Chronicle 225

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'Resurrection Man' supplied cadavers to medical college

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Grandison Harris was the famous "Resurrection Man" of the Medical College of Georgia.

Harris  Special
Special
Harris

Playfully given the nickname by doctors in the mid-1800s, Harris was a 36-year-old Gullah slave purchased by the Medical College in 1852.

His job was simple: rob graves at Augusta's black Cedar Grove Cemetery and bring bodies back to the school.

He was even taught by faculty members to read and write and kept abreast of funerals by reading newspaper obituaries.

When night fell, he would remove the bodies so carefully that no one could tell the grave had been disturbed.

Before acquiring Harris, MCG faculty had tried several methods of getting cadavers. At first, they were purchased locally for 75 cents each, but there weren't enough to meet the college's needs. In 1839, the school ordered $100 worth of bodies from New York. They were preserved for the trip in barrels of whiskey.

Grave robbing was illegal, of course, but the crime often was ignored, and the medical school's faculty was never reprimanded.

When the Civil War ended slavery, Harris briefly left the school. But he returned as a porter, getting paid $8 a month. Robbing graves was still in his unofficial job description.

He died in 1911 at 95.

Three days later, the old grave robber returned to Cedar Grove -- this time as a resident of the cemetery he had plundered for more than 50 years.

Harris' handiwork drew renewed interest in 1989, when construction workers made a gruesome discovery at the Old Medical College on Telfair Street. The remains of 400 cadavers were discovered beneath the 154-year-old building.

They were eventually turned over to local officials for burial at Cedar Grove. A graveside service was held at the cemetery, and the remains were reburied in 1998.


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