Squaw Hollow Sensation

The Squaw Hollow Sensation: Part 1 – Introduction

A number of years ago George Peabody, an El Dorado County historian specializing in the history of the Pleasant Valley area, discovered a very interesting story that showed up in a series of articles and letters in several issues of the 1879 “Mountain Democrat.” The story involved the discovery of a group of 1000 year old Aztec mummies in an ancient, tool-cut granite chamber in a dark gorge on Squaw Hollow. The discoverer was a visiting German doctor,  Loerder Von Herbst. If the discovery itself was not strange enough, Dr. Von Herbst claimed to have revived one of the mummies.

Immediately this story took on the look of a hoax, but Dr. Von Herbst was not the only person involved in the adventure. Participating in the experiments with him were Dr. J.J. Lawyer, the El Dorado County Coroner at that time, and Fred Collins, a former County Coroner.

Although, according to Peabody, the prevailing impression amongst the public was that it was a hoax, the letters from Dr. Von Herbst, which make up much of the story, were very scientific for the time which added more than a bit of credibility to the whole event.

Originally Peabody took this story, which he titled “The Squaw Hollow Sensation,” to the El Dorado County Historical Museum which, in 1981, published it using mostly copies from the original newspapers, supplemented by Peabody’s writings. Copies of the book are still available for purchase from them.

With Mr. Peabody’s kind permission, we have taken his research, word for word transcribed the original newspaper stories, which in many cases were difficult to read, and serialized the story. And, where possible, explanations of some of Dr. Von Herbst’s equipment, materials and processes have been researched and added for clarity.

Is it true?, Is it a hoax?, and why the newspaper continued to claim its authenticity are just a few of the questions you may have to answer for yourself.

For clarity and explanation, some comments have been added as notes. Otherwise, the text is just as it came from the newspaper, misspellings and all.

THE SQUAW HOLLOW SENSATION

“Mountain Democrat,” May 31, 1879

“MYSTERIOUS. – Doctor Loerder Von Herbst, a wealthy and eccentric savan of Berlin, has been sojourning for several months in Placerville and the vicinity, engaged in testing an interesting theory as to an assumed connection between our Indian tribes and the original Aztecs, and thorough the latter with the ancient Egyptians. Within the few weeks last past Dr. Herbst, accompanied by the present and a former incumbent of a county office, has made a number of mysterious trips, generally at night, to a dark gorge on Squaw Hollow, and there are intimations that he has made some extraordinary discoveries, of great interest in a scientific point of view, which will shortly be made public.”

“Mountain Democrat,” June 14, 1879.

“THE MYSTERY SOLVED. – In a former issue of the DEMOCRAT we alluded to certain mysterious visits to the Squaw Hollow gorge, which Dr. Von Herbst and others had made within the past few months. In this issue we devote a large share of the space on our first and fifth pages to the publication of a recital by the Professor of the results of his explorations in the vicinity referred to in our item, which, we regret to learn, has perhaps been the means of a somewhat premature publication of the facts of the case. These facts are so startling that we should, as we are confident many of our readers will, doubt their authenticity, but no one who has become acquainted with Dr. Von Herbst, during this sojourn among us, will for a moment believe him capable of any willful imposition or misrepresentation. His recital has been largely corroborated by collateral incidents and circumstances, and within a fortnight a large number of persons, including the leading physicians of this place, Dr. Brown of El Dorado, Dr. Geseling of Coloma, Dr. Dryer of Georgetown and the Editors of the Republican and Democrat, will be offered free transportation to the neighboring town of Ringgold, where Dr. Von Herbst’s interesting patient is in quarters at the Continental Hotel. They will also be invited to visit and inspect the wonderful cave described in the Doctor’s communication. The result of these visits will be laid before our readers in faithful and truthful detail.”

“Mountain Democrat,” June 14, 1879 (Letter from Dr. Von Herbst)

“A STARTLING DISCLOSURE – Buried for Centuries and Restored to Life!
The following thrilling recital, from the pen of Dr. Loerder Von Herbst, would only be marred by any attempt at an introduction on our part.

“EDITOR DEMOCRAT – Dear Sir: Conforming to your request that I should make public the details of my late wonderful discovery, I have with considerable labor gotten together, for the perusal of your readers, the main facts. The great labor consisted of searching out, among the voluminous reports which have been forwarded by me to the Royal Society of Berlin, sufficient of explanation to make clear the general drift.

