. A fourth man was also arrested and brought to Sycamore. Two of the four were students at Rush.

The body was found at the college and returned the next day. To avoid trouble, the college immediately returned it and offered to buy a casket and shroud. They presumably did not get the $25 they had paid Coffee back.

When this case broke, the county commissioners began debating resuming the practice of giving bodies to the college (the college insisted that the reason they weren’t dealing with body snatchers – at least not in cases that could cause trouble – was that they expected the board to approve the measure anyway).

Commissioner Lynn laughingly told the papers that he believed some people did more good by being cut up as corpses than they had ever done during their lifetime.

Well, folks, that’s it for grave robbing week. Let’s, uh, not do this again too soon, okay?  Coming the week of April 18, we’ll be pairing up with White City Cinema to present Selig Polyscope week, a look at the colorful Col. William Selig, one of the great Chicago pioneers of silent film!

In the mean time, for more on bodies in barrels (if you really just can’t get enough of this stuff), see here.

Grave Robbing Week: The Barrel of Syrup


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Grave Robbing
in Lincoln Park


Chicago Unbelievable

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Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
Father-son
grave robbing!
Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence
gang:

In ROTTERS, the book pictured on the left, and in our recent podcast, author Daniel Kraus says that above-ground vaults are generally thought of us hard places to rob. Certainly it’s tougher work to break into one without making a mess than digging up a coffin and re-burying it. But vault robbery was known to happen.

December of 1875, a barrel marked “sirup” (sic) showed up at the American Express office at Washington and Dearborn. Inside, however, was no syrup – only the corpses of a young woman and a baby.

Initially it was suspected that it was a body snatching case, and then it was thought, briefly, that it may have been a murder case instead, or possibly the victim of a botched abortion. The next day, it was revealed that the body was that of Emma Addams, the wife of a hardware dealer. Seven or eight months pregnant, she had died a few weeks before.  Her body, along with that of her stillborn child, was placed in a vault at Graceland Cemetery on a cold November Friday, and was stolen by body snatchers the next night.

The papers were surprised mainly that the body had come from Graceland. While Cavalry, Rose Hill and the potter’s field at Jefferson had been popular resorts for body snatchers, there hadn’t been much trouble at Graceland, which wasn’t always guarded at all. After this, they had to get more vigilant about guarding the cemetery from resurrectionists. Later articles said that there was some sort of grave robbing scandal or another at Graceland nearly every year.

Speaking with the delivery men, the police pinpointed two men, John Larkin and James Darrow, as the body snatchers. Darrow was 18 or 19, and described as generally unpopular in high neighborhood (around 22nd and Wabash). He initially pleased guilty, but when Larkin pleaded not guilty, Darrow changed his mind. “If you’re not guilty,” he said, “then I’m not, either.”

Larkin said he had been approached by a Dr. E.P.B. Wilder, who worked at 22nd and Indiana, to make a box. Darrow went on to describe how they had gone to a barn and “put in the stiffs” under Wilder’s direction, with the intention of mailing it to a professor of anatomy in Iowa City.

Larkin said that he had no idea what the box he was making and moving was for, and said “when I saw the corpses, I was nearly frightened to death and told Darrow to tell the Doctor that I was heartily sick of the business, and would have no more to do with it.”

When the story broke, Dr. Wilder was on vacation, but his brother, Flauvius, who was also a doctor, told the papers that he couldn’t imagine his brother being involved in such a crime.  He seems to have been cleared and his career apparently survived – he is mentioned as taking control of the body twenty years later when Flauvius was murdered by John Redmond, a patient who had recently been released from an insane asylum, while making a house call.

For more on bodies in barrels, see here.

The Haunted Hooters? (Grave Robbing Week)


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Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
Father-son
grave robbing!
Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence
gang:

The downtown Hooters on Wells has long been rumored to be haunted. Well, really, almost every restaurant has, but the “haunted Hooters” has gotten a lot of media attention over the years (for obvious reasons), despite the fact that no good story has come up to explain who or what could be haunting it. The stories are just the usual “strange footsteps” type of stories. You usually see it listed on the same sites that say Al Capone once owned the Congress Hotel (which is nonsense).  I never took them seriously.

