DATELINE: Electrifying Discovery
Not $50, Counterfeit Ben!
The first episode of the first season of Secrets of the Dead did not disappoint. Called “Ben Franklin’s Bones,” this historical documentary examined a horror story that seemed to emerge in the 1990s when excavators started to dig in the cellar of a Westminster house where Ben Franklin lived in for fifteen years.
Located in London, where he was an ambassador to Parliament for the colonies around 1760, Franklin rented rooms from a “second family” as he called them.
Police and detectives were called to the cellar where workers discovered a treasure trove (if that’s a bonanza) of many human bones. They needed a medical examiner to tell them how old these were, and if they died mysteriously.
Of course, the bones dated from the time that Franklin lived in the house. The noted Renaissance American was active in all kinds of research, membership in the Royal Society as part of his life of scholarship in London. However, no one thought he could be a serial killer. Call in the forensic experts.
And he wasn’t. The bones belonged to people (men, women, and children, birds and turtles) that were already dead. The bones were finely sawed—including the tops of skulls.
It seemed a bit creepy that Franklin could have anything to do with this: yet, the daughter of the household had married a doctor named Hewson who was a noted surgeon. He had presented papers on his research using mercury and turtles—both of which were in the cellar hole. The house, once renovated, became a museum to Franklin’s years in London.
Franklin was a close friend of the doctor and had sponsored his entry into the Royal Society. It would seem that even Ben Franklin had been connected to “Resurrection Men,” the notorious body snatchers of the era of Enlightenment. They provided cadavers stolen from cemeteries to medical men.
It wasn’t a crime to steal a body, only its clothes or jewelry.
The tease of indicting Franklin made for an alarming, if not suspenseful, study of life on Craven Street where the great man resided. All in all, this was a delightful look at a little-known facet of Ben’s amazing life.