Just another quick reblog today. I found this on Futility Closet’s blog here. The original source was G.W.E. Russell’s Collections and Recollections (1963).

“One day the elderly soldier [Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington] chanced on a small boy weeping bitterly and on asking the cause the child began to explain that he was going away to school next day … not waiting to hear more the Duke read him a severe lecture on his attitude, which was cowardly, unworthy of a gentleman and not at all the way to behave, etc.

“At last the little boy managed to explain he was not crying because he was going to school, but he was worried about his pet toad, as no one else seemed to care for it and he wouldn’t know how it was. The Duke, a just man, apologized to the child for having wronged him, and being human as well as just, took down the particulars and promised to report himself about this pet. In due course the little boy at school received a letter saying ‘Field-Marshal the Duke of Wellington presents his compliments to Master —– and has the pleasure to inform him that his toad is well.’”



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Chevalier d’Eon

I first heard about this historical figure on Futility Closet’s blog here. The Chevalier d’Eon (1728-1810), is a great trans historical figure and sounds like an all-around badass. The Chevalier identified as a woman for the last 33 years of her life, so I will use her preferred pronoun.

Born with the magnificent name Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, she was from a very poor but noble family. She excelled at school and had a distinguished career in government, leading eventually to an even better career in Kick-Assery. She was, according to Wikipedia, “a French diplomat, spy, freemason and soldier who fought in the Seven Years’ War.” Apparently the Chevalier was an excellent mimic and could pass equally well dressed as a man or a woman, which made being a spy a hell of a lot easier.

When the Chevalier began her life as a spy, Britain was currently attempting to keep the French away from their pro-French buddies, the Russians. To do so, Britain had pretty much closed the Russian borders to anyone except women and children, out of fear of male diplomats, politicians, and rabble rousers attempting to gain Russian support of French causes.

It goes without saying that the Chevalier put on a dress, smuggled herself into the country, and directly into the court of the Russian Empress, Elizabeth. Not only did she manage to live at the court of the Empress without getting caught and executed by British soldiers, she also managed to become one of Empress Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting and eventually became the French diplomat to Russia–a significant post.

She was heavily rewarded when she returned to France for her service to the country. Despite a healthy pension, she joined up with the dragoons (and was captain of the dragoons, for that matter), and fought valiantly in the Seven Years War. Injured in battle but still distinguished in politics, the Chevalier was given important diplomatic posts and was knighted (well, the French equivalent is being given the title ‘Chevalier’).

Despite wearing her dragoon’s uniform frequently, there were rumours that the Chevalier was secretly a woman in drag. There were even enormous bets (like one at the London Stock Exchange) riding on the Chevalier’s ‘true sex’. The Chevalier was asked to undergo an examination so the bet could be settled. The Chevalier declined, saying that no matter what the result, she would be humiliated either way. After a year the bet was abandoned. The wager was officially settled years later when the Chevalier died and doctors revealed that she had “male organs in every respect perfectly formed“.

The reason why I bring this up is because the Chevalier, after refusing to participate in the bet, revealed that she was a woman and–what’s more–had been assigned female at birth (we know based on her autopsy that this wasn’t the case). She said that though born a woman, she had been raised by her father to be a son, since her father could only inherit money from his in-laws if he had a son and heir.

She was tired of passing as a man and demanded official government recognition of her gender. King Louis XVI agreed, and funded the Chevalier’s new wardrobe so she could dress as a woman. This is slightly remarkable to me that the king didn’t require a physical examination before agreeing to this unusual request and new expenditure.

Over the years she had wracked up enormous amounts of debt and had gotten into some political trouble resulting in her exile. She asked the king for permission to join French troops in America, fighting the British in the Revolutionary War, but he wouldn’t allow it. With few options and with her pensions running out, she eventually had to sell her possessions but ended up in debtor’s prison anyway. She had a bad fall in 1806, which left her paralyzed and bed-ridden. She died in poverty in Britain in 1810.

For a while, the Chevalier’s last name, d’Eon, was used to label transgender people. Havelock Ellis, the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century physician who specialized in human sexuality, developed the idea of ‘eonism‘ (or what we’d now know as being transgender) as something separate and distinct from notions of homosexuality. Havelock Ellis even discovered ‘eonism’ to be a “remarkably common anomaly“.

