August 30th, 2009 at 6:09 pm (Articles)
Yes, I said Grave Torpedoes. Who knew there was such a thing? On July 6th I watched an episode of “History Detectives” on PBS called “Cemetery Alarms” . By the way, I love this show. If you have never watched, the theme of the show is people write in with items that they believe to have great historical significance. I have never been disappointed yet. This is a great show for anyone that loves family history and all the little treasures that you may find hidden away.
The person that was requesting the research thought that he had a “Grave Torpedo” that was used to protect the precious items that would have been buried with someone deceased. It made sense to me. A little dangerous, but it might stop the dreaded grave robbers.
As the episode progressed and researcher began looking in the area that the owner lived in, Illinois I believe. Once the researcher visited the local mortuaries and historical societies, he was amazed to find exactly what he was looking for, but with a twist.
In the 1800’s the local medical schools found they had a shortage of “bodies” to do training on. Usually they were bodies that had been unclaimed from death row or local infirmaries and such. Unsavory characters would go out and dig up bodies for this purpose. To stop this practice, the “Grave Torpedo” was designed. To everyone’s surprise, it was not for the protection of valuables as was thought, but to protect the poor souls that had died and were unprotected.
My point in sharing this story is to first inform you of a possible danger when looking through old cemeteries. Ask the cemetery staff if these might have been used in the area you are researching. Also remember when placing flowers or memorial items to only dig or place items in the first foot of earth. The “torpedoes” should have been placed directly on top of the casket. By asking a few simple questions of the cemetery or city staff, you might save yourself some real trouble.
Another great point is to watch shows like “History Detectives” or “Antiques Roadshow” from time to time. Many of our items we cherish as just an heirloom my just give us that clue that we were hoping for.