Cranioklepty: A History of Phrenological Graverobbing
Saturday, Sept. 13th, 2008
With the rise of phrenology, the early 19th century saw a host of bizarre grave robberies, in which the graves of famous men were plundered for their owners’ skulls. Both scientific curiosities and morbid fetishes, the skulls became subject to extended legal battles between religious and secular authorities over who owns these remains, while phrenologists continued to study them for visible proof of genius. Colin Dickey will discuss the history of these skull thefts and the motivations of their perpetrators, as well as tracing the long and bizarre odysseys of several famous heads, including those of Mozart, Haydn, Descartes, and Sir Thomas Browne, who had famously written what a “tragical abomination” it is to be “gnawed out of one’s grave,” some 150 years before his own skull was plundered in 1840.