But we may have found a story for it – and solved another Chicago ghost mystery in the process!

In the 1950s, a Tribune article about long-forgotten haunted houses in Chicago spoke of a house on Erie Street that was said to be haunted. Having once been used by a medical college that often purchased bodies from resurrectionists, it was said that human remains had been found in the yard, and that on quiet evenings, neighbors could hear the clip-clop of hooves and the sound of body snatchers unloading coffins from their wagons. Exactly which house on Erie this was was wasn’t recorded, though, and our previous efforts to pinpoint a location have been fruitless. Whether the ghost story was real or not, I’ve always wanted to know where the house was. It would be a great addition to ghost tours (especially considering that it was probably right near my tour routes).

In the course of researching for Grave Robbing Week, we may have not only figured out where the house was, but found a backstory for Hooters, too. An 1875 body snatching case centered around an alley, house, and barn in the vicinity of Erie and Wells – right about where Hooters is now. Could this be the house the Tribune meant? And could the same ghosts be the ones haunting the Hooters?

Well, naturally, that all depends on whether you believe in ghosts in the first place, but we’ve finally got a back story that just might fit.

It goes like this….

In January of 1875, The Tribune announced that body snatchers, resurrection men, and other such ghouls were out of business in Chicago. New laws gave medical schools fist dibs on the bodies bound for the new Potter’s Field in Jefferson Park, so the market for bodies no longer existed in the city.

But no such law existed in Ann Arbor, Michigan or Iowa City, Iowa, which became the major markets for bodies stolen from Chicago.

Only a month after saying body snatchers were out of business, the Trib was providing grim accounts of a new body snatching case on the North Side.  Body snatchers, it was said, were digging into the graves, opening the caskets, and drawing the body out with a hook.

The bodies were then being routed through the alley behind a charnel house at 167 N. Wells (pre 1909 numbering; it would be the 660 block today) and loaded in barrels for shipment to Ann Arbor. They were first caught in the act by a man who lived around the corner at 155 East Erie (214 West in modern numbering), who saw them messing with barrels in the barn behind his house and the alley behind a house that fronted 167 Wells (the 660 block in modern numbering). These two buildings formed a sort of border right around the current location of Hooters.

So, well, there’s your back story, Hooters. You’re welcome.

Could 214 W Erie be the house the Tribune wrote about? Maybe, maybe not. The 1950s article seemed to imply that the house was long gone, and the building that was at 214 Erie in 1884 is still there now – it’s an 1883 brownstone now called Flair House,  the home of Flair Communications. A plaque outside states that the original owner was an Irish milk merchant. However, the address was, in 1884, said to be the home of W.H. Watson, who testified that he had heard the ruckus in the barn behind his house, and in the rear of the house fronting Wells Street. The records I’m finding on the vicitnity are a bit contradictory (as it often the case), but here’s a little map of the block as of 1906, just over 20 years later:

Hooters would be on the bottom right corner, and the scene of the crime would have been out behind it. The Flair House would be the spot  at 155 Erie listed as “horse shoeing.” It COULD be the same house the Trib was talking about – goodness knows that we’ve found houses that are usually said to be long gone are actually still standing before, and the story about it being used by the medical college could easily have been hearsay attached to the ghost stories that circulated decades later.  It’s also worth mentioning that the Trib didn’t say the house itself was haunted – the story was about the area around it. The person to whom I spoke at Flair House told me that the garage , at least, is pretty spooky.

The grave robber in question was one L.R. Williams (though he variously gave his name as George Smith or George Wallace), a medical student from Rush who had been in business for a few months. In February of 1875, the police caught him and another man loading a barrel onto a wagon. The police chased them through the nearby alleys, firing several shots in the process. The two men (later reported to be brothers), had been fired at by sextons before without getting hit, but this time one of them was shot as he fled. Reports of how badly he’d been hurt varied.