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Song of the South

Just a quick reblog today. I found this story on Futility Closet’s blog here.

During the course of the American Civil War “generals planned to hear the course of the struggle — and, in some cases, the sounds never arrived.

“‘Acoustic shadows’ typically occur when an expected sound is absorbed somehow or deflected by windshear or a temperature gradient. In the Civil War it had significant effects at Fort Donelson, Five Forks, and Chancellorsville. At the Battle of Iuka, a north wind prevented Grant from hearing guns only a few miles away. At Perryville, Don Carlos Buell learned only from a messenger that his men were involved in a major battle.

“At the Battle of Seven Pines, Joseph Johnston was 2.5 miles from the front but heard no guns. And certain sounds from the Battle of Gettysburg were inaudible 10 miles away but clearly heard in Pittsburgh.”

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Just a quick reblog today. I found this story on Futility Closet’s blog here.

“En route to Senegal in 1816, the French frigate Méduse ran aground on a reef. The six boats were quickly filled, so those who remained lashed together a raft from topmasts, yards, and planks, and 147 people crowded onto a space 65 feet long and 23 wide, hoping to be towed to the African coast 50 miles away. (Seventeen crew and passengers remained aboard theMéduse.)

“The raft sank 3 feet under their combined weight, and the tow line quickly parted. Rather than try to rescue them, the boats sailed on to the Senegalese capital. On the first night, 20 men drowned. On the second, some soldiers broke open a cask of wine and mutinied; in the ensuing melee, at least 60 were killed. By the following afternoon, the 67 who remained were gnawing sword belts to reduce their hunger. Eventually they descended on a corpse embedded among the logs of the raft. ‘We shudder with horror on finding ourselves under the necessity of recording that which we put into practice,’ one wrote later.

“On the fourth day, 48 remained, and that night a second mutiny killed 18 more. By the seventh day their numbers had dropped to 27 and they decided that their provisions would support only 15, so the 12 weakest were thrown to the sharks. The last 15 survived for 13 miserable days, living on garlic cloves, a lemon, and occasionally a flying fish. They were finally spotted by the brig Argus, a moment immortalized by Théodore Géricault (below).

“Of the 17 who had remained aboard the Méduse, three survived. One told his story to a survivor of the raft journey, who wrote, “They lived in separate corners of the wreck, which they never quitted but to look for food, and this latterly consisted only of tallow and a little bacon. If, on these occasions, they accidentally met, they used to run at each other with drawn knives.”

“For all this, the captain of the Méduse was imprisoned for only three years, an occasion for lasting controversy in French politics. ‘It is more difficult to escape from the injustice of man,’ wrote one commentator, ‘than the fury of the sea.'”

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Victoria’s Granddaughters – Princess Ena

I’ve been reading Julia Gelardi’s Born to Rule: Granddaughters of Victoria, Queens of Europe (2004) and am doing a series of posts on Queen Victoria’s five granddaughters, all of whom went on to be European queens themselves. All quotations are from that book.

Today is my last post, and we’re going to talk about Princess Victoria Eugenie (called “Ena”) of Battenberg, who went on to become Queen of Spain. She was the daughter of Queen Victoria’s youngest child, Princess Beatrice.


Y’all, Ena (and her future in-laws) had TRAGIC lives.

This is Ena with her future husband, King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Before we talk about Ena, let’s talk a little bit about Alfonso. The pressure on him was immense, from the very moment of his birth:

“On 17 May 1886, a collective sign of relief was let out in Spain when it was officially announced that Queen Maria Cristina [Alfonso’s mother] had given birth to a boy . . . . The fact that the child was a male was all the more reassuring to the nation because just six months before, the child’s father, King Alfonso XII, had died suddenly, leaving a widow and two daughters. The birth of a posthumous son also meant that Spain might more than likely be spared the violence that had marred the country for much of the earlier part of the nineteenth century” (31).

“Unenviable, then, was King Alfonso’s task when he came of age in 1902 and assumed the reins of power. Alfonso was never to know a moment’s peace ruling his kingdom. In the first four years after reaching his majority, he had to deal with ‘no less than fourteen ministerial crises, and with eight different Prime Ministers. The rest of Alfonso’s reign would prove no less volatile. Just as in Russia, Spain’s hothouse politics would wreak havoc on the country’s dynasty – in the process bringing down the happiness of Queen’ Victoria’s youngest granddaughter” (130).

