"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Gustave Dore, The Severed Head of Bertrand de Born Speaks

Not long ago, news stories circulated that a doctor was planning to attempt a human head transplant. Well, according to report, our ancestors sailed that particular ship a long time ago. This charming tale appeared in various magazines and newspapers in October and November of 1869:

A Florence newspaper, L'ltalie, extracts from the "Annales de la Medecine et de la Chirurgie Etrangere" the following extraordinary history:--

"On the 18th of April, 1868, in the prison of Villarica (province of Minas-Geraes), in Brazil, two men named Aveiro and Carines were executed at the same time. In Brazil executions take place with closed doors, in the interior of the prison. Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo, of Rio Janeiro, well known by savants for his remarkable works on electricity applied to physiology, his surgical skill, and his success in autoplastic operations, obtained permission to profit by this event in order to experiment on the power of electricity, and illustrate its analogy with some of the phenomena of life. The numerous experiments hitherto attempted have been made on the head and trunk separately. Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo's design was, if possible, to unite the head to the neck after decapitation. The heads of the two criminals fell within a few minutes of each other into the same basket; first that of Carines, then that of Aveiro. Immediately after this second execution a compression was effected by a pupil of Dr. Lorenzo on the carotid arteries of one of the heads so as to stop the hemorrhage. The body was then placed on a bed already prepared, and Dr. Lorenzo stuck the head as exactly as possible on the section and kept it in that position. The cells of a powerful electric pile were applied to the base of the neck and on the breast. Under this influence, as in former experiments, the respiratory movements were at once perceptible. As the blood, which penetrated in abundance through the surface of the scar, threatened to stop the passage of air, Dr. Lorenzo had recourse to tracheotomy.  Respiration then ensued regularly. The head was fastened to the body by stitches and by a special apparatus. The physiologist wished to ascertain for how long a time this appearance of life could thus be artificially maintained. His astonishment was great when he saw that at the end of two hours not only did respiration still continue under the influence of the electric current, but that circulation had even resumed a certain regularity. The pulse beat feebly, but sensibly. The experiment was continued without intermission.

"At the end of sixty-two hours it was evident, to the astonishment of every one, that a process of cicatrization had commenced on the lips of the section. A little later signs of life manifested themselves spontaneously in the head and limbs till then deprived of motion. At this moment the director of the prison arriving for the first time in the experiment room observed that by a singular mistake, due to the haste of the operation, the head of Carines had been taken for that of Aveiro, and had been applied to the body of the latter. The experiment was continued notwithstanding. [Ed. note: ??!!!] Three days later the respiratory movements reproduced themselves and electricity was suppressed. Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo, and his assistants were stupefied, frightened at a result so unexpected, and at the power of an agent which, in their hands, had restored life to a body whose right to exist the law had forfeited.

"The learned surgeon, who had only had in view a simple physiological experiment, employed all his skill to continue this work, which science, aided against all expectation by nature, had so singularly commenced. He assisted the process of cicatrization, which progressed under the most favorable conditions. By means of an oesophagian probe liquid nourishment was introduced into the stomach. At the end of about three months the cicatrization was complete, and motion, though still difficult, became more and more extended. At length, at the end of seven months and a half, Aveiro-Carines was able to rise and walk, feeling only a slight stiffness in the neck and a feebleness in the limbs. 
"So ends this remarkable story. Who can tell the results of scientific investigation carried so far? In families natural defects may be remedied by readjusting heads and bodies not originally proportioned for each other, and human beings dissatisfied with their sex may, under the benevolent system of Dr. Lorenzo y Carmo, repair the error of their origin. It will be a question for lawyers to determine to what nationality these future beings are to belong if head and body have previously owed a separate allegiance. But if the system holds good in violent deaths, surely it may be applied to deaths ensuing, as the coroners' juries have it, from natural cause?. In this case we might preserve our statesmen and celebrities forever. Opponents of the system would, however, be found in heirs-apparent."
So I suppose the motto here is: Never lose your head. You might not get the right one back.


  1. Dr Carmo must have been a big fan of Frankenstein - but not of ethics. Another excellent example of scientists doing something because they can, not because they should. Do they ever act differently?

  2. Don't believe it but points for using the word cictrix.

  3. Obviously a complete hoax or someones attempt at horror writing a la Frankenstein! How could you even reattach a head without the necessary microsurgery to reattach nerves and blood vessels or a body still move once the spinal cord has been severed, i.e. paraplegia, let alone get up and walk away after seven months. Furthermore, the wrong head on the wrong body would lead to rejection (the same problem faced today with organ donation). Any supposed movement in the corpse could have been simply due to the electrical effect on muscles akin to Galvani's frog experiments. All in all complete bullshit but no doubt some would have believed it at the time!

    1. Oh, I know it's obviously a hoax, but it's such a delightfully ghastly one that I felt I must share it with the world.


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