The one who was shot escaped and, as far as I can tell, was never heard from again. L.R. Williams was released on a $1500 bail, then promply “jumped bail” and disappeared. As far as I know, they never caught him. How many bodies they may have routed through the barn and charnel house is unknown, but at least five barrels full of bodies were found. In inquest was held at which the story of the area around Erie and Wells came out.

 Given the possible connection to Hooters, it’s rather odd to read the Tribune’s lurid account of the two female bodies in the morgue during the coroner’s inquest, which, disturbingly enough, was probably intended to be titillating:

Hard and stiff, the death rigor intensified by the bitter cold, there lay upon the next slab the naked form of A BEAUTIFUL WOMEN exposed to all the indignities…and of unsypmathetic and indifferent looks and touches. Stockings covered the feet and a portion of the shapely limbs, but the rest of her person was entirely nude. The head was turned to one side in a posture that would have been natural to animate modesty, and which, in the poor maltreated corpse, carried with it a pitying suggestion of womanly purity. Although the changes of death had somewhat altered the contour  of her body, the beholder could not but be struck with the shapeliness of her limbs and the general beauty of her person; but her parted lips and staring eye-balls made a gorgon horror of the face that in life had been comely and attractive…. in the corner of the room were four other barrels, and by looking in their open tops could be seen the other objects of THE BODY SNATCHERS’ rapacity…..among the number was another woman whose luxuriant brown hair displayed its disheveled tresses above the top of the barrel and caught the glance of the spectator… her features were concealed by her position, but it could easily be seen that her frame was thin and wasted, and that she had been a woman above the average height.


In the other barrels were two victims of consumption (a boy and a man with a long black beard) and an old man. They were given far less description than the women.

So, this grave-robbing story is a possible lead on that pesky Trib story from the 1950s, and a possible story for the Hooters. I’m sure there are other possible stories, though. I’ve never really looking into the Hooters location. Odds that there was a murder there are one point or another are probably high. Erie and Wells wasn’t always the nice area that it is now, after all.

For more on bodies in barrels, see here.

Grave Robbing Week: A Wagon Full of Corpses (1867 and 1872)


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Episode:
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Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
Father-son
grave robbing!
Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence
gang:

Say what you will about how disgusting and depraved people are nowadays – I don’t recall ever seeing an item in a modern paper about huge crowds to the Union Street police station to peek at five naked people who happened to be dead –  which DID happen in 1872.

At the ungodly hour of 3:30 in the morning of March 2, 1872, detective Michael Mahoney of the Pinkerton force, spied a horse-drawn wagon moving east on Van Buren near the Chicago river. Due to recent robberies, Pinkerton had ordered his men to examine every suspicious vehicle seen in the city overnight. Mahoney found the wagon was being driven by two men who were whispering back and forth (which I supposed looked rather suspicious). Unobserved, Mahoney followed behind the wagon and put his hand inside – where he felt the leg of a corpse.

Mahoney continued to follow them undetected until he came upon another Pinkerton man, to whom he signalled. The other detective stopped the wagon and knocked on a street lamp, the signal for other police to come. The police took the men to Union Street station, where they were identified as William Pemberton and Jerry F. Schaler. The wagon contained four dead men and one dead woman, all of which were taken from the Potter’s Field (this was presumably the new one at Jefferson, not the old one at City Cemetery, by this time).

The two men were held on a $2000 bail, and the bodies were covered in hay and a blanket, then out on the sidewalk, where they quickly attracted an eager crowd of sick people.

I have not yet figured out what happened to these guys – mostly likely they were held until a grand jury found them guilty, then made to pay a fine. In the one article the Trib published on the affair, the bodies were not identified. It’s to be assumed that they were intended to be sold to a medical college.

Of the curiosity seekers who came to get a look at the naked bodies, the Trib wrote “a great many of the eager crowd succeeded, but regretted their success, probably, when dinner time arrived.”