As discussed in my other posts, a European ruler marrying one of Queen Victoria’s relatives (even one of her many, many grandchildren) could have massively political sway. It’s hardly surprising that one of the most eligible men in Europe, King Alfonso XIII, picked Ena when he could have married just about any woman in the world.

In 1905, the king made a state visit to Britain, at which point various royals and aristocrats started pushing their daughters in his path, ensuring that he sat next to them at dinner, etc. It became a proper ‘Cinderella-style’ competition for the King’s hand. Ena, who was the youngest of all the princesses in attendance, knew she’d never have a shot over all of the other more beautiful and sophisticated princesses, so she didn’t bother trying. Whenever she needed to speak to King Alfonso, she was friendly, cheerful, and without artifice.

He’d probably never been around a woman before who was single, eligible, and utterly without an ulterior motive. He fell for her pretty hard. It helped that Ena was quite pretty, as well.

However, not everyone was thrilled about the match: “As eligible as she was a royal bride, an elusive but sinister shadow nevertheless hovered over Princess Ena of Battenberg. That shadow was the possibility that she might be a carrier of haemophilia. Ena’s own brother, after all, was a haemophiliac.

“The issue did not escape the notice of Alfonso’s Spanish advisers. Once his intentions toward the Battenberg princess became obvious, a whispering campaign broke out in order to try and dissuade the eager king from marrying a descendant of Queen Victoria with a brother who was a haemophiliac. So besotted was he with Ena that he carelessly ignored these warnings. In his eyes, such a beautiful and obviously healthy-looking creature could not possibly carry that dreaded disease. But if she was a carrier, Alfonso was prepared to take the risk. He was, after all, one who never flinched from peril. All his adult life, the king gravitated toward danger. He clearly did not seek out the numerous assassination attempts against him, but when they threatened, Alfonso met them courageously. His hobbies included driving cars at fast speeds and playing a hard game of polo” (132).

“Alfonso spared no expense in seeing that Ena was clothed in splendour. Rumour had it that the king paid no less than £4,200 for the all-white satin gown, cut in Louis XVI style” (147).

Guys. £4,200 in 1906 would be almost half a million pounds today.

“Nearly everything had appeared to go off as planned. The excited throng packed along the wedding route, in the region of 300,000 people, was loudly cheering but well behaved. As the procession arrived at the Calle Mayor, some two hundred yards from the Royal Palace, the king and queen’s coach stopped. Curious about the delay, Ena asked Alfonso what was wrong. He told her not to worry, ‘in five minutes we shall be home’.

“At that moment, a huge floral bouquet was thrown from a nearby balcony, falling just to the right of their carriage. In an instant, a bright red and orange flash blinded everyone in its path . . . Hidden amongst the flowers was a powerful bomb, which exploded with tremendous ferocity. In that split second, thirty-seven people were killed and over a hundred injured, many seriously. So potent was the bomb that ‘all that was found of one of the footmen on the royal carriage was his boots’ . . . . But miraculously, Alfonso escaped, and so did she. Their carriage was so damaged it could not move farther. Several of the eight white horses pulling it were killed . . . . As luck would have it, at the moment of the explosion, Alfonso had drawn Ena’s attention to the Church of Santa Maria, visible from his side of the carriage. Because she turned toward her husband, the queen escaped serious injury. But the effects of the explosion around them were horrifying” (148).

“Throughout the wedding meal, people strained to bring some semblance of normality to the proceedings. But it was difficult. Nevertheless, Ena’s composure was exceptional. Ironically, a number of individuals already were reacting to the queen’s calmness with suspicion and misunderstanding. Some remained unimpressed by Victoria Eugenie’s lack of hysterics. They would now watch her every move with great care. Unluckily for her, she was being labelled as ‘distant'” (150).

This is exactly what happened to her cousin, Princess Alicky, who became Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. What they considered queenly British dignity was considered cold and unfeeling by the people in their respective countries.

