Monday, December 12, 2011

Shoe leather

When I was studying anthropodermic books in graduate school, I came across related examples of items other than book-bindings made from human skin. Among them was this pair of shoes (
2nd image, color photo here) fashioned from the hide of "Big Nose" George Parrott. Thanks go to Sue for bringing the story back to mind so that I can relay it to you. It will not be my 1st post about shoes (see Burial shoes, Klompen, and Gumshoe), but it may be the strangest...

George Parrott a.k.a. George Manuse and George Warden was an American cattle rustler. In 1878, after he and his gang bungled a train robbery in Wyoming, they murdered 2 lawmen, resulting in a $20,000 bounty offered for their apprehension. The following year, still at large, they pulled off the daring daytime robbery of as much as $14,000 from wealthy Montana merchant Morris Cahn - despite the fact that Cahn was traveling with more than 2 dozen army troops. Still in Montana, Big Nose George was arrested in 1880 and returned to Wyoming to face charges of murder. He almost managed to escape from jail days before he was to hang, and an outraged lynch mob some 200-strong strung Parrott up from a telegraph pole. The doctors who took possession of the body after death used its components for a number of purposes:

  • They studied the outlaw's brain for clues to his criminality.
  • They sawed off his cranium and presented it to Lillian Heath, who later became Wyoming's 1st female doctor, and is said to have used it as an ashtray, a pen holder, and doorstop.
  • A death mask was made of Parrott's face.
  • The skin of his thighs and chest was removed and sent to a tannery in Denver, where it was made into a medical bag and a pair of shoes that one of the doctors wore to his inaugural ball when he was elected governor of Wyoming in 1892.
Big Nose George's dismembered body was finally buried behind the doctor's office after it had been preserved for about a year in a whiskey barrel filled with brine. It wasn't until 1950 that the remains resurfaced - still in the barrel stumbled upon by construction workers. Inside were the skull (minus the cranium) and the shoes (photo here). An elderly Dr. Heath sent the skull cap to the scene and it matched up perfectly. Much later, DNA testing confirmed the identity and journalist Chuck Woodbury touched Big Nose George's preserved skin:
"I was incredibly lucky to visit the day that photographer Craig Pindell and historian/writer Larry K. Brown were photographing George for the archives of the Wyoming State Museum. After they were done, they put the shoes and skull back in the normally closed-up glass case. When they weren't looking, I managed to cop a feel of the shoes, which are 2-toned. They're skin color on the front and brown in back - kinda like saddle shoes. Only the soles are made of cow leather. And they are very worn, proving that the doctor wore his George shoes a lot. I rubbed the shoes. I figured they'd be flimsy. I was shocked that they were very sturdy."
The shoes, partial skull, and death mask are on permanent display at the Carbon County Museum (photos here and here). The skull cap may be seen at the Union Pacific Museum. The medicine bag has never been found...

NOTE: If you are hungry for another instance of shoes made from human hide, have a look at this 1883 report about the alleged gruesome activities that took place at the Tewksbury State Almshouse in Massachusetts. Among other abuses, the lengthy report details the tanning of human hides and includes patterns for cutting the leather and a photograph of a sample that was entered into evidence.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may add your comments here.