POCSOUTH-L ArchivesArchiver > POCSOUTH > 2000-09 > 0968873613
Subject: [POCSOUTH-L Genealogy Only] RE: Grave Robber - Grandison Harris - GA
Date: Wed, 13 Sep 2000 15:33:33 EDT
Graverobbing slave had vital role for Medical College of Georgia
`Resurrection Man' retrieved cadavers from blacks' cemetery for research
Story from The Augusta Chronicle
>From Staff Reports
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- They called Grandison Harris the ``Resurrection Man.''
But few if any history books record much about Mr. Harris, who more than a
century ago helped provide Medical College of Georgia with fresh cadavers.
Playfully given the nickname Resurrection Man by doctors, Harris was a
36-year-old Gullah slave purchased for $700 off an auction block in
Charleston, S.C., by the Medical College in 1852.
His mission was morbid but simple: rob graves at Augusta's black Cedar Grove
Cemetery and bring bodies back to the school.
``It didn't take long for him to learn what they wanted him to do,'' said
historian James Carter III, a retired MCG administrator. ``And he was good.''
At a time when it was illegal for a slave to be taught to read or write,
Harris sat in on anatomy classes.
He had been taught by faculty members to read and write and kept abreast of
funerals by reading obituaries.
When night fell, he would slip out to grave sites, study the position of the
flowers and tombstones, then remove the bodies.
``Grandison could put everything back in its original position to where no
one could tell they were moved,'' Mr. Carter said in an interview in 1995.
In 1938, Eugene Murphy, an MCG professor who had observed the grave robbing,
recounted Harris' routine: ``He would go to the cemetery late at night, with
only the moon watching. He would quickly dig down to the upper end of the
box, smash it with an ax, reach in there with his long and powerful arms and
draw the subject out. He would put the subject in a big sack, place it in a
cart and carry it to the school.''
Even though Harris was accustomed to his grim job, it still made him skittish
at times. According to Mr. Carter, ``One night Grandison (who was in the
midst of a job) stopped in an alley behind a saloon and went inside to
``Two medical students who had been watching him removed the body from
Harris' sack, hid it and one of them got in the sack. When Grandison returned
to his wagon, one student groaned in a grave-like voice:
```Grandison ... Grandison ... I'm cold. Buy me a drink!'''
Before running away, Harris supposedly said, ``You buy your own drink 'cause
I'm getting out of here!''
Before acquiring Harris, MCG faculty had tried several methods of getting
At first, cadavers were purchased locally for 75 cents each, but there
weren't enough to meet the college's needs. In 1839, the school ordered $100
worth of bodies from New York. They were preserved for the trip in barrels of
``They would pay a fee to dig them up, another fee to dissect and a final fee
to reinter the remains,'' according to notes written by school officials.
Grave robbing was illegal, of course, but the crime often was ignored and the
medical school's faculty was never reprimanded.
When the Civil War ended slavery, Harris briefly left the school. But he
returned as a porter, getting paid $8 a month.
Robbing graves was still in his unofficial job description.
In 1889, as word spread throughout the black community about the use of their
dead from Cedar Grove for dissections, authorities faced civil disturbance.
``When the old folks learned about that, Augusta almost had its own riot,''
Mr. Carter said. ``They were so upset because they didn't know whose family
members had been taken.''
There is no record of what calmed the storm in the black community.
In 1908, an enfeebled Harris -- who had watched as the grandsons of MCG's
founders became doctors -- made his last appearance at the school.
He died in 1911 of heart failure at 95.
Three days later, the old grave robber returned to Cedar Grove -- this time
as a resident of the cemetery he had plundered for more than 50 years.
Harris' handiwork drew renewed interest in 1989, when construction workers
made a gruesome discovery at the Old Medical College on Telfair Street. The
remains of 400 cadavers were discovered beneath the 154-year-old building.
A few of the bones had specimen numbers written on them. A large wooden vat,
holding dozens of bones, was found. Workers found another vat that held body
parts still preserved in whiskey.
A few years after the remains were found, they were turned over to local
officials for burial at Cedar Grove. A graveside memorial service was held at
the cemetery, and the remains were reburied in 1998.
The original version of this story was published in The Augusta Chronicle in
Ruth in NC