Sunday, October 5, 2008

Samuel Pickering

My favorite professor while at the University of Connecticut was Samuel Pickering, who still teaches in the English Department. He is a prolific essayist and an inspiration for the Robin Williams character in the film Dead Poets Society. I reestablished contact with him several years ago and sent occasional e-mails about my progress toward my M.A. When I told him I was writing about anthropodermic books and that the trial transcript of William Corder--bound in his own hide--was on display, his response included a quote from “Anchorite,” an unpublished essay of his about the museum at the back of Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh:

Displayed in a separate case along with historical matter describing William Burke’s malevolent doings was a pocketbook, the cover of which had been fashioned from Burke’s skin. “Skin from his forearms,” a volunteer told me…In Edinburgh Burke’s skin has the status of a relic, demonic but still a relic worthy of display.

William Burke and his partner in crime William Hare were notorious bodysnatchers and it was thought quite fitting that Burke's sentence for his multiple murders to supply doctors with bodies for dissection was to be anatomized himself. Today, his skeleton (pictured above) and death mask are also on display.

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