Philly Teens Kick Off PA Teen Health Week

PA Teens pose with Dr. Loren Robinson

Philadelphia area teens pose with Dr. Loren Robinson at the PA Teen Health Week proclamation, 1/25/2016

We are proud to be part of the first annual Pennsylvania Teen Health Week. Taking place from January 25-29, 2016, PA Teen Health Week focuses on raising awareness of all aspects of teen health issues including diet, self-harm, and mental and sexual health. It is the first such awareness week of its kind in the country. Yesterday afternoon the College of Physicians of Philadelphia hosted an event to officially kick off PA Teen Health Week with the help of some special guests. This initiative has been spearheaded by the Section on Public Health and Preventative Medicine of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Laura Offutt, MD, one of the driving forces behind PA Teen Health Week introduced the program. She is the founder of Real Talk with Dr. Offutt, an interactive web-based program devoted to informing teens about health issues that directly affect them. Working with a team of teenagers, Dr. Offutt has tackled such issues as bullying, reproductive health, and nutrition (Teens interested in health issues can also anonymously submit questions for future topics).

Following Dr. Offutt on was Loren Robinson, MD, MSHP, FAAP, the Deputy Secretary for Health, Promotion, and Disease Prevention, for the Pennsylvania Department of Health. She spoke on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania about the issues PA Teen Health Week addresses, emphasizing that the week is to promote awareness of all the health issues facing teens today.

However the highlight of the event came when seven local teens read aloud Governor Tom Wolf’s proclamation to kick off the week. Included in the group were teens from the College’s Youth Programs run through CEPI, who braved the elements to be there.

Philly teens read Gov. Tom Wolfe's proclamation to kick of PA Teen Health Week


CEPI is excited to be a part of this great event, and we are all proud of the students who came to show their support!

CEPI Curiosities: John Scott Harrison and the “Sack-’em-up Men”

Greetings again, fellow medico-historico-philes! Kevin here and welcome to another installment of CEPI Curiosities. Last time, we tackled the alleged murder plot behind America’s twelfth president–Zachary Taylor–as forensic scientists hauled his bones out of the ground to test the late president for arsenic poisoning. This time, we’ll keep in the same thread of presidential bodies with a look at John Scott Harrison.

Image of John Scott Harrison, Used under CC License, No changes made to image

Image of John Scott Harrison, Used under CC License, No changes made to image

If you are scratching your head and trying to sift through your memory for when John Scott Harrison was president, furrow your brow no longer because he was never elected nor did he serve as America’s Chief Executive. However, JSH had the unique distinction of being the son of one President–William Henry Harrison–and the father of another–Benjamin Harrison. JSH’s political career was not quite as storied as his father or his son; two terms as a Congressman from Ohio (1853-1857) marked the extent of his own political achievement, after which he settled down at the family farm in North Bend, OH. However, for the purposes of this story, we are less concerned with JHS’s life and more on what happened after his death.

JSH died on May 25, 1878, at the age of seventy-three and was buried in the family plot in North Bend, OH. The same week, 23-year-old Augustus Devin died of tuberculosis and was buried in the same cemetery. During Harrison’s funeral, it was uncovered that Devin’s body had been removed from its final resting place. Fearing it had been taken as a cadaver, Harrison’s son–also named John– and his cousin George Eaton began to search the local medical colleges for Devin’s body. Their search eventually led them to Cincinnati’s Ohio Medical College on May 30, 1878. While they found no sign of Devin, they discovered a windlass with a taut rope leading to an underground space, whereupon John Harrison operated a winch to lift the rope only to find his father’s remains hanging on the other end! The stunning discovery of John Scott Harrison prompted a scandal in Ohio and attracted national attention. Local papers, such as the Cincinnati Commercial recounted the horror in sensational detail:

“Harrison, with eyes starting from their sockets, shrank, almost in fear, from the awful spectacle that was presented. He had before him…the corpse of his own old father, whom he had entombed only twenty hours before. It was there, caught by a rope around its neck–there in a black hole in the Medical College of Ohio, in the the city of Cincinnati, this body that the day before had been placed in a grave at North Bend….There is something in this situation of startling horror, this strange coincidence, this unlooked-for discovery, that challenges wonder. It is unprecedented.” “A Horror,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, May 31, 1878.

