Pre-Order My Book! The Butchering Art

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I’m thrilled to reveal the cover for the US edition of my forthcoming book, THE BUTCHERING ART, which will be published by FSG on October 17th.

The book delves into the grisly world of Victorian surgery and transports the reader to a period when a broken leg could result in amputation, when giving birth in a squalid hospital was extraordinarily dangerous, and when a minor injury could lead to a miserable death. Surgeons—lauded for their brute strength and quick knives—rarely washed their hands or their instruments, and carried with them a cadaverous smell of rotting flesh, which those in the profession cheerfully referred to as “good old hospital stink.” At a time when surgery couldn’t have been more dangerous, an unlikely figure stepped forward: Joseph Lister, a young, melancholic Quaker surgeon. By making the audacious claim that germs were the source of all infection—and could be treated with antiseptics—he changed the history of surgery forever.

Many of you have been devoted readers of my blog since its inception in 2010, and I can’t thank you enough for your continued interest in my work. Writing a book has been the next logical step for a very long time. The idea of telling this particular story arose during a very difficult period in my life when my writing career was at risk. It is therefore with great pride (and some trepidation) that I am turning this book loose into the world, and humbly ask you to consider pre-ordering it. All pre-orders count towards first-week sales once THE BUTCHERING ART is released, and therefore give me a greater chance of securing a place on bestseller lists in October. I would be hugely grateful for your support.

Pre-order from any one of these vendors using the links below:

*Please note that THE BUTCHERING ART will also be published by Penguin in the United Kingdom, as well as several other publishers around the world. I’ll be revealing covers for these foreign editions in the coming months, along with information on where to buy a copy.

The Butchering Art – US Book Tour!

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I’m thrilled to announce events for my upcoming book tour in the US, beginning with the book launch at the MUTTER MUSEUM on October 17th. Below is more info about each venue, as well as links to where you can register for events. I’ll be updating info on this page from time to time, so please check back periodically. Meanwhile, don’t forget you can now pre-order THE BUTCHERING ART. All pre-orders count towards first week sales, and give debut authors (like me!) a chance at hitting the NYTimes Bestseller List when the book is released. The more pre-orders, the more buzz, which means more publicity for medical history! Please do consider supporting me by purchasing your copy of The Butchering Art in advance.

And don’t forget to ask your local library to order a copy of the book, too!

