The Bodies in Benjamin Franklin's Basement

The Bodies in Benjamin Franklin's Basement

In December of 1997, builders working on an elegant townhouse on 36 Craven Street made a chilling discovery. The construction crew had been renovating the old building to house the stylish new Benjamin Franklin Museum. However, in the basement of the home where founding father Benjamin Franklin had once lived, the skeletal remains of at least 28 humans including infants were unearthed, shocking and horrifying the construction crew.

This prompted the crew to immediately call the police. Was this the work of a horrific serial killer? The truth was even more bizarre. As police opened investigation on the site, it was found that the bones dated back to the mid-1700s; the time in which Mr. Franklin resided in the building. So was America’s lauded founding father a serial killer? Not exactly.

During the mid 1700s, Benjamin Franklin and his associate William Hewson ran an anatomy school in Mr. Franklin’s basement. At the time, anatomy was in its infancy, and it was uncommon that any respectable person would donate their body to science. Many superstitions surrounded death and burial, and the early American clergy had specific ways in which human remains were to be handled. For this reason, scientists weren’t able to obtain human cadavers to study through conventional routes.

Like other anatomists of their day, Franklin and Hewson were known to rob graves in order to dissect and study the bodies for scientific purposes. So while it was a little eerie, the intentions of the pair were ultimately driven by curiosity and a desire to further medicine. As creepy as it is, many of our medical advancements were made due to grave-robbing anatomists and scientists like Ben Franklin.