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Thread: Field Embalming Demo Photos (Kid Friendly)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
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    West Peoria, IL
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    Default Field Embalming Demo Photos (Kid Friendly)

    Gentlemen:

    As suggested last week, I've posted several photos from the past season's events. The images can be viewed at http://usera.imagecave.com/funhistory. I included the "kid friendly" notation just to reassure the timid that the images are safe for viewing.
    I remain as ever, your faithful & obedient servant,

    Jon Austin

    aka Benjamin Franklin Lyford, M.D.
    Drs. Chamberlain & Lyford, Principal Embalming Surgeons
    Washington City, D. C.

    Adservio mortuus quidnam es non potens adservio ipsum

    Traveling with while in the field:
    Mid-States Living History Association, Indianapolis, IN
    10th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, Springfield, IL
    The Society of Civil War Surgeons

  2. #2
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    Mar 2006
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    Northern Virginia
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    Default

    I like the ol' "Coin In the Eyes To pay Charon" detail.

    As a mortuary surgeon, would you be wearing a military uniform? I would think they were independent citizen contractors or operators. Not criticizing your impression, just curious.

    It would be real cool if we could see all your chemicals and tools.
    Noah Briggs

  3. #3
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    West Peoria, IL
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    Default Sharp Eyes

    Noah,

    While the coins on the eyes figure into the folklore of death as you've identified with the connection to Charon, they served the real purpose of being the right diameter and weight to hold the eyelids closed until the delicate tissues and muscles could fix into place. Suturing wasn't an acceptable option to close the eyelids; other methods are used in modern funeral service to avoid the problem of open eyelids. Many people are very familiar with the folklore without any knowledge of the practical application.

    As to the employment of embalming surgeons, they were private citizens/contractors who followed the progress of battle until quite late in the War. In our case, we don't wear military uniforms. The trousers are dark green, and yes, the waistcoat is a high button military one; you've got me there. I bought them on sutler row at an event because I ran out of time needed to make them myself as I did with the rest of the wardrobe. I knew that we could dare to appear without sack coats (in progress) but that we dare not appear in public without waistcoats. Mine has hand-sewn buttonholes and details quite different from others that the sutler had for sale. I recognized the high quality of the garment; so I bought it with the intention of later adjustment. I haven't been able to bear ripping the brass buttons off of it, and I haven't found buttons that would be correct. I may make my own to correct that detail. I've also acquired a grey civilian waistcoat with lapels and fabric-covered buttons. I've concluded that if asked and in the navy one, I'm wearing a dead officer's waistcoat taken in payment for services.

    I haven't taken photos of our instruments and chemical display. Admittedly, they are basic. I'll try to take photos at our next set-up.
    I remain as ever, your faithful & obedient servant,

    Jon Austin

    aka Benjamin Franklin Lyford, M.D.
    Drs. Chamberlain & Lyford, Principal Embalming Surgeons
    Washington City, D. C.

    Adservio mortuus quidnam es non potens adservio ipsum

    Traveling with while in the field:
    Mid-States Living History Association, Indianapolis, IN
    10th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, Springfield, IL
    The Society of Civil War Surgeons

  4. #4
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    Default

    Gotcha.

    I have played a dead guy, aka "corpus delicious", complete with the makeup, the essence of decomp, and proper rigor. My toes got tied together to keep the legs from spreading, and a cloth was tied around my chin to keep the "rigor" from wrenching the jaw open.

    I also played a dead guy taken directly from the hospital tent to a mortuary surgeon, who proceeded to demonstrate the eight-hour process to drain the blood, only he did a CSI style "speed up" of the process. (Since the blood no longer moves you have to massage the body to force it out through the big needle in the aorta.) He then demonstrated the insertion via gravity-fed bottle the preservative du jour.

    So - hold a rigor mortis pose for about an hour and a half, and sneak a breath when no one's looking. Those d**ned keep careful track.