  • 24_01_genital_wartsTHE MUTTER MUSEUM – PHILLY
    • October 17th, 6:30 pm
    • The official US book launch! Come hear me talk about the brutal and bloody world of Victorian surgery in one of the world’s creepiest anatomical museums that houses such strange objects as a giant megacolon, a necklace of genital warts [right], and a 74-pound ovarian tumor. Book signing to follow.
    • Purchase tickets HERE
  • THE HISTORICAL AMPHITHEATRE AT PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL – PHILLY
    • October 18th, 6 pm
    • Come listen to me talk about the birth of modern surgery in the nation’s oldest  surgical amphitheatre [below], built in 1804.  This event is co-hosted by Atlas Obscura, and will be followed by a book signing & drinks in the medical library.
    • Tickets on sale soon14247628054_21d731bd83_b
  • THE WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE – SAN JOSE
    • October 20th, 7:30 pm & 9 pm
    • This was once the personal residence [below] of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, who believed the house was haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. I will be doing two book signings that evening. You can also take a candlelight tour of the house… should you dare!
    • The event is free and open to the public. No need to register. Further info can be found HEREGrand-Ballroom-600x400
  • THE GAMBLE HOUSE – PASADENA 
    • October 21st, 7 pm
    • The Gamble House was designed by brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, and built in 1908 for David B. Gamble of Procter & Gamble. But you may recognize it as Doc’s house from Back to the Future! I’ll be giving an open air talk on one of the house’s sleeping porches, built to protect the Gamble family against tuberculosis at the turn of the twentieth century. I’ll also be signing books after the main event.
    • Purchase tickets HERE
  • THE HUNTINGTON LIBRARY – PASADENA 
    • October 22nd, 5:30 pm
    • Learn about “The Last Butchers of Bloomsbury” in Rothenberg Hall at the Huntington Library in Pasadena. I’ll be talking about the horrors of pre-anesthetic surgery, and the butchers who were lauded for their brute strength and speed. Book signing to follow.
    • This event is free and open to the public. If you would like access to priority seating, please pre-order a copy of the book via the Huntington’s online shop by clicking HERE
  • last-bookstore-book-displayTHE LAST BOOKSTORE – L.A. 
    • October 24th, 8:00 pm
    • Join me for a fun evening in one of LA’s quirkiest bookstores [right] where I’ll be horrifying attendees with stories about “Sawbones, Butchers, and Quacks!” Paul Koudounaris, author of Empire of Death, will be leading a discussion afterwards. Book signing to follow.
    • The event is free and open to the public. No need to register. More info can be found HERE
  • THE DITTRICK MUSEUM – CLEVELAND 
    • October 26th, 6 pm
    • The Dittrick Museum is one of the midwest’s hidden gems, containing an extensive collection of medical history objects. Join me in this incredible space while I talk about the bloody and brutal world of Victorian surgery. Book signing to follow.
    • This event is free, but you must register HERE
  • THE JAMES A. GARFIELD HISTORIC SITE – MENTOR, OHIO 
    • October 27th, 7 pm
    • Shortly after James Garfield was shot in 1881, twelve different doctors inserted unsterilized fingers and instruments into his body probing for the bullet. So began a long, agonizing death for the 20th President of the United States; a death that might have been prevented had surgeons adhered to Joseph Lister’s antiseptic techniques. Join me in the former President’s house to hear all about this dark episode in history. Book signing to follow.
    • This event is free and open to the public. No need to register. More info can be found HEREgarfield_deathbed
  • BARNES & NOBLE – SKOKIE, ILLINOIS 
    • October 29th, 2 pm
    • Join me as I return to my hometown in Chicagoland! I’ll be talking about quacks and hacks from the past, followed by a Q&A and book signing.
    • This event is free and open to the public. No need to register. More info can be found HERE
  • THE SMITHSONIAN – WASHINGTON D.C. 
    • SmithsonianCastel_07120014October 31st, 6:45 pm
    • Join me on HALLOWEEN at The Smithsonian for a spooky night you won’t soon forget! I’ll be covering everything from bodysnatchers to the 19th-century dead houses and beyond. Lots of gruesome surprises on the night! Book signing to follow.
    • Purchase tickets HERE. Enter promo code “234141″ to get $10 off.
  • HOUSE OF WAX BAR & MUSEUM – BROOKLYN, NEW YORK 
    • November 2nd, 5:30 pm
    • Combining mixology with the macabre, House of Wax [below] is Brooklyn’s newest, and most curious, full-service bar. Based on the panoptica touring attractions of the late 1800s, House of Wax exhibits a rare selection of waxwork sculptures featuring life-size, realistic displays of anatomy, pathology, anthropology and even death masks of famous (and infamous) celebrities. Join me as I read bloody passages from my book The Butchering Art. The event will be hosted by TV personality Ryan Matthew Cohn from Discovery Channel’s Oddities, who is also the museum’s curator. Book signing to follow. And if you’d like to buy me a drink afterwards, I won’t say no!
    • This event is free and open to the public. No need to register. More info can be found HEREalamoxhouseofwax-900x599
  • CONEY ISLAND CIRCUS SIDESHOW – NEW YORK CITY 
    • November 4th, TBD
    • Rooted in mass culture and the traditions of P.T. Barnum, dime museums, burlesque, and vaudeville, the Coney Island Circus Sideshow is a truly unique space. Join Duff Lambros (former MTV VJ, and author of the forthcoming book Backbone) and me for a fun-packed night. I’ll be doing a reading from The Butchering Art about an anatomist who died while dissecting a circus dwarf. Book signing to follow!
    • This event is free and open to the public. Registration opening soon! mariebanner17 (1)

Our Enduring Preoccupation with Premature Burial 

 

ed943eb562e8e7671f2dcc7765b2ab74--premature-burial-edgar-allan-poeHours before he died, George Washington told his secretary: “Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.” This kind of request was not uncommon. In an era when putrefaction was the only sure sign of death, many people in the past feared being buried alive.

Indeed, Washington’s nephew was even more paranoid than the former president. He ordered: “my thumbs are not to be tied together—nor anything put on my face or any restraint upon my Person by Bandages, &c. My Body is to be placed in an entirely plain coffin with a flat Top and a sufficient number of holes bored through the lid and sides—particularly about the face and head to allow Respiration if Resuscitation should take place and having been kept so long as to ascertain whether decay may have occurred or not, the coffin is to be closed up.”

