George Washington, zombie-in-chief

Tomb of George Washington ca. 1859.  Image credit: Wikipedia.

Tomb of George Washington ca. 1859. Image credit: Wikipedia.

George Washington (1732-1799) was many things: Founding Father, Commander-In-Chief, and the First President of the United States. He was also almost America’s first zombie.

Washington became seriously sick after he got caught in a rainstorm in 1799. His doctors tried to use bloodletting, the drawing of blood to treat illnesses, to cure him. The bloodletting didn’t work and he died the night of December 14, 1799-about two years after he left office.

Shortly after his death, some of Washington’s loved ones thought about reanimating his dead body. William Thornton, one of his close friends and a European-trained physician, thought it was possible to resurrect his corpse using lamb’s blood. Thornton wrote about the plan about twenty-years later:

I proposed to attempt his restoration, in the following manner.  First to thaw him in cold water, then to lay him in blankets, & by degrees & by friction to give him warmth, and to put into activity the minute blood vessels, at the same time to open a passage to the Lungs by the Trachaea, and to inflate them with air, to produce an artificial respiration, and to transfuse blood into him from a lamb.

The idea might seem silly today but the first blood transfusion experiments involved injecting animal blood into human patients. Dr. Jean-Baptiste Denys, physician to King Louis XIV of France, performed the first blood transfusion in 1667 by transfusing the sheep’s blood into a 15-year-old boy. Although this boy survived, subsequent experiments had tragic results and future transfusion tests with animal blood were prohibited.  Human to human blood transfusions weren’t performed until the early 19th century.

Thornton didn’t get his way and George Washington was allowed to continue to rest in peace. His body still resides in a marble sarcophagus at his Mt. Vernon estate.


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