This wasn’t the first time a wagonload of corpses had been found. In 1867, a couple of men were caught with such a wagon at Ohio and Dearborn. The two men were Henry Jones and Henry Johnson – they were janitors at the post office building and said that they’d been employed by a medical man to deliver bodies to Rush Medical College. Jones had bought his own wagon for the job; they would be paid $10 per “subject” (less than many were paid at the time – the school might have been short-changing the men because they were black). The bodies on the wagon were from Calvary Cemetery, but Jones said they were the first he’d ever taken and that he’d never do it again.

In the back of the wagon, the police found all the tools you need to go into business as a resurrection man: two shovels, a crowbar, a screwdriver, a chisel, a hatchet, a rope ladder and some straw. The five bodies were all still dressed, and still wearing wreaths of artificial flowers. The Tribune, as was their custom, gave a lurid description of each corpse. The bodies were removed to the “dead house” at City Cemetery for an inquest. Rush College was not considered to be involved. The faculty said they knew nothing of the men, and, anyway, the college was not in session, so they didn’t have any reason to hire a body snatcher in the first place!

As the story unfolded, it turned out that the bodies had been taken not from Calvary, but from German Lutheran Cemetery, and were actually destined for some college East of Chicago (The University of Michigan is the usual suspect here). The bodies were soon identified – one had actually died at a hospital at Ontario and Dearborn, near where the wagon was apprehended – and reburied. Jones and Johnson were sent to jail to await trial, where they were presumably ordered to pay a fine.

Grave Robbing Week: The Scandal of 1857

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Episode:
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Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
Father-son
grave robbing!
Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence
gang:

Q: How do you enjoy the work?
A: Well, it wasn’t very pleasant at first, of course, but anyone gets used to it. It is for the good of science, and I think it is just as right and honorable as for the man what does the dissection.
Q: How many do you suppose you have furnished in your experience as a body snatcher?
A: Maybe 500. I got about forty last winter. But it wasn’t a very good winter for it.

                – Cincinnati Equirer, 1878, “A Talk with a Professional Subject Gatherer.”

In 1835, Chicago decided it was time to designate some far-out-of-the-way space as cemeteries. Two spaces were decided on: one on the south side (about where 26th street is now) and one on the far north – just above Chicago Avenue, stretching from Clark Street to the Lake. At the time, this was so far out of the way that no one thought the city would ever expand so far North. It was only a few years before they realized that they were wrong, and the two cemeteries were abandoned. Little is really known about those two graveyards, but it’s generally agreed that plenty of bodies are still there.

In 1840, the city opened The Chicago Cemetery, which would eventually be known as City Cemetery, and then, eventually, as Lincoln Park (after the gravestones and most (well, some) of the bodies were removed). 
Grave robbing was a problem in the city right from the start – in 1844, a new mayor mentioned the problem in his inaugural address.  But the problem really made the news in 1857, when it turned out that the sexton – the city cemetery manager – was digging bodies back up to sell to medical colleges, who always needed bodies for dissections and tended to have “no questions asked” policies.
 In October of 1857, four bodies were buried in the Potter’s Field – the section where the poor and unclaimed bodies were buried, usually in unmarked graves (located right about where the Lincoln Park baseball fields are now). When Joe, the gravedigger, noticed that that grounds where he’d buried them was disturbed, he investigated and found the coffins had been broken into and the bodies were gone. He contacted the local alderman, who bypassed the police and put Alan Pinkerton and his squad of detectives on the case.
Pinkerton’s men determined that the robbers had entered the graveyard with a wagon at the North end and proceeded down to North Avenue (which then divided the Protestant side from the Catholic side). Seven or eight men were placed on guard of the “infected district”for several nights.  Finally, one night a wagon appeared. The detectives followed along, crawling on all fours among the graves, then finally running them down before catching up with cart at Chicago Avenue. The men in the wagon were Martin Quinlan, the city sexton, a student from Rush, and an unidentified third man. As they fled from the wagon, they left behind a canvas bag containing the bodies of a man and a woman.The man, who was missing his legs, was identified as Louis Steff, a man who’d recently died in a lumber accident (actually, the amputation probably killed him) and the woman was Mary Ann Best, said to be a friend of Steff’s.
A later search turned up two more bodies hidden in the cemetery bushes. Another grave was found in which a hole had been dug and a rope placed around the body to be pulled up, but the smell had given it away as a smallpox victim and the robbers had decided not to steal it. Quinlan and York, the student, were quickly captured.
Grave robbing, it seemed, was a common problem. A couple of years before, it had been necessary to dig a guy up and rebury him, and it turned out the coffin was empty – and so were 9 out of ten of the coffins buried nearby!
Eli York, the medical student, had an alibi and was dismissed from the courts three days later. The head of Rush stated that all students had been directed to have nothing to do with body snatching. However, medical colleges quickly pointed out that they NEEDED bodies, and argued that they should be given first dibs on any body that was going to be buried in the Potter’s Field. One letter to the editor pointed out that if you should ever need your leg amputated, you’d better hope to get a surgeon who had experience tracing the arteries and knowing how to keep you from dying of the operation (one wonders if this was he problem the legless man had had).  Meanwhile, makers of harder-to-rob metal caskets immediately began advertising their wares.
The papers began to argue about whether Quinlan was a democrat or republican. He was a democrat (and an Irish one, as the Republican Tribune was only too eager to point out). 
Eventually, Quinlan was indicted for robbing nine graves, and pleaded guilty to stealing the bodies of Steff and Best, the two with which he was caught. The defense argued that since the people buried in the Potters Field had no friends to be upset by their disinterment, it was a victimless crime, but the court was unmoved. Quinlan was fined $500 (250 per body) and freed.  A few years later, having been removed from office, he spent a year in prison for stealing cows.

