The One with the Grave Robber

When writers are looking for story ideas, it is often suggested they “write what they know.” I think there is a lot of value to this advice, but it’s also kind of limiting. Sometimes I don’t know anything about a character or a setting or a topic, and it’s my curiosity that drives me to learn more.

So I’d like to preface the introduction to my newest short story by saying that I have no hands-on experience with grave robbing.

I became interested in grave robbing (I mean, as much as one can be interested in grave robbing without going to jail) about a year ago when I listened to a podcast about the Doctors’ Riot.

In the late 1700s, medical colleges needed cadavers for educational dissection, but there were no legal means for obtaining them. This led to some unorthodox dealings in the acquiring of bodies, and brought New York to a fever pitch in 1788.

I started digging around (pun intended) and I wondered about a character who could make a living (pun intended again) by stealing dead bodies.

I invite you to head over to the Valparaiso Fiction Review to read my short story “The Resurrectionist.” Here is an excerpt:

Carob Mott kept watch on the almshouse across Hudson Street. He’d been waiting for the better part of two days for the signal. Sometimes he’d pace, but mainly he sat on a neighboring stoop, not daring to take his eyes off the second-story window for longer than a passing carriage.

His son knew he often forgot to eat when he pursued a lead, so the boy brought food and drink from the tavern a few blocks away and relieved Carob when he could no longer keep his eyes open. For the most part though, Carob was on his own.

As the sky turned violet, a second candle was placed on the sill. Carob calmly strode across the street and lifted the latch on the gate leading to the rear of the house.

peterwarrenhouse

Greenwich Village, 18th Century., Manhattan City

As if to prove that history is never really over, two crypts were discovered in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park recently. The bodies that Carob Mott had planned to dig up are still there…

Thanks for reading!

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32 comments

  1. Everything about it is cool. Characters like Carob intrigue me. If the story were made into a short film, who would you cast as him? Just curious. As a film it would also be an art director and lighting designer’s dream. So much texture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, what a delicious question! I had a good, long ponder over this one. 🙂
      I keep seeing Daniel Day Lewis or Adrien Brody. They both seem to do such great work with thought-provoking characters and historical pieces. Do you think they would be a good fit? Thanks so much for reading this story!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful story, Jackie. I liked that you kept me thinking all kinds of things might happen, like someone they knew being one of the corpses, or them getting caught, and none of these (maybe clichéd) things took place. Though the tension was there, it turned out to be much more interesting and much less common place. The final scene of the three of them was great. What a hard, precarious life some before us have lived!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Cynthia. I was nervous to send it out into the world. (Do you ever get that feeling?) It’s heartwarming that Carob’s story is being received well. One thing that took me by surprise is Carob’s perspective — given that he’s about 30 years old and considered “middle age.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This post was such a great teaser for the story!

    And the story itself was an interesting read on a topic I had never considered. The detail and nuance in dialogue and setting really put me “there.”

    How long did it take to write?

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  4. Hi Jackie! I just finished your story. Congratulations! Wonderful historical details and characters which give us a glimpse into the grave robber’s “trade.” I had never really considered how these people broke society’s rules to help doctors learn about human anatomy and how all the major system in the body function. You took an intriguing bit of history and brought it to life. No pun intended 🙂 Happy holidays and all the best in 2016!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Patti! It means so much to me that you read it.
      An interesting footnote to history, isn’t it? Wealthy folks usually employed bodyguards to watch over a relative’s grave for several days after burial, after which time the body would have decomposed to the point that doctors could no longer use it. The poor often did not have the means.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I finally had the time to read this story in its entirety in one sitting and I’m so glad that I remembered to get to it again. I could not only see and hear everything you described, but I could almost smell it, your prose is so vivid. It would make an excellent short film.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations Jackie. What a great read! The details were captivating (a ceramic shovel, the mechanics of leveraging the corpse, and of course, always good to have a character peer over their pince-nez). Write on, friend, write on!

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