Son and future president Benjamin was understandably livid at the robbing of his father’s grave and filed suit against the college (the results of the suit have been lost). Incidentally, Devin’s remains were eventually discovered among the specimens in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. The scandal prompted several states to pass acts to provide medical specimens for dissection.

As shocking as the tale is, the practice was not quite as unprecedented. During the nineteenth century, as anatomical study became a more prominent part of American medical education, colleges struggled to keep up with the demand for subjects. In Philadelphia acquiring subjects was extremely challenging as the demand for bodies far outpaced the supply. In an effort to alleviate this, Pennsylvania passed the Anatomy Act in 1867. Drafted by College of Physicians fellow William S. Forbes, the act was to supply human specimens from the city’s indigent and inmate populations. However, even taking from the city’s asylums and prisons was not enough to keep up with the need for cadavers, making room for a black market of human remains. Going by various names, from “resurrectionists” to “night doctors” to “sack-em-up men,” these figures would raid cemeteries for the recently-deceased and sell them to the local medical colleges.

Portrait of William S. Forbes by Thomas Eakins

Portrait of William S. Forbes by Thomas Eakins

These raids took an especially harsh toll on local poor and minority populations. In 1882, a scandal arose regarding West Philadelphia’s Lebanon Cemetery where reportedly thousands of bodies had been exhumed by resurrectionists from the predominantly African American cemetery. The most prominent figure in the case was none other than Forbes himself, who was arrested in connection with the bodysnatchers, whom he allegedly paid to supply cadavers to Thomas Jefferson Medical College. Forbes stood trial and was acquitted in 1883.

Until next time!

CEPI Curiosities: Was Zachary Taylor Murdered?

Greetings and salutations, fellow historio-medico aficionados, this is Kevin and welcome to CEPI Curiosities, a brand-new segment where we tackle the interesting and shocking of the history of medicine.

Whatever part of the political bench you sit on, it’s hard to avoid the early stages of the 2016 campaign on the news and in social media, so for our inaugural issue, why don’t we get Presidential?

Image Source: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-13012

Image Source: Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-13012

To modern audiences, the only time Zachary Taylor’s name comes up is mostly trivia games or whenever someone is called upon to name all of the presidents. After a long career in military service (during the Mexican War he earned the nickname “Old Rough and Ready”) he had a largely unsung presidency, and he died in office on July 9, 1850, a mere fifteen months into his term. Contemporary doctors cited Taylor’s official cause of death as cholera morbus, a common diagnosis of the time for someone suffering from extreme abdominal cramps and diarrhea (The Historical Library of the College of Physicians has numerous 19th century works related to cholera morbus if you’d like to learn more). Reportedly Taylor succumbed to illness after an afternoon of cherries and iced milk in the blazing Washington sun. Following his death, his remains were eventually laid to rest at the Taylor family plantation in Louisville, KY (The site of his burial is now known as the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery).

However, historical novelist Clara Rising thought there was more to the story of Taylor’s death than a fateful altercation with contaminated food. While researching a book on the late President, Rising developed a more sinister cause of death: murder by arsenic poisoning.

Determined to get to the bottom of this, Rising managed to convince descendants of Taylor to agree to have his remains exhumed so they could be examined. On June 17, 1991, officials from the Louisville Medical Examiner’s Office disinterred Taylor’s body to test the late President for arsenic, even using a heavy saw to cut through Taylor’s metal sarcophagus in the process. After which they conducted a variety of tests, examining bone, hair, and teeth samples for the deadly metal.

Image of Zachary Taylor's Mausoleum, Library of Congress, HALS KY-6

Image of Zachary Taylor’s Mausoleum, Library of Congress, HALS KY-6

Was Zachary Taylor murdered? Well if he was, according to medical examiners, it was not done with arsenic. According to Dr. Richard Greathouse, then Coroner of Jefferson County, KY, while Taylor’s remains contained trace amounts of lead, they were nowhere near the amounts needed to kill the President. Needless to say, Taylor’s remains were re-interred in Louisville and are still there to this day. Undeterred, Rising eventually self-published her work on the alleged murder of Taylor, The Taylor File: The Mysterious Death of a President, asserting her hypothesis and listing other poisons that may have been employed to dispatch “Old Rough and Ready.”