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My laptop at the old Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn (not the magnificent new space)

My laptop at the old Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn (not the magnificent new space)

2014 was tumultuous but productive, marked by the the kind of brush fires that are essential for clearing out the old and propagating the new. And while it hasn’t always been an easy year, one of the things I most enjoyed was getting to write slightly longer pieces that combine my curious cross-section of interests: history, place, memory, mourning, and the failed ideas of science and medicine. I love discovering overlooked people and places that have something to say about the folly of the human condition, our attempts to cure and fix and master ourselves. People like Grandison Harris, the African-American man enslaved by the Georgia College of Medicine to steal bodies for the medical students, or Julia Pastrana, the 19th century Mexican bearded woman who became a sensation on stage even as doctors debated whether she was fully human. Places like Hart Island, New York City’s potters’ field, which feels like something out of Soviet Russia but is just a boat ride away from Manhattan, or like London’s Cross Bones graveyard, which a modern shaman has helped rescue from obscurity, revealing layers upon layers of that city’s darkest social and sexual histories.

Stygian as these stories may seem, there is usually some light along the way: reversals of fortune, friends who appear just when they’re needed most, criminals put behind bars, forgotten graves finally marked, promising lawsuits. Here are my favorite stories from 2014; I hope I’m lucky enough to find and produce more like them in 2015.

Julia Pastrana: A “Monster to the Whole World” The Public Domain Review

The London Graveyard That’s Become a Memorial for the City’s Seedier Past Smithsonian.com

The Doctor Who Starved Her Patients to Death Smithsonian.com

Meet Grandison Harris, the Grave Robber Enslaved (and then Employed) By the Georgia College of Medicine Smithsonian.com

The Graves of Forgotten New Yorkers New York Times

How the Ouija Board Got Its Name Atlas Obscura

Trap Streets: Copyrighting Cartography with Fictional Places Atlas Obscura

The Gory New York City Riot that Shaped American Medicine Smithsonian.com

Maude Paris Review Daily

Of course, none of these articles would appear without the community of writers and editors who inspire me, edit me, and publish my stuff. If places like the Smithsonian Magazine’s website, Atlas Obscura, and Lapham’s Quarterly didn’t exist, I’d probably still just be a disgruntled teenager scribbling in her notebook. At least now I can write on a laptop!

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One thought on “2014 Year in Review: Slightly Stygian

  1. According to the principle that nothing happen randomly, I had the chance to read your article about Einstein’s brain theft on a site. You tried to explain the morbid attraction for dead body parts of “celebrities”, and I think you made the point.
    You also mentioned the “relics”, parts or whole bodies of so call “saints”, object of adoration/possession of some living persons, in different traditions/religions. The fact is that those relics really “works”, as long as it was part of a holly person/enlighten person.
    I had this sort of experiences, whit dead bodies, some 30 years ago, and, at first, it felt like an electrical “discharge” when I first touched a skull, for example, than nothing, I mean the second time, third, so on. Practically, I was “feeling” it just the first time I’ve touched a new part of a new body.
    Now I know that it was treating about the remnants of a form of energy that is lost in the dying process, a tinny bit of the “holly spirit” or kundalini, that animates the living ones.
    The relics are different, cause they had kept in the corpse, the high frequency vibe of the holly spirit that animated the person during the life on earth, and could even perform “miracles” whit it.
    I am sort of “sensitive” of this type of energy, and I “measured” the relic of the Orthodox Christian Saint Friday, AKA Αγία Παρασκευή, in Greek, that lies at The Orthodox Cathedral in Iasi Romania. She has her story, you could find it if you want.
    She’s the object of worship round here, believers often pray to her to fulfill they’re whishes.
    I went also to pray and study, in order to figure out the mechanism involved, so I spent hours, days, almost years till I’ve got the right answer.
    At the end, the whole thing is simple, cause it treats about frequencies. How it works, the relic has his own high frequency and high amplitude vibe that emerge constantly from the mummified body, entering from feet and coming out from the top of the skull. I felt this energy strongly, almost like an air breeze. When someone prays near by, his brain waves overlays on those of the relic involved, creating very high amplitude harmonic waves, that has a better chance to reach the consciousness energetic field addressed, been that Jesus, God, whatever, and slightly modify the situation that the person wants to.
    As for miracles, during the WWI, the relics were to be moved to a safer location, till war ends. So, the small silver coffin containing the body of St Friday was put on a train wagon, to be relocated elsewhere. At the time the train was to start moving, it stalled, cause the relic manifested the shiddhi of been heavy as a mountain, preventing the train to start, cause she didn’t wanted to leave the town. The relics were putted back in place and the war ended whit no major damage in the city.
    I hope I had opened a new prospective on your field of interest.
    Funny thing, the relics don’t censure, you could ask for any thing.
    I hope this message is enough clear, despite my poor English.

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