Electroplating the dead

In the late 1880s, reports began appearing in American papers about a French physician, Dr. Variot, who had perfected a method of electroplating corpses so that the dead could be "preserved in the form of bronze statuary".

I suspect these reports were a journalistic hoax. For a start, I doubt this technique would work. Also, I can't find any reference to a Dr. Variot except in connection to the electroplating story.

More info at Atlas Obscura.





Text (and above images) from the Leavenworth Standard - Feb 9, 1891:

Dr. Variot, one of the foremost practitioners in the Paris hospitals, is the author of the system, whose result has been termed "L'anthropoplastic galvanique." His mode of procedure is as follows: He places the body in a double frame, with four uprights fastened together, with square trays, and then covers the frame with a pneumatic bell. The body is perforated by a metallic wire, one end going through the roof of the skull, while the other rests in the tray at the feet. This wire not only acts as a support to the corpse but as a conductor of electricity. The uprights and other portions of the frame are carefully insulated with india rubber, gutta percha or praffine. A small thermo-electric battery furnishes the current. A metallic contact descends from the upper tray and rests lightly upon the surface of the cadaver. The surface of the feet and the palms of the hands also rest upon two contacts, and, in addition, contacts are echeloned on the uprights and frame, and can be applied or disconnected at pleasure.

Before the apparatus is plunged in a galvanic bath the body has to be rendered a perfect electric conductor. For this purpose the operator either paints the corpse with a solution of nitrate of silver or he puts a powdered preparation of the same on the surface of the skin. The caustic penetrates the surface, and the skin turns an opaque color. Afterward the nitrate of silver has to be reduced or separated from its oxide, but this presents no great difficulty. The double framework is then placed in a reservoir, from which the air is exhausted by a pump, and vapors of white phosphorus dissolved in sulphur of carbon are introduced. This is a dangerous operation, as are all operations in which dissolved phosphorus plays any part. After the phosphoric vapors have reduced the nitrate of silver the corpse becomes a grayish white, and is a perfect facsimile of a plaster of Paris statue. The metallization is then very simple, being effected by a galvanic bath in the usual way.

The French capital is greatly excited over this method of making indestructible mummies. Should it come into favor metallized bodies may soon take the place of wax figures and statuary in museums, galleries and even private residences. Not only can the last expression of the deceased be preserved, but various poses produced, and by deft manipulation the countenance of the corpse changed to express almost any emotion. The body of the warrior may be made to assume a martial attitude. The dead preacher could be electroplated in the act of exhortation. Statesmen and heroes could bequeath their remains to a sorrowing nation, and coated with gold, silver or brass preside in person over their own monuments. In fact there is no end of practical or romantic purposes to which our plated bodies might be put, from the pointing of a moral to the adornment of a tale, and even to the portrayal of some striking episode in national life.

     Posted By: Alex - Fri Jun 04, 2021
     Category: Death | Nineteenth Century





Comments
Remember bronzed baby shoes? Same principle on a larger scale.

I have no firsthand experience with such things, but I suspect a major problem is moisture. From what I've read, you have to dehydrate flowers, bones, etc. before electroplating them. When you dry a human body, you're creating a mummy. That's probably not the most aesthetically pleasing look for something you want to display in your living room (or maybe it is, who am I to judge your tastes?).

I doubt in any case you'd be able to coat them thickly enough to render them self-supporting. And if you somehow could, you'd be losing detail.

There was a fad a few years ago of freeze-drying pets. iirc, that starts at about a thousand dollars for a cat, and the price rises steeply as you add pounds. I can't imagine the price for freeze-drying an adult human. If you did, there wouldn't be a great reason to go the extra step and bronze them.
Posted by Phideaux on 06/04/21 at 09:26 AM
A friend taking dental school Gross Anatomy Lab was given a cadaver that had an erection. They nicknamed him "Dead Ernest." He was one you might want to preserve for display...or usage.
Posted by Virtual in Carnate on 06/04/21 at 10:57 AM
I have read at least two horror stories where this was done to live people, to turn them into statues. I believe one of them was by Lovecraft, but I can't remember the title.
Posted by Richard Bos on 06/05/21 at 08:39 AM
It was a plot point in the Lord Peter Wimsey short story "The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers" by Dorothy L Sayers.
Posted by Stuart on 06/06/21 at 05:54 AM
I certainly hope they planned to put clothes on those “statues.” Otherwise, they’d be standing around naked for all eternity— which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the statue….
Posted by Brian on 06/09/21 at 03:13 PM
@Stuart: you're a genius! Of course that's where I read it!
Posted by Richard Bos on 06/12/21 at 02:41 PM









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