By the 19th century, being trapped inside a coffin was a favorite plot twist for writers of macabre fiction, such as Edgar Allan Poe, whose story The Premature Burial (1844) contributed to the public preoccupation with the subject. Anxiety about premature burial was so widespread that, in 1891, the Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli coined the medical term for it: taphephobia (Greek for “grave” + “fear.”)

premature_burial_title_page1This phobia led to the creation of so-called “safety coffins.” In 1790,  Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick had built the first coffin of this kind, which included a window to allow in light, and a tube to provide a fresh supply of air. The lid of the coffin was then locked and two keys were fitted into a special pocket sewn into his burial shroud: one for the coffin itself and one for the tomb.

Many of the safety coffins that came afterward were touted as “tried and tested.” In 1822, Dr Adolf Gutsmuth consigned himself to the grave in a coffin he had designed personally. For several hours, he remained underground, during which time he consumed a meal of soup, sausages, and beer—all delivered to him through a convenient feeding tube built into the coffin. The Germans were particularly ingenious when it came to safety coffins, patenting over 30 different designs in the 19th century. The best-known model was the brainchild of Dr Johann Gottfried Taberger, and it included a system of ropes that attached the corpse’s hands, feet, and head to an above-ground bell. Although many subsequent designs tried to incorporate this feature, it was by-and-large a design failure. What Dr Taberger didn’t take into account is the fact that the body begins to bloat and swell as it decomposes, causing it to shift inside the coffin. These tiny movements would have set the bells ringing, and visitors to the cemetery running.safetycoffinsThe Russian Count Michel de Karnice-Karnicki’s design was an evengreater disaster than most. In 1897, he buried one of his assistants in order to demonstrate the features of his safety coffin. If the device detected movement from within, it was rigged to open a tube which would allow air to flow while simultaneously raising a flag and ringing a bell. Unfortunately, none of the features worked and the demonstration failed miserably. While the assistant survived, Karnice-Karnicki’s reputation did not.

image_12One of the most unsettling coffin designs came from an American doctor named Timothy Clark Smith who was so terrified of being buried alive that he created a grave that even today intrigues and frightens visitors to Evergreen Cemetery in New Haven, Vermont. When Dr Smith died—aptly enough on Halloween, 1893—his body was interred in a most unusual crypt, with his face positioned at the bottom of a cement tube. This was capped with a piece of plate glass that would allow the unfortunate doctor to gaze upward in the event of his premature burial. Visitors to the cemetery used to report that they could peer down inside the grave and see Dr Smith’s decomposing head. Nowadays, all you can see is darkness and a bit of condensation.

Escape coffins were also built for those who didn’t have the patience to wait for someone to come to the rescue. One such coffin–intended for use in vaults–had a spring-loaded lid that could be opened with a slight movement of the head or hand. Another example was built by retired firefighter Thomas Pursell for himself and his family. Located at Wildwood Cemetery in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the ventilated vault can be opened from the inside by a handwheel attached to the door. Pursell was buried there in 1937.

9c13557a026510262f13555b436b6823-origIf all of this seems a bit irrational to your modern sensibilities, consider the fact that safety coffins are still available for purchase today. In 1995, Fabrizio Caselli invented a model that includes an emergency alarm, a two-way intercom, a flashlight, an oxygen tank, a heartbeat sensor and a heart stimulator.  Taphephobia is far from dead and buried!

 

Fitzharris_ButcheringArt_JKFYou can now pre-order my book, all about the bloody & brutal world of Victorian surgery. Pre-orders are incredibly helpful to new authors. Your support is greatly appreciated. US link HERE, UK link HERE, Canadian link HERE, Australian link HERE. Info on other foreign editions to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Phrenology Head – Episode 16 – Under The Knife

In Episode 16, Dr Lindsey Fitzharris talks about phrenology, a popular pseudoscience that emerged in the early 19th century that put forth the idea that a person’s personality could be understood by examining the bumps on his or her skull. She also discovers that phrenological heads talk back!

Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART in the US (click here), Canada (click here), UK (click here), and Australia (click here). And please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and like/comment on the video!

