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Today people have many post-mortem alternatives for their loved ones besides the same old burial or cremation. Companies now offer a variety of services like a green burial with a tree planted on top of the body, converting the remains of a loved one into a diamond, pressing ashes into a vinyl record, even placing ash into live ammunition.
A couple hundred years ago people didn’t have access to the technology we have today, so they had to be creative and master the art of the corpse deathhack, a technique used to make efficient use of human remains, and recycle the skin and body parts.
Known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, the practice of binding books with human skin dates back to the 17th century, and involves flaying of a corpse and tanning the skin to cover books. 19th century physician Joseph Leidy used the skin of his deceased patients to bind his favorite medical textbooks, which are now on display at the College of Physicians’ Mütter Museum. The skin from executed criminals was also used for anthropodermic bibliopegy as an added post-mortem punishment. Pieces of skin from executed murders John Horwood, William Corder, and George Cudmore were all used to bind books. Also, the skin from infamous murder William Burke was made into a calling card case.
(Anatomically Correct) Necropants
The rituals practiced by Icelandic mystics in the 17th century often required an offering from a human body. For example, these mystics believed that pants made of human skin, or necropants (nábrók in Icelandic), would bring wealth to the wearer. A replica of the macabre “necropants” is on display in the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland.
On its website, the museum has instructions for making your own pair:
- You must ask permission to wear a man’s skin as necropants after his death (it’s really important that necropants come from a male body).
- After the corpse has been buried you must dig it up and flay the skin in one piece from the waist down. Please be aware that just like leather pants, necropants will stick to your skin.
- You must steal a coin from a poor widow and put it in the empty scrotum with a magical Icelandic sign, nábrókarstafur, drawn on a piece of paper. The coin will draw money into the scrotum so it will never be empty, as long as the original coin is never removed. Then you can pay back that unfortunate widow you stole from.
- To safeguard your salvation you have to persuade someone else to wear the pants as soon as you take them off, that way they’ll keep attracting money for generations.
Tables made out of petrified tissue and body parts
19th century scientists who studied ways to preserve human cadavers had a fondness for showcasing their work in really odd ways…like building tables with preserved human body parts.
On display at the Anatomical Museum of the University of Florence is the Segato Table created by Professor Girolamo Segato (1792-1836), who became renowned for his method of petrifying human remains, which involved mineralizing tissue so that it hardened. The Segato Table is a wooden table inlaid with pieces of petrified human tissue. The Anatomical Museum of the University of Florence also has a female head and bust that were preserved by Segato.
In 1866, Italian scientist Efisio Marini (1835-1900) also built an infamous piece of furniture known as “The Table” as a gift for Napoleon III. Marini was known as “il Pietrificatore,” or the petrifier, because of his research on the preservation of corpses. The Table was built using “brains, blood, bile, liver, lungs and petrified glands, on top of which stands a foot, four ears and cut vertebrae, also petrified,” and is on display at the Musée d’Histoire de la Médecine in Paris.
Boeni, M. (2013 July 16). The Bizarre Art of Binding Books in Human Skin. Mental Floss. Retrieved on March 12, 2014 from: http://mentalfloss.com/article/51634/bizarre-art-binding-books-human-skin
Grundhauser, E. (2013, October 13). Necropants. Altas Obscura. Retrieved on March 12, 2014 from: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/objects-of-intrigue-necropants
Grundhauser, E. (2014, March 18). Necropants. Altas Obscura. Retrieved on March 19, 2014 from: http://atlasobscura.gizmodo.com/a-decorative-table-and-the-lost-science-of-human-petrif-1546382982/@gmanaugh
Krull, ML. Museum of the History of Medicine. Cool Stuff In Paris. Retrieved on March 12, 2014 from: http://www.coolstuffinparis.com/musee-dhistoire-de-la-medecine.php