    Oh, fun.

    by the way, you can appear in public with just a shirt on. I'd recommend it, along with an apron; I don't think embalming was a tidy job.
    Noah Briggs

  5. #5
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    Default Library of Congress

    Just today I was looking at a LOC image of an embalmer at work. Their images are a fantastic resource for research. One can download for free high resolution (often 500 dpi of scanned glass plate negatives) images on a variety of subjects. I've downloaded a number of surgeons, medical related, Indiana (my home state) and infantry in general images.

    This should link one to the embalmer image:

    http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/...56sf=01887:@@@

  6. #6
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    Default Gritty Stuff, HUH?! Timid Souls Beware

    I can't imagine what other members of the Forum may be thinking when the Medical "section" turns to a discussion of embalming!

    Noah, your embalmer got many of the details correct; however, rigor mortis is another of the great myths of funeral service. Rigor isn't always present in every body. Its onset can be strong, mild, or not present at all. Rigor is caused by a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, and it can be relieved through flexion and/or massage through the embalming process itself. Rigor generally relaxes after a few hours. The stiffness that one might notice in modern cases is a direct result of the embalming fluid doing its job to firm the tissues. The other "mortis" that isn't reversable is "livor mortis", or lividity. It is a purplish-red discoloration of the body caused by the settling of blood in the tissues through gravity. If a body dies on its back, lividity appears on the backside. Modern embalmers observe that it can be difficult to mask if the individual dies face down.

    The alternative to binding the jaw is to sew it closed. That would have been fun! We sew through the ligament at the upper jaw below the septum and through the ligament at the base of the jaw below the gum line. Some jaws fix in place without binding or sewing.

    Drainage of the blood was rarely performed, and it would be impossible if the body had been lying around due to coagulation. From our research, the preservative chemicals were simply injected directly into the arterial system, and one would hope for the best. A cylindrical hand pump and a cannula was the preferred method of delivery.

    Gravity injection didn't come onto the scene until later in the century, and direct cardiac injection was rare. Generally during the period from 1840 to around 1880, arterial injection was achieved through the primary points of injection that are still used today: the carotid, the brachial, or the femoral. If your demonstrator performed an aeortic injection, I hope that he didn't leave a mark! I prefer the carotid or the brachial. Our volunteers aren't too crazy about messing with the femoral! Talk about having to lie still. One slip of the scalpel, and well... Suffice to say that femoral injection wouldn't be kid friendly.

    You asked earlier about chemicals: the compound of choice was usually arsenic based (along with some alum, creosote, some glycerine, and a touch of thymol), or zinc chloride (used straight or with a few additives). The goal was to achieve dessication and disinfection. Even though formaldehyde was to be discovered by a German chemist in the late 1860s, it wasn't used in funeral service until mid 1890s.

    As to the photo from the LC web site, it is one of a pair of Brady images of Dr. (Richard?) Burr. The one that Jas. Cox shared is the most commonly seen; however, there is a second image of Burr taken with the embalmer facing the camera and without his hat. This variant image appears on page 38 of Juanita Leisch's Civil War Civilians The other photo of Burr appears on page 257 of the Kunhardt's Matthew Brady and His World. Bill Frassaanito illustrates Chamberlain and Lyford on page 363 of Early Photography at Gettysburg. Great stuff!
    I remain as ever, your faithful & obedient servant,

    Jon Austin

    aka Benjamin Franklin Lyford, M.D.
    Drs. Chamberlain & Lyford, Principal Embalming Surgeons
    Washington City, D. C.

    Adservio mortuus quidnam es non potens adservio ipsum

    Traveling with while in the field:
    Mid-States Living History Association, Indianapolis, IN
    10th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, Springfield, IL
    The Society of Civil War Surgeons

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Northern Virginia
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    962

    Default

    Thank you for clarifying. I don't remember that much of his lecture; it was at the infamous "Bull Run Bake" of August 2001. I got tired of holding the rigor pose, so through the course of his lecture the "cadaver" finally relaxed.

    He laid his wicked chemical needle next to the side of my neck away from the crowd. I never got stripped and covered with a sheet, either.

    I'd guess that I was too "fresh" a cadaver for the livor mortis to set in. (If you realy want to look for reasons to stretch the plausibility factor.)

