Mummies on Erie Street?

Our story last month about the possibility that Hooters – and some house nearby – are/were haunted by ghostly grave-robbers, is far from complete. While the Hooters IS said to be haunted, and the Tribune DID once tell of an old house on Erie being haunted by ghostly grave robbers, the story of grave robbers operating in that vicinity in 1884 doesn’t necessarily solve the puzzle. There are still missing pieces here and there – most notably, we still can’t be sure that’s the block of Erie the Tribune was talking about. I’d go ahead and guess that it was, and there’s certainly no better explanation going around.  But, in the process of looking, I DID find one other possible lead about a surgeon who lived on Erie (where the garage next to The Kerryman is now).

This doctor, Carl H. Von Klein, was a surgeon with a special expertise in the history of medicine – he wrote articles on the history of the office of the coroner and was especially interested in ancient Egyptian medicine, which, he believed, was an era in which surgeons knew secrets that had since been lost to history. With an idea of uncovering those secrets, he learned the ancient Egyptian language. He was the first to produce an English translation of the “Ebers Papyrus,” a papyrus sheet about medicine that had been discovered between the legs of a mummy in 1872, and which was then said to be the oldest medical text in the world.

The paper, it turned out, described several diseases known to modern medicine, along with their treatments. In addition, many prescriptions were found in the papers for hair dyes, cosmetics, and toiletries. It didn’t show a complete understanding of the body, though – it seemed to imply that most bodily fluids were pumped primarily through the heart (including those that really go through the kidneys). Still, it showed that ancient Egyptian surgeons were pretty well organized.

I don’t wish to go around accusing Dr. Klein of anything, but when reading about mummification and ancient coronary practices, did he decide “man, I’ve got to try this!” and arrange for the services of some “resurrection men” to bring him some subjects on which to experiment?

Well, probably not. But, still, it goes to show that there’s hardly a block of Chicago about which we can’t find a gruesome story. The 1875 grave robbing story about Erie west of Wells is probably the closest we’ll get to the 1950s Tribune story about the house on Erie haunted by grave robbers, but that house still really could have been anywhere on Erie.

Von Klein certainly knew a lot about ancient pathology – he even published books on the figures of human bones. He seems to have been a very interesting guy – an expert in a wide range of fields, publishing papers on not just ancient medical history, but a huge variety of modern (for the turn of the 20th century) medical topics. His son caused some scandal when he was accused of marrying multiple women and stealing their jewelry.

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