015 - Galvanism

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Dr. Gerard
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015 - Galvanism

Post by Dr. Gerard » Tue Sep 18, 2012 2:05 am

Many people have heard of a “galvanized” metal nail, or a group of people “galvanized” to action by some inciting event.
But few know that the word is named after an 18th century Italian physician who sparked a chain of bizarre experiments with electricity. Luigi Galvani pioneered the strange science of “medical electricity.”

While skinning a frog in his laboratory one day, Galvani accidentally touched a nerve in the frog’s leg with a metal scalpel that happened to be charged with static electricity. The scalpel sparked. The frog’s leg twitched as if suddenly brought to life.

Galvani plunged into a lifelong obsession with bioelectricity. He thought that a fluid form of electricity was carried by nerves to muscles. But his research was cut short due to a political upheaval at his university.

Galvani’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini, took up his uncle’s experiments and brought his findings to the public. In a macabre demonstration in London in 1802, Aldini used powerful batteries to wire up the heads and decapitated carcasses of cows, horses, dogs and sheep.

Attendees reported seeing a decapitated cow wired at the stump of its neck kicking its legs and flopping on the operating theater table. The disembodied heads of dogs and horses opened their eyes. Their jaws chewed at the air.

In January the next year, he got permission to experiment on the body of a hanged criminal, George Forster. Forster was convicted of killing his wife and children, though there are rumors his confession was given under duress.

Aldini even pulled strings to speed up the man’s prosecution and execution, to make sure the body was as fresh as possible.
Then, he displayed the body for the public to see. First, he pumped electrical current into the man’s face. A journalist present reported that:
“The jaws of the deceased criminal began to quiver, and the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and one eye was actually opened.”
Aldini also inserted an electrified rod into the cavity of the body, which caused Forster’s cadaver kick and punch wildly. The illusion that Forster had been brought back to life was so convincing that people in the crowd shouting for the condemned man’s corpse to be hanged again.

The incident likely inspired the notable work of Mary Shelley, and could have played a role in that strange infamous case of two rogue medical students* that were debarred from our own Medical School by Dean Halsey some years ago.

* One Herbert West and an unnamed confessor; the investigation is ongoing.
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Re: 015 - Galvanism

Post by Dr. Gerard » Tue Sep 18, 2012 4:24 am

Just thought I'd post some of the illustrations of Aldini's work...

Image

From an excerpt of this site about Aldini...

"The flavor of Aldini’s work is captured well in the following extract from his experiment #22 (performed on the severed head of a 'malefactor'):
The first of these decapitated criminals being conveyed to the apartment provided for my experiments, in the neighbourhood of the place of execution, the head was first subjected to the Galvanic action. For this purpose I had constructed a pile consisting of a hundred pieces of silver and zinc. Having moistened the inside of the ears with salt water, I formed an arc with two metallic wires, which, proceeding from the two ears, were applied, one to the summit and the other to the bottom of the pile. When this communication was established, I observed strong contractions in the muscles of the face, which were contorted in so irregular a manner that they exhibited the appearance of the most horrid grimaces. The action of the eye-lids was exceedingly striking, though less sensible in the human head than in that of an ox.
Image

Aldini electrifies the body of a "malefactor" (London, 1803)

And this, from a French attempt to animate a body with electric current...

Image

"Le docteur Ure galvanisant le corps de l'assassin Clydsdale."

[Dr. Ure galvanizing the body of the murderer Clydsdale]

From Louis Figuier, Les merveilles de la Science (Paris, 1867), p. 653.
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Re: 015 - Galvanism

Post by TAK » Tue Sep 18, 2012 9:31 am

Yeah, I wonder why this kind of experimenting has been stopped, I can only imagine how fun seeing that corpse come alive would've been.

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Re: 015 - Galvanism

Post by jovial1 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 11:52 pm

In catching up on episodes, I listened to this episode (and this lecture) this week. This was actually covered on Dark Matters, in the first season (currently available for viewing on Netflix and Amazon Prime.) Incidentally, this is also a great show for weird/dark ideas.

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Re: 015 - Galvanism

Post by Dr. Gerard » Sat Apr 20, 2013 1:10 am

Cool! I'll have to check that out. I seem to be infringing on same territory as many other "weird stuff" shows and podcasts. Especially with "Monster Talk." I've crossed a few of my ideas off the list after hearing something similar on the show. Have they done one about the Globsters yet?

Sometimes it's quite intentional -- I ripped off a lot of the "Count St. Germain" one from Nimoy's old In Search Of show. When I do, I try to add a little extra research just to make it fresh.
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Re: 015 - Galvanism

Post by Dr. Gerard » Sat Apr 20, 2013 1:13 am

TAK wrote:Yeah, I wonder why this kind of experimenting has been stopped, I can only imagine how fun seeing that corpse come alive would've been.
Haven't you been to Disneyland? They have Abe Lincoln's head greeting guests using some kind of profane electric experiments...
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