George Washington: General, President…Zombie?

On December 14, 1799, George Washington died. A few days later, William Thornton – the architect who designed the U.S. Capitol – visited the widow Martha Washington. Did Thornton offer to turn President Washington into a zombie?

Did William Thornton offer to turn George Washington into a Zombie?

George Washington: General, President…Zombie?
Attribution: Rembrandt Peale (1850)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Did President George Washington almost become a Zombie?

Yes, in a manner of speaking. Richard Thornton did offer to reanimate the deceased President, in effect turning him into a zombie. Specifically, he proposed to thaw Washington’s frozen body and then warm it up by rubbing it with blankets. Next, he wanted to perform a tracheotomy on the neck of George Washington and insert a fire bellows into it. This would, he believed, allow him to pump air back into Washington’s lungs. Finally, he would give George Washington a blood transfusion. But not just any transfusion. He wanted to use lamb’s blood which at the time was considered to have special healing properties. The procedure was never performed however, as Washington’s friends and family declined.

Here’s more on George Washington almost becoming a zombie from io9:

George Washington may have been America’s first president, but was he nearly America’s first zombie-in-chief? If William Thornton, physician and designer of the US Capitol, had had his way, Washington’s body would have been subjected a scientific experiment designed to bring the deceased former president back to life.

…But Washington’s body was not buried immediately after his death. The president may not have feared death, but he did fear being buried alive. Before he died, he commanded his secretary, Tobias Lear, to make sure that he would not be entombed less than three days after he died. In accordance with Washington’s wishes, his body was put on ice until it could be moved to the family vault.

That’s where the story gets a little strange.

(See the rest on George Washington almost becoming a zombie at io9)

Zombies…in Ancient Ireland?

In 2005, a team of archaeologists began surveying Medieval churches in Kilteasheen, Ireland. In the process, they stumbled onto a mysterious burial ground. What they found shocked them. Did the ancient Irish fear an invasion…from zombies?

Zombie from Night of the Living Dead

“Bill Hinzman as the cemetery zombie from Night of the Living Dead (1968).”
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Strange Skeletons in Ireland?

The archaeological team in question was led by Chris Read and Thomas Finan. From 2005 to 2009, they unearthed 137 skeletons at a site near Loch Key in Ireland. These skeletons are probably just the tip of the iceberg and its believed that some 3,000 bodies remain in the area. Two of the skeletons were grotesquely unique. Why?

Because each skeleton’s mouth was filled…with a “baseball-sized rock.”

Pretty gruesome. The two skeletons were male and buried next to each other. One man was between 40 to 60 years old while the other one was closer to 20 to 30 years old. They lived in Ireland around the 700s. And apparently, someone thought they were zombies.

“A large black stone had been deliberately thrust into his mouth. The other had his head turned to the side and had an even larger stone wedged quite violently into his mouth so that his jaws were almost dislocated.” Chris Read, Head of Applied Archaeology at the Institute of Technology in Sligo, Ireland

Ancient Zombies?

The stones may have been part of an ancient ritual designed to ensure that dead people, well, stayed dead. A similar ritual was observed during the Middle Ages. At that time, it was thought that deceased vampires spread the Black Death by “chewing on their shrouds after dying” (see here for my story on a more likely source for the Black Death…a comet). Stones were inserted into the mouths of so-called vampires to stop this from happening. But since vampires weren’t big in European folklore in the 700s, the archaeologists have assumed that the ancient Irish were worried about zombies instead.

“[The mouth] was viewed as the main portal for the soul to leave the body upon death. Sometimes, the soul could come back to the body and re-animate it or else an evil spirit could enter the body through the mouth and bring it back to life.” ~ Chris Read

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

It seems pretty clear that these two men were societal outsiders for one reason or another. But were they really considered “zombies” by ancient Irishmen? Maybe. Still, it should be noted that the skeletons appear to predate written records of such creatures.

Nowadays, zombies have become a significant part of the horror genre. But if Read and Finan are right, then many centuries ago zombies were regarded as much more than mere fiction…they were a horrifying reality…reality that could only be stopped with a stone in the mouth.