JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
This is the 15th installment of a new series on United States Patent Reports on electrical quackery and unsubstantiated bric--a-brac from the newly-electric world of the period of 1870-1900--the following is a little outside the norm, being French, but I couldn't resist it.
When a picture just isn't enough...
And while we’re at it, let’s consider the work of Dr. Varlot (of the Paris Hospital) in electrocuting the dead. Actually, what he proposed was another pretty gruesome use of electricity, though this one didn't make promises of miraculous cures, or execute anyone. Varlot proposed to “metalize” the dead (as we see in this very unsettling image of a child being electroplated) for, well, some purpose, purpose unknown. It just seems and seemed like a bad idea, all the way around--a poster child for Bad Ideas everywhere. The medical uses of an electroplated baby seem very limited, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do such a thing to a dead child of their own. It is wrong on every level.
The engraving comes from Leonard de Vries, Victorian Inventions" (1971), who quotes the original source (the Scientific American for 1891) with this description of the procedure:
"Dr Varlot, a surgeon in a major hospital in Paris, has developed a method of covering the body of a deceased person with a layer of metal in order to preserve it for eternity. The drawing illustrates how this is done with the cadaver of a child. The body is first made electrically conductive by atomising nitrate of silver on to it. To free the silver in this solution, the object is placed under a glass dome from which the air is evacuated and exposed to the vapours of white phosphorous dissolved in carbon disulphide. Having been made conductive, the body is immersed in a galvanic bath of sulphate of copper, thus causing a 1 millimetre thick layer of metallic copper to be deposited on the skin. The result is a brilliant red copper finish of exceptional strength and durability."
Another method of electroplating the dead (in 1934) is discussed in the interesting blog, Quigley's Cabinet, here.