That said, Ena was a brave soul. Only just surviving an assassination attempt the day before, Ena was thrust again out into a crowd:

“The day after their wedding, Ena and Alfonso drove unattended through Madrid’s streets in an open car, to the delight of their subjects. The queen remained dignified in her demeanour. Still reeling from all that had happened, a smiling Ena could not shake off her natural reserve and visibly shrank back when the crowds came close to her. Ena’s biographer has noted, ‘She thus failed to gain, then or ever, a deep rapport with the Spanish masses’. It was an understandable reaction considering that the drive with Alfonso nearly frightened Ena out of her wits. People fought to be near her, and ‘the Queen’s dress was actually torn to shreds by the multitude who sought to kiss the hem of her garment” (151).

“Critics had been given ammunition in the  very early days when Queen Ena made her first appearance at a bullfight in celebration of her wedding. Fresh-faced, young and poised, the queen looked exquisite in her white mantilla, seated in the royal box with King Alfonso and Queen Maria Cristina. In front of thirteen thousand people, Ena had to dig deep within herself to show her subjects that she was different from most of her nation, who were known to be revolted by the gory spectacle of Spain’s quintessential sport. Ena, who loved animals, tried to mask her disgust, but this only served to disappoint some subjects, particularly as her first bullfight turned out to be relatively unexciting. In order not to offend the queen’s sensibilities and those of the foreign guests, the bulls were reputedly drugged, and lost their violent edge. Victoria Eugenie was never to overcome her intense dislike of bullfighting. She took up her brother’s suggestion by having special shaded field glasses made. The queen would raise the glasses to her eyes at critical moments; the crowds, in turn, believed she was taking a closer look when in fact she was shielding her eyes” (178).

Despite not fully connecting with the public, Ena did receive her share of good press: “During Ena’s early years in Spain, many found her to be the very embodiment of [the beautiful queen]. Members of the press vied in their rapturous descriptions of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Victoria Eugenie, who looked every inch a queen. Much to Ena’s credit, she did not let such compliments go to her head. On the contrary, a mischievous streak occasionally surfaced. She once asked Alfonso if he had read the newspaper she was holding. When he answered, ‘No, is it anything of important?’ Ena quipped back, ‘Certainly. I demand the instant execution of the editor; he has omitted to hint that I am the most beautiful woman in the world!

“Considering how effusive the Spanish were in the early years, Ena’s remark was not without basis. In Seville, for instance, the young Queen Ena was met with shouts of ‘Viva!’ Flattering phrases poured forth . . . . trying to keep her composure, Ena accepted these compliments. Only when someone loudly proclaimed, ‘you are not only Queen of Spain; you are Queen of all beautiful women‘, did she burst out laughing” (174-75).

She also received good press by fulfilling her ‘duties’ as queen. She became pregnant fairly quickly and gave birth to a boy the year after their marriage:

“The queen’s labour pains began in the early morning of 10 May; they were intense and lasted twelve hours. Like her cousin Missy of Romania before her, Ena was encouraged to get on with it and bear the excruciating pain. Her well-meaning but overbearing mother-in-law was not much help, urging: ‘We Spaniards do not cry out when we bring a King into the world.’ Exasperated, Ena could only murmur to herself, ‘and now they will see what an Englishwoman is like!‘ . . . . Every care was taken to ensure the safe delivery of Ena’s child and the life of both mother and baby. Sacred relics were delivered from different parts of Spain and placed in the queen’s room, in accordance with a centuries-old custom. Ena most certainly had not experienced anything quite like it: according to one historian, the relics consisted of ‘the arm of John the Baptist and the girdle of the Virgin from Tolosa’. The latter ‘is handed to the Queen at certain critical moments, and a prayer while it is held in the hands or being kissed, insures a safe and happy delivery'” (158).

“The new father’s pride was understandable. Ena had given him an heir who showed every promise of being a fine, healthy son. According to one eyewitness, the baby prince, who had ‘an abundance of fair hair, was beyond question an unusually strong and healthy-appearing infant’. Another, describing the presentation ceremony, reported ‘the almost phenomenal physical strength of this baby, looking as if strong enough, like the infant Hercules, to strange serpents in his cradle‘” (159).

