Famous Exhumations American Statesman John Scott Harrison

About the American statesman John Scott Harrison and history of his exhumation.


JOHN SCOTT HARRISON (1804-1878), U.S. representative

John Scott Harrison's political career as a Whig congressman from Ohio was undistinguished, but he provided a link in America's political chain. His father, William, was the 9th president, and his son, Benjamin, became the 23rd.

Harrison died of natural causes and was buried in North Bend, O. During the funeral it was noticed that the recent grave of a family friend, Augustus Devin, had been disturbed. A brief investigation revealed that his body had been stolen. The Harrisons took steps to protect their father from a similar fate. They bricked his grave, cemented it, and laid a ton of marble slabs on top of it. They also hired two watchmen.

After the funeral, Benjamin returned to Indiana, but his brother, John Junior, went to Cincinnati to look for Devin's body. He searched the Ohio Medical College without results. As he was about to leave, however, a rope was discovered in a chute. At the end of it was the corpse of an old man. A cloth was taken from the man's head, and John Junior shouted, "My God, that's my father!" Indeed, instead of Devin, it was John Scott Harrison, who had been buried the day before.

The ensuing furor, led by Benjamin, occupied the Harrisons, the medical school, and the citizens of Ohio for some time. Benjamin sought to punish the body snatchers. A college janitor was arrested and indicted. The school tried to defend itself. Dr. William Seely of the college said the entire affair "matters little, since it would all be the same on the day of resurrection." But it did matter to the Harrisons, and Benjamin never got over "the taste of hell which came from the discovery of a father's body hanging by the neck, like that of a dog, in the pit of a medical college."

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