    Morbid as it may sound to us today: there is a correllation between the funerary and medical businesses. Obviously, one keeps the other in business, and they use similar sciences - bio chemistry and general chemistry. We think of funerary and death as morbid; the Victorians lavished in it, ergo a discussion of serious embalming practices of the era makes perfect sense. I don't have a problem with it!

    Apologies for i-jacking your thread.
    Noah Briggs

  8. #8
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    Columbus, Ohio
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    Default broken limbs in caskets

    Quote Originally Posted by funhistory
    Gentlemen:

    As suggested last week, I've posted several photos from the past season's events. The images can be viewed at http://usera.imagecave.com/funhistory. I included the "kid friendly" notation just to reassure the timid that the images are safe for viewing.
    I have a bizarre question - were limbs broken to fit in caskets that weren't custom made?
    Elizabeth Topping
    Columbus, Ohio
    "Good women are rarely clever and clever women are rarely good." Adah Issacs Menken

  9. #9
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    Default Positioning the Body in a Coffin

    Elizabeth and others,

    Aha, another of the great myths of funeral practice. The funeral directors with whom I've spoken, assure me that they never break limbs in order to place or fit a body in a casket, and they go on to report that they never heard that it was done by their fathers and grandfathers in the profession. It's certainly not a "secret" that is revealed in any of the funeral and embalming texts that started to appear in the late 1870s. Nor are there references to this practice as no longer necessary or appropriate in a maturing profession.

    One current funeral director admitted that the most radical treatment that he ever performed in over thirty years' work was to cut an Achilles tendon in order to relax a leg that was misshapen. A body can be placed in a casket in a variety of ways in order to ensure that it fits. For example, bodies aren't laid fully flat in the casket. They're generally propped up at the shoulders, which would reduce the overall height. Legs can be shortened by flexing at the knees and by rotating them to the sides at the hips (as long as only the upper torso is being viewed), and this would also reduce the overall height. The interior padding can be rearranged to create hollows.

    Unilke a modern burial casket, nineteenth century coffins and caskets came in six inch increments from infant size (at about 24") up to adult size (at 72"); so, it would unlikely that anyone would need a custom made coffin, which is another of the great myths. There were factories in the East that were producing coffins made of various materials as early as 1850; so, it wasn't necessary for the undertaker to also be a cabinetmaker. Coffins and caskets were shipped express by rail, and we have heard numerous stories from the trade that it was not uncommon for a funeral director to meet a 2:00 a.m. freight train at the station to pick up a casket that had been shipped from the nearest factory. Most urban areas had a casket factory by the 1870s. The undertaker would, however, upholster the interior of the rough box, finish or cover the exterior, and attach handles and hardware that had been selected by the survivors depending upon their means and tastes.
    I remain as ever, your faithful & obedient servant,

    Jon Austin

    aka Benjamin Franklin Lyford, M.D.
    Drs. Chamberlain & Lyford, Principal Embalming Surgeons
    Washington City, D. C.

    Adservio mortuus quidnam es non potens adservio ipsum

    Traveling with while in the field:
    Mid-States Living History Association, Indianapolis, IN
    10th Illinois Cavalry Regiment, Springfield, IL
    The Society of Civil War Surgeons

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Columbus, Ohio
    Posts
    447

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by funhistory
    Aha, another of the great myths of funeral practice. Unilke a modern burial casket, nineteenth century coffins and caskets came in six inch increments from infant size (at about 24") up to adult size (at 72"); so, it would unlikely that anyone would need a custom made coffin, which is another of the great myths. There were factories in the East that were producing coffins made of various materials as early as 1850; so, it wasn't necessary for the undertaker to also be a cabinetmaker.
    Thanks for all the info - just more myths the historical society I volunteer for insist on perpetuating, against my protestations. Seems "thrilling" visitors with lurid tales wins out over actual historical facts.
    Elizabeth Topping
    Columbus, Ohio
    "Good women are rarely clever and clever women are rarely good." Adah Issacs Menken

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