“Queen Ena’s happiness in her baby son and King Alfonso’s pride in his heir was dealt a tremendous blow when court doctors carried out a circumcision on the Prince of the Asturias and it was discovered that the  baby’s bleeding would not stop. Shock and consternation set it” (171).

Alfonso was distraught and furious, never really forgiving his wife for being ‘diseased’ and endangering the life of his son. Ena and Alfonso would go on to have four more sons and two daughters, but their marriage would never fully recover.


“Of all the changes Ena faced in Spain, the most painful was Alfonso’s infidelities. In order to compensate for his frustration with Ena, and in keeping with his own restless nature, Alfonso had no compunction in betraying his marital vows with numerous women.” (177).

Alfonso and Ena’s hopes were rekindled by the birth of their second son, Jaime, who (unlike his older brother) had not inherited haemophilia.  “The Infante Jaime was a normal child who came to be a close companion of his older brother. Together, Jaime and Alfonsito were a delightful pair, with the blond Alfonsito so obviously taking after his mother while the dark-haired Jaime resembled his father. In health, Jaime was everything his brother was not – the dreaded haemophilia being absent. If the heir was sickly, then at least ‘the spare’ was robust.

“However, tragedy struck. The boy was felled with acute pain in his ears. The diagnosis was double mastoiditis, required an immediate operation. The procedure went badly, and the auditory bones broke, causing Ena’s second son to become a deaf-mute” (180). In addition to worrying about their son’s health, this was another massive blow to the security of their throne. As seen in the film The King’s Speech, speech and hearing disabilities create significant obstacles to a mandatory career in public speaking and diplomacy. And this is especially true given that it was the turn of the century and horrific eugenicist discourses were very prevalent around the globe. With their country generally tumultuous, their first son unlikely to survive to adulthood, and their second son a target for pseudo-scientific death wishes, it’s hardly surprising that Ena and Alfonso were concerned.

The questions of rulership after Alfonso never came into question: Spain was thrown into revolution and became a republic. The royal family lived in exile for the rest of their lives. Eventually the monarchy was restored through the family line, with their third son (Juan’s) son taking the crown.

Ena and Alfonso eventually separated and Alfonso went on to have six illegitimate children with five different women. Alfonso died in 1941. Ena outlived him by almost 30 years, dying in 1969.

Alfonsito, their haemophiliac heir, died at age 31 after sustaining mild injuries in a car accident. He was twice married, but had no children.

Jaime, due to his disabilities, renounced the Spanish throne but upon the death of his father retracted his renunciation and ALSO declared himself to be the rightful heir to the French throne as well (being the senior legitimate male heir to the House of Capet). Obviously France was a republic, so this declaration didn’t really do anything. There continue to be pretenders to the throne, including Jaime’s grandson, the Duke of Anjou, who calls himself Louis XX. He is celebrated for being one of the handsomest royals in Europe today.

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Benjamin Bathurst

I found this story on Futility Closet’s blog here.

“On Nov. 25, 1809, British diplomat Benjamin Bathurst was preparing to leave the small German town of Perleberg. He stood outside the inn, watching his portmanteau being loaded onto the carriage, stepped out of the light, and was never seen again.

“A nearby river was dragged, and outbuildings, woods, ditches, and marshes were searched, but no trace of Bathurst was ever found. A reward was offered for information, but none came forth.

“Bathurst had been urging Austria into war against the French, but Napoleon swore on his honor that he had played no part in the disappearance. The mystery has never been solved.”

Naturally, many conspiracy theorists speculate that his disappearance was supernatural. Most academics believe the more probable explanation: he was murdered. He already had to flee Vienna in light of approaching French forces, and had decided that the safest way to get back to London was to take a ship from Hamburg. He also traveled under a pseudonym. So there was clearly already the need for him to take significant safety measures.

According to Wikipedia, “The disappearance did not create much excitement at the time, since the country was infested with bandits, stragglers from the French army, and German revolutionaries. Additionally, murders and robberies were so common that the loss of one commercial traveller (which Bathurst was travelling as) was barely noticed, especially since at the time there were hardly any legal authorities in Prussia.”

News of his disappearance didn’t even reach England until several weeks later, when some thought that maybe he–sensing danger–disappeared and went into hiding. There was also some speculation that he could have been kidnapped for political leverage. If either of those two options were the case, no one ever heard from him or about him again.

