Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ben's bones

The title of this post does not refer to the bones of American statesman Benjamin Franklin (he died and was buried in Philadelphia), but to the bones discovered buried in the basement of the London house he lived in from 1757 to 1775. As ambassador for the American colonies, he occupied an elegant 4-story Georgian house at No. 36 Craven Street. Friends of Benjamin Franklin House raised money to convert the building into a museum in 1998, by which time it had become dilapidated. A construction worker was the first to discover skeletal remains in a pit in a windowless basement room. Excavation revealed some 1,200 pieces of bone, representing the remains of 10 bodies, 6 of them children – and they would have been deposited while Franklin was in residence. Because the bones bore the marks of a saw, a scalpel, and a drill, it was deduced that these were not murder victims but subjects of anatomical study by Ben's friend William Hewson. "Researchers think that 36 Craven was an irresistible spot for Hewson to establish his own anatomy lab. The tenant was a trusted friend, the landlady was his mother-in-law, and he was flanked by convenient sources for corpses. Bodies could be smuggled from graveyards and delivered to the wharf at one end of the street, or snatched from the gallows at the other end."

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