When I first heard about the bizarre phenomenon found under the home of Benjamin Franklin, I thought of a few possibilities. The remains, found in 1998, consisted of 1,200 bones are believed to be from more than 15 human bodies found in the basement of Ben Franklin’s house. Six of the bodies were children. My first thought was, “Please tell me that this is some Indian burial site, or that there is some logical explanation as to why there would be bodies buried in this hero Founding Father’s home.” I have always liked Ben Franklin. I found his “antics” to be so interesting. To say the least, he was a bit strange in his experimentations, and that was enough to make me wonder (and hope it wasn’t so) if Ben Franklin could possibly have some horrid alter ego. He wouldn’t be the first scientist to go off the deep end to experiment on human bodies, but then again, there certainly are people today that have chosen to donate their bodies to science, so why couldn’t that be the case back then. I prayed that was the case.

At this point, many people would immediately assume that Ben Franklin was some kind of closet killer, who tortured and murdered his victims. It would be thought that the world had been so naive, that we lived in the dark for years, but before you go crafting a murder mystery about him, please be aware that it was revealed that the bodies were used in the study of human anatomy. So, it actually was bodies donated for scientific research. I certainly didn’t know that they did that sort of thing back then, but it seems that they did.

The house, located in London, England was undergoing some conservation work in 1998, when the bones were discovered. Some of the bodies were dismembered, or had trepanned skulls, which is skulls with holes drilled through them. Ben Franklin had lived home in London for nearly twenty years leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was more than 200 years later, when the conservation work uncovered the 15 bodies in the basement, buried in a secret, windowless room beneath the garden. While on could imagine horrible things, “The most plausible explanation is not mass murder, but an anatomy school run by Benjamin Franklin’s young friend and protege, William Hewson.” So, it would seem that Ben Franklin either loaned the home to Hewson (a surgeon), stored the bodies for Hewson, or allowed Hewson to do his scientific experiments in the room in the Franklin house. Whatever the case may be, it is apparently well enough documented that the authorities were satisfied that Ben Franklin wasn’t personally involved.

One such speculation was that “Anatomy was still in its infancy, but the day’s social and ethical mores frowned upon it. … A steady supply of human bodies was hard to come by legally, so Hewson, Hunter, and the field’s other pioneers had to turn to grave robbing—either paying professional ‘resurrection men’ to procure cadavers or digging them up themselves—to get their hands on specimens. 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. When he was done with them, Hewson simply buried whatever was left of the bodies in the basement, rather than sneak them out for disposal elsewhere and risk getting caught and prosecuted for dissection and grave robbing.” Some people speculate that Ben Franklin knew about the goings on, but was not personally involved, still, they thought he might have gone to the lab a few times to check out the proceedings. I hate to think that he knew anything about it, and I would prefer to think that the study of anatomy was done in his absence, but I suppose that our modern-day anatomy studies and autopsies were probably pioneered in a basement somewhere.

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