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Grave Robbers

By 1820, 19th century doctors were eager to distinguish themselves from midwives and quacks. Patients of the era wanted to be treated by physicians who understood the body's inner workings. And so it was that anatomy instruction became essential to medical education.
Burial and respect for the dead mattered deeply to Americans. The laws at that time limited doctors’ use of corpses to condemned murderers and the “unclaimed” bodies of people without family or friends to bury them. Regardless the laws, in the quest to find cadavers to practice on, early doctors made the practice of robbing graves quite common.
By 1834, a physician who had not dissected a human body was considered a disgrace to himself and to his profession. As a result, the hazardous and loathsome business of grave robbing became commonplace.
Even Dover’s own Dr. James Lathrop resorted to robbing graves for the bodies he needed to study anatomy. Dr. Robert Watson partnered with Dr. Lathrop. Together they dissected cadavers in a little house behind their office on Center Ridge Road just 500 feet east of Dover Center Road on the south side. To clean the skeletons, they boiled the bones in an apple butter kettle that Dr. Lathrop purchased from Dr. Klaatz.
The doctors acquired some of the bodies they dissected from the poor house in Elyria, but an exception to this practice bears retelling…
One day Mrs. Barclay of Dover saw Dr. Watson passing by on Lake Road in his carriage. She called him over to her barn and explained that her husband had just hung himself there. Dr. Watson hastily agreed to cut the man down. Mrs. Barclay was so grateful to the good doctor that she offered her husband’s body for his kindness. Watson accepted and drove off with the dead man sitting beside him in his carriage.


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