Almost 50 years later, in 1852, a house nearby the inn where he disappeared was demolished. When the house came down, they discovered a human skeleton under the stable. The skull was fractured, as if by a heavy blow (not related to the demolition).

Bathurst’s sister, who was still living, traveled there to see the skeleton. But after such a long disappearance there wasn’t anything about it that could provide a conclusive identification.

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Colonel William Shy

Remember how I did a post last week on the Fisk Mummy? Well, I found yet another bit of weirdness involving Fisk coffins (this time found on the StrangeRemains blog here).

“William Shy was a colonel in the 20th Tennessee infantry of the Confederate military. He was killed on December 16th 1864 when his unit was overrun during the battle of Compton Hill at Nashville. During the battle he was shot at point blank range with a .58 caliber minie ball to the head. Shy’s family had his body embalmed and buried in a cast iron metal coffin in a small family cemetery on their property. Unfortunately he would not rest in peace.”

“On December 24th 1977 Ben and Mary Griffith had recently purchased an antebellum estate called Two Rivers in Franklin, TN. On the grounds of the property was an old family graveyard where eight members of the Shy family were buried in the 1800’s and 1900’s. While Mrs. Griffith was showing the mansion and grounds to a friend on Christmas Eve she noticed that one of the plots has been disturbed. The grave’s headstone bore the following inscription: “Lt. Col. Wm. Shy, 20th Tenn. Infantry, C.S.A., Born May 24, 1838, Killed at the Battle of Nashville, December 16, 1864.”

“The Griffiths immediately called the Sheriff’s department. Since the sheriff didn’t consider this an emergency, because he believed that would-be grave robbers dug up the plot to steal Civil War memorabilia, he waited until after the Christmas to investigate further.

“When the Sheriff returned on December 29th and inspected the grave he discovered a headless, decomposing body dressed in a formal black jacket, a pleated white shirt, and white gloves. The investigators at the site agreed that this was the body of a recent homicide victim in an advanced state of decay. Their theory was that a murderer (or murderers) had attempted to hide the victim’s body in plain sight by burying it in a used plot, but got scared off by Mrs. Griffith and her guest in the middle of disposing of the corpse.

“Since the sheriff’s department needed help identifying the body and estimating the time since death, they asked forensic anthropologist Dr. William M. Bass of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to help with the recovery and analysis of the remains.

“As Bass excavated what was left of the body he found a small hole in the top of the coffin, possibly caused by a pick or a shovel.   When Bass looked inside the metal coffin he found nothing but sludge, which didn’t surprise him. He had exhumed a 19th century cemetery in Tennessee and found little more than small bone fragments.

“Bass examined the bones back at his laboratory.   According to his osteological analysis the remains belonged to a white male, in his mid 20’s to early 30’s, and was about 5’10”. Due to the presence of pink tissue and decomposing tissue Bass believed that this person had only been dead between six and twelve months.

“Sherriff’s investigators recovered 17 fragments of the cranium and mandible during additional inspection of the coffin (pictured here). When Bass glued them back together he found that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head with a large caliber gun at close range. The entrance wound was in the forehead right above the left eye, and the exit wound was near the base of the skull.

“Dr. Bass began to suspect that he had made a huge error in the time since death when the teeth and clothes were examined. When he examined the teeth he discovered that many of them had cavities, but there were no signs of modern dental care, such as fillings. Then a technician from the crime lab who examined the clothes found that there were no synthetic fibers or labels, things that are typically seen in modern garments.

“Bass realized his mistake. This body belonged to William Shy and it had been pulled out through the small hole in the lid while looters were trying to robbing the grave.

“Dr. Bass reflected on how he could have miscalculated the time since death by more than a 100 years. Though embalming does preserve human remains, a body will not stay uncorrupted forever because embalming fluids only delay the inevitable process of decomposition.

Colonel Shy’s corpse was protected from oxygen and insects inside his hermetically sealed coffin. The cast iron coffins of the 19th century were constructed to be air tight to prevent bacteria, a necessary part of putrefaction, from flourishing. The metal coffin also protected the body from insects, which can burrow through wood coffins and feast on human remains.

“This case and its errors made international headlines and lead to an innovation in forensic anthropology.”

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