Everyday Heroes: A Story of Self-Sacrifice & Bubonic Plague

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On 1 November 1666, a young farmer named Abraham Morten took one final, agonizing breath. He was the last of 260 people to die of bubonic plague in the remote village of Eyam in Derbyshire. His fate had been sealed four months earlier when villagers decided to shut themselves off from the rest of the world: a sacrifice they made in order to save the lives of their neighbors in surrounding villages.

eyam-plague-plaque.jpgThe nightmare began on an unremarkable day in September, 1665. George Viccars—a local tailor in Eyam—received a consignment of cloth from London for his shop. Upon inspection, Viccars noticed that the cloth was damp. He hung it before his fire to dry, not realizing that it was playing host to fleas that were carrying the bubonic plague.

Viccars was dead within a week.

The pestilence spread rapidly throughout the village. Panic broke out as villagers began making preparations to flee Eyam for contagion-free surroundings. It was then that two local clergymen, William Mompesson and Thomas Stanley, decided to intervene in order to stop the plague from spreading to neighboring villages. In a joint sermon, the two men pleaded with their fellow townspeople to recognize that it was their Christian duty to remain in Eyam until the scourge had played itself out, and to prevent the disease taking hold in other villages. Moved by the clergymen’s words, the villagers decided to make the ultimate sacrifice: they sealed themselves off from the rest of the world.

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In order to do this, they created a stone boundary around Eyam. No one was allowed in, and no one was allowed out. People from surrounding communities brought food and clothing to the disease-ridden village. They would leave their goods on the stones and pick up their payment from a well filled with water and vinegar [pictured above], which would disinfect the coins.

dsc03368.jpgWithin Eyam’s self-imposed bounds, the plague was unrelenting, killing people arbitrarily over the next fourteen months. No one was untouched by tragedy, including Elizabeth Hancock, who inadvertently brought the disease back to her farm after helping to bury a fellow villager’s body. Within a week, all six of Elizabeth’s children, as well as her husband, had died. Not wanting to put anyone at further risk, Elizabeth took on the task of burying her entire family herself.

By August, two-thirds of Eyam’s population had died from the plague, including Mompesson’s own wife. The cemetery had become so full that the dead had to be buried in nearby gardens and fields. The dwindling congregation—which grew smaller daily—began holding services outside in an attempt to halt the rampant spread of the disease. There, in the open air, they prayed earnestly to be delivered from the suffering God had seen fit to thrust upon them.

Eyam_window.jpgBy November, the plague had finally subsided. Of the village’s 350 original occupants, only 90 had survived. However, it is not the statistics that are noteworthy in this story, as these are fairly typical of plague mortality rates during this period. Rather, it is the villagers who are extraordinary. They stopped the spread of plague by their courageous, selfless actions, and in doing so, ensured that they would not become just another set of nameless statistics generated by that horrific epidemic.

No one in the surrounding area contracted plague during this time.

 

Fitzharris_ButcheringArt_JKFIf you’re interested in learning more about the plague, check out Rebecca Rideal’s excellent book 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire.

And don’t forget you can now pre-order my book, The Butchering Art. All pre-orders count towards first-week sales once the book is released, and therefore give me a greater chance of securing a place on bestseller lists in October. I would be hugely grateful for your support. If you’re in the US, click HERE. If you’re in the UK, click HERE. Info on further foreign editions to come.

 

Dead Men’s Teeth – Episode 15 – Under The Knife

In Episode 15 of Under The Knife, I explore the horrible reality behind dental practices from the past, including how dentures used to be made from the teeth of executed criminals, exhumed bodies, and sometimes even slaves.

Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART in the US (click here) and the UK (click here). And please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and like/comment on the video!

Quacks & Hacks: Walter Freeman and the Lobotomobile

 

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On 12 November 1935, a Portuguese neurologist named Antonio Egas Moniz [below right] became the first individual to perform what would later be known as a lobotomy. Moniz’s work built upon that of the 19th-century Swiss psychiatrist, Gottlieb Burkhardt, who performed a series of operations in 1888 in which he removed sections of the cerebral cortex from six patients under his care at the Préfargier Asylum. Moniz’s early experiments involved drilling holes into patients’ skulls and pouring alcohol into the frontal cortex in order to sever nerves; and coring out regions of the brain with hollow needles.

egas4Moniz’s lobotomy quickly became a popular treatment for various mental conditions, putting an end to the therapeutic nihilism that dominated the psychiatric profession in the Victorian era. Suddenly, doctors believed they could “cure” patients whom they had previously deemed beyond help. Within a decade, the lobotomy became so esteemed that Moniz was awarded a Nobel Prize for his role in developing it.

