I’m a collector of things– I think perhaps I was a crow in a past life. If I see a bone, a feather, something shiny, something round, I’m going to pick it up, and it doesn’t stop with shiny things… I LOVE old documents.
Strange doesn’t even begin to describe two of my favorite pieces in my collection– a letter from from the WV Hospital for the Insane dated 1888 discussing the examination of two cadavers who would later become known as the Phillipi Mummies , and a letter from the Smithsonian denying entry of the mummies into their collection because the “scientist” who embalmed them refused to reveal his secret recipe.
If you haven’t heard of the Phillipi mummies, Google it! Their history is filled with oddity including a ridiculous tour of Europe with P.T. Barnum. For a small donation you can still view the mummies at the Barbour County Historical Museum. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (WV Hospital for the Insane) is also worth a trip if you’re ever in the Weston area. I love how Rebecca Jordan Gleason is keeping the place alive. She’s doing great things!
If you’re interested in history, I encourage you to get out there and hunt for pieces that not only hold monetary value, but hunt for pieces that also tell a story! Don’t discount old documents. They can be incredibly intriguing!
Curious minds read on. Here’s the contents of the handwritten letter from the hospital:
To Whom it May Concern,
On the 14th day of Feb: 1888, the Superintendent of the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, delivered to G.H. Hamrick two adult-female cadavers to be placed in the morgue of the aforesaid hospital; for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not said G.H. Hamrick could preserve or embalm them, for which he claims to have a method or process—On April 9th 1888- or 50 days after delivery, the said bodies were examined by the Superintendent and his associates, and we signify & declare to the best of our judgment there is no decomposition taking place in the cadavers at the present time. –W.J. Bland, M.D., Superintendent