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Albany Medical College and the Secret Compartment

     This photo, circa 1905 and found in the Albany Medical College Archives, contains a note on the back of it describing the scene. The note states the following, “Dr. Albert Vander Veer seated at table in the amphitheatre of the Eagle Street building (this refers to the original building of the Albany Medical College). Above the door in the background was the secret compartment into which cadavers were put when word came of a raid, in the early days where cadavers were available only by graverobbing.”
     Body-snatchers, also called resurrectionists, grave robbers, snatches, or sack-‘em-up-men were prevalent in early 19th century America for the purpose of obtaining cadavers to sell for the education of medical students. Bodies were in short supply during this time period mainly because of the lack of methods to preserve the bodies as well as religious beliefs which led to the need for a proper burial, with the body intact. Often, family members would guard the recently buried in an effort to deter grave robbery. Because of the high demand from the medical community, grave robbing was a very lucrative occupation. 
     Albany Medical College was not immune from body snatching activities of the time. Click to read a story from the 1913 Skull Yearbook, called “Back in the Eighties" detailing the exploits of a group of students in the 1880s and their experience while trying to obtain a cadaver for anatomy class.

 

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