During this time, Moniz’s procedure was adopted (and adapted) by the American neuropsychiatrist Walter Freeman, who performed the first lobotomy in the United States in 1936. Freeman won acclaim for his technique, and people all over the country began lining up to get their lobotomies, including Rosemary Kennedy [below]—sister to the man who would later become President of the United States. Rosemary was described by members of her family as a rebellious child who was prone to violent mood swings while she was growing up. In November 1941, Rosemary’s father took her to see Freeman, who diagnosed the 23-year-old girl with “agitated depression” and suggested she undergo a lobotomy to correct her erratic behavior. [Interestingly, 80 percent of the lobotomies performed in the US in those early years were carried out on women].

rosemary-kennedy-01-435Freeman performed the operation right then and there on Rosemary, without her mother’s knowledge. Shortly afterwards, it became clear that something had gone terribly wrong. Rosemary could no longer speak, and her mental capacity was equivalent to that of a toddler. Her father institutionalized her, telling people that his daughter was mentally retarded rather than admitting that her condition was due to a failed brain operation. It was only after his death decades later that the truth behind her condition was revealed. Rosemary never did recover her ability to speak coherently, and remained in care till her death in 2005 at the age of 86. She was the first of her siblings to die of natural causes.

The incident did little to damage Freeman’s reputation, who soon began looking for a more efficient way to perform the operation without drilling directly into the skull. As a result, he created the transorbital lobotomy in which a pick-like instrument was forced through the back of the eye sockets to pierce the thin bone that separates the eye sockets from the frontal lobes. This procedure—which later became known as the “ice-pick” lobotomy—could be performed in under ten minutes without anesthetic.

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Freeman took to the roads with his ice-pick and hammer, touring hospitals and mental institutions around the country. He performed ice-pick lobotomies for all kinds of conditions, including headaches. Eventually, he began performing the operation in his van—which later became known as “the lobotomobile.” At one point, he undertook 25 lobotomies in a single day. He even performed them on children as young as 4 years old. Years later, one of them spoke of the frightful incident: “I’ve always felt different—wondered if something’s missing from my soul. I have no memory of the operation, and never had the courage to ask my family about it.”

20131026_133743Over the course of four decades, Freeman performed nearly 3,500 lobotomies despite the fact that he had no surgical training. Many of his patients often had to relearn how to eat and use the bathroom. Some never recovered. And, of course, there were fatalities. In 1951, one of his patients died when Freeman suddenly stopped to pose for a photo during the procedure. The surgical instrument slipped and went too far into the patient’s brain. Many others fell victim to a similar fate at the good doctor’s hands.

The lobotomy eventually came under attack from the medical community. By the 1970s, several countries had banned the procedure altogether. Freeman eventually retired the lobotomobile and opened a private practice in California. Contrary to popular belief, he never lost his license to practice medicine.

Today, surgical lobotomies are no longer performed. The rise of drugs like thorazine make it easier to lobotomize patients chemically. In recent years, there have been calls for the Nobel Foundation to rescind Moniz’s prize that he received for developing the lobotomy, which has often been labeled one of the most barbaric mistakes of modern medicine.

 

Fitzharris_ButcheringArt_JKFSpecial thanks to Paul Koudounaris for bringing this fascinating subject to light for me when I was in Los Angeles this past April.

If you’re interested in the history of surgery, you can now pre-order my book, The Butchering Art. All pre-orders count towards first-week sales once the book is released, and therefore give me a greater chance of securing a place on bestseller lists in October. I would be hugely grateful for your support. If you’re in the US, click HERE. If you’re in the UK, click HERE. Info on further foreign editions to come.

 

 

The Dissected Criminal – Episode 14 – Under The Knife

In Episode 14 of Under The Knife, I discuss how the executions of thousands of people fed the anatomy schools in the 18th and 19th centuries. Warning: heads will roll!

Don’t forget you can now pre-order my book THE BUTCHERING ART in the US (click here) and the UK (click here). And please subscribe to my YouTube Channel, and like/comment on the video!