Stay tuned the rest of this week for more stories about Chicago body snatching! We’ve got bodies in barrels, bodies in bags, grave robbing gangs…and lurid, semi-erotic descriptions of corpses in a story that may provide a back story for the supposedly-haunted Hooters on Wells! It’s going to be a gruesome week, folks.

Podcast: Grave Robbing in Lincoln Park


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The first week of april will be grave-robbing week here at Chicago Unbelievable – we’ll be talking about a bunch of cases of grave robbing in Chicago. As a preview, Hector and I have journeyed out to the old City Cemetery to talk about grave robbing with Daniel Kraus, author of the new book, ROTTERS, which is all about father-and-son grave riggers. It’s out on April 5th!

Grave robbing in 19th century Chicago was very common – even during periods when the bodies bound for the Potter’s Field (where they buried the unclaimed bodies of the poor and friendless) were given to medical schools first, there was still plenty of money in digging up bodies to ship to the University of Michigan medical school (U of M seems to have had a real reputation as a good place to sell bodies; I have to wonder whether this what attracted H.H. Holmes to the school!)
Kraus’s book may be a novel, but it’ll tell you all you could ever need to know about robbing graves for fun and profit. How long should
In Chicago, even city sexton (cemetery manager) got in on the act of digging up bodies to sell, and people were always getting caught with wagons, barrels, and sacks full of corpses. This seems to have happened in most of the local cemeteries, but for this podcast, we’ll be talking about the big City Cemetery that was the city’s main burial ground from the 1840s until the late 1860s. All but a handful of grave markers were removed over a century ago when the space was converted to Lincoln Park – but it’s well known that plenty of the bodies were never moved. You know that little parking lot near the south end of the park that you use during Green City Market (when it isn’t full)? When they dug out for the lot in the 1990s, they found dozens of bodies.

Next week (starting April 4th) is Grave Robbing Week here at Chicago Unbelievable – we’ll be telling tales of grave robbing from Chicago history all week long!  We advise you not to check the blog too close to meal time for
a while.

For more about City Cemetery, see Pamela Bannos’ Hidden Truths Website.

PICS:

    Above: the Couch tomb in Lincoln Park – the oldest surviving
   structure in the “fire zone.” But who’s inside?

    

Rotters by 
Daniel Kraus. 
Father-son
grave robbing!
Adam and
Daniel are
a part of the
same violence
gang:
Above: illustration I made for the WEIRD CHICAGO book, back when I worked with them.