The “Cemetery Gun”: One Defense Against Grave Robbers

March 20, 2013
Advertisement

In the 18th and 19th centuries, grave-robbing was a serious problem in Great Britain and the United States. Because surgeons and medical students could only legally dissect executed criminals or people who had donated their bodies to science (not a popular option at the time), a trade in illegally procured corpses sprang up. This cemetery gun, held in the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery of Drexel Hill, Pa., was one dramatic strategy used to thwart so-called “resurrection men.”

Advertisement

The gun, which the museum dates to 1710, is mounted on a mechanism that allows it to spin freely. Cemetery keepers set up the flintlock weapon at the foot of a grave, with three tripwires strung in an arc around its position. A prospective grave-robber, stumbling over the tripwire in the dark, would trigger the weapon—much to his own misfortune.

Grave-robbers evolved to meet this challenge. Some would send women posing as widows, carrying children and dressed in black, to case the gravesites during the day and report the locations of cemetery guns and other defenses. Cemetery keepers, in turn, learned to wait to set the guns up after dark, thereby preserving the element of surprise.

Because the guns were rented by the week and were prohibitively expensive to buy, the poorer people most likely to end up beneath the anatomist’s knife—historian Michael Sappol writes that these included “black people, criminals, prostitutes, the Irish, ‘freaks,’ manual laborers, indigents, and Indians”—probably wouldn’t have benefited from this form of protection.

[via: Slate.com]

Thanks to curator Elizabeth Wojcik of the Museum of Mourning Art at the Arlington Cemetery.

CDFuneralNews

CDFuneralNews

ConnectingDirectors.com is the leading online daily publication for funeral professionals with a reader base of over 45,000 of the most elite and forward-thinking professionals in the profession. With ConnectingDirectors.com we have created a global community through an online platform allowing funeral professionals to Stay Current. Stay Informed and Stay Elite.
CDFuneralNews
Advertisement

You may be interested

WISCONSON VERDICT HAS HHUUGGEE IMPLICATIONS ON THE FUNERAL PROFESSION | FUNERAL nation 117
Funeral Industry News
1111 views
Funeral Industry News
1111 views

WISCONSON VERDICT HAS HHUUGGEE IMPLICATIONS ON THE FUNERAL PROFESSION | FUNERAL nation 117

CDFuneralNews - July 16, 2018

The divide continues in the land of cheese. Wisconsin Supreme Court delivered the final verdict saying Funeral Homes and cemeteries…

Cremation On The Rise: NFDA Predicts The National Cremation Rate Will Climb By A Third Within 20 Years
Funeral Industry News
48 views
Funeral Industry News
48 views

Cremation On The Rise: NFDA Predicts The National Cremation Rate Will Climb By A Third Within 20 Years

CDFuneralNews - July 16, 2018

BROOKFIELD, Wis. -- Over the next 18 years, the rate of cremation in the United States is projected to increase by nearly 30…

Homesteaders Expands Finding Resilience to Include New “Ask Dr. Troyer” Video Series
Funeral Industry News
14 views
Funeral Industry News
14 views

Homesteaders Expands Finding Resilience to Include New “Ask Dr. Troyer” Video Series

CDFuneralNews - July 16, 2018

West Des Moines, IA – Homesteaders Life Company has expanded its popular Finding Resilience burnout prevention program to include a new video series,…

Comments