“In the first place you may pardon me for a few words in regard to myself. It is true that I have been working about in the rift which you call “Squaw Hollow,” but which perhaps few of your people have ever seen. It is, I think I may safely say, at this moment attracting more attention from the learned ones sitting now in Berlin, than any other place in your whole country. In the year 1848 I was entered a student at Heidelberg and took successively my degrees of Doctor of Laws and Medicine. While sojourning there, attending the great University Library, I contracted and intimate and warm friendship for several disciples of the celebrated Chevalier Bunsen (Note: Christian Karl Josias Bunsen, 1791-1860, a religious scholar and early Egyptologist), then recently deceased. Through association with them, I wa s led to undertake the study of Philology, then in its infancy. That of Comparative Anatomy of course had received my earliest attention. I then practiced medicine for many years in Berlin, but met little to recommend the profession to me, until I was fortunate enough to be nominated by the then Count Raczynski (who was proprietor of the finest art gallery of Europe), to the post of visitor to the great hospital of Louisenstiftung. Here meeting with patients of all different nationalities, I began to study on the races of man in earnest. Soon afterwards I attracted the notice of the Dean of the Senate of the Berlin University, and was appointed assistant demonstrator on Anthropology, the same position of which Humboldt was the nominal holder. About this time I had occasion to correct some proof sheets of the “Aegypteus Stelle in der Weltgeschichte,” by the admired Bunsen. This was in 1847, and my longing daily grew to make independent explorations in the branches wherein others had become so celebrated. I held my position and was finally sent to Cairo on a special mission by the Royal Society, in search of the correspondent, Professor Nichtken. From him I received instructions in the deciphering of hieroglyphics, and his papers, which I brought safely to Berlin. To my great joy I was appointed Librarian, and immediately began the study of these the latest data on Egyptian Antiquities. I was so selfish that I would admit no other person to the room where the rolls were kept. About this time – 1862 – I was made independent by a legacy which supplied me with the means of traveling. I had spend many years in Egypt, and had followed on foot the assumed route of the lost tribes of Israel, in their migration through China, and supposedly across the ice to this continent. Returned from my travels, I had just completed my first volume of the “Compendium Mizraim,” when I began to acquaint myself with the new theory of Fr. A. Spohn (Note: Frederick August Spohn, an Egyptologist at the University of Leipzig.), in ‘Ueber Hieroglyphen und ihre Deutuag und uber die sprache der alten Aegypten.’ The book and theory did not startle me nearly so much as the notes of the American editor, Gustav Seyffarth (Note: Gustav Seyffarth (1796-1885) a German-American Egyptologist at the University of Leipzig, following Spohn in that position.), in respect to the notable similarity between the strict symbol-writing of the papyri and the rude drawings of the ancient Indians. This startled me, I say, because I had already surmised a kinship between the seemingly so far remote examples This became a dream to me, the more that my revered friend, Von Humboldt (Note: Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), a Prussian naturalist and explorer), had been forced to leave off his investigations just at the most interesting point. The University granted me now and indefinite leave of absence, and also the permission to copy the unarranged MSs. Of Humboldt, which related to his discoveries in Central American and Mexico. Taking these instructions, and New York as an objective point, I set sail in April 1876. Having in charge the berlin collection of gems which attracted so much attention at your International Centennial Exhibition. I had already familiarize myself with Mr. George Smith’s book, and with those of my most prominent co-laborers in this interesting study of races, but finally I came to a theory of my own.”

Note: Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt (1769 – 1859) was a Prussian naturalist and explorer. Humboldt’s quantitative work on botanical geography was foundational to the field of biogeography. Between 1799 and 1804, von Humboldt travelled to South and Central America, exploring and describing it from a scientific point of view for the first time. His description of much of this journey was written up in an enormous set of volumes over a 21-year span. He was one of the first to propose that the lands bordering the Atlantic were once joined (South America and Africa in particular).

The Squaw Hollow Sensation: Part 2 – The Search Begins

“Mountain Democrat,” June 14, 1879 (continued)

“From New York I went to San Francisco, and from there, getting a good outfit of horses and camping conveniences, I retraced my way to the Rocky Mountains, and thence southerly and easterly until in less that three years I crossed the Valley of the Mississippi several times, besides going straight to Chihuahua and working my way up. Humboldt, in the inscriptions of the Aztecs which he speaks of, had a theory that the migration was from the south, as he makes mention of the oft recurrence of a palm tree in their pictures; sufficient evidence, in his mind, that they were monuments of a people not unacquainted with tropical flora. But this, to me, with my new theory, was a simple matter. I find a startling resemblance between the hieroglyphics of the African Taurisks and your Aztec pictures, even down to a similar recurrence of the symbolic palm tree. Humboldt erred in calling all the ancient inhabitants of this country Aztecs, as I am of the opinion that they were but descendants, degenerate ones of the grand old Incas, the builders of the Casas Grandes of the Mississippi Valley. In following up my researches I have been as thorough as possible, authenticating my illustrious countryman whenever I could. The theory that these aborigines emigrated from Egypt is very probable. Not only do I find them in both countries resembling each other in their most distinguished passion for building, but all along the suppositious rout, through India, China, Kamschatka (Kamchatka), and then again down through this continent, we find abundant traces of their camps, where they were delayed for periods of not exceeding twenty or thirty years, but we also find records showing the successive changes their manners and customs underwent, and shadowing, perhaps, the causes. And so we find among the descendants of the Talhuaticans now living in lower Mexico distinct traces of the pure Buddhist religion which they picked up in India. They have moreover traditions recounting their wanderings, one also relating to the confusion of tongues, another in regard to the deluge, and what is more wonderful, today in their ruins of Palenque you may see pictures of the trip across the ocean in immense canoes (Note: Palenque is a ruin city in Mexico that is part of the Maya civilization. It dates back to 100 BC and was abandoned around 800 AD). The colors are identical with those used in decorating the tombs of Egypt. In the canoes the majority of the passengers are of the same aspect as the Egyptians, but there are slaves represented in the act of rowing, who bear unmistakable Isralitish and Nubian countenances. This may surprise your readers, but consult Prescott (Note: William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) an American historian and chronicler of the conquest of Mexico) and the published travels of Humboldt and you will find something more startling still, for they discovered mummies or embalmed bodies of these ancient Americans, prepared exactly as the Egyptians. In the Mexican exhibit at Philadelphia there were several of these mummies, wrapped up in their linen cases, and in the department of Egypt, not one hundred feet away, were others so near alike that had they been changed during the night the difference could not have been detected (Note: The 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia was a world’s fair celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). I spent part of last Summer near the ruins of Palenque, and found many of these mummies, corresponding with those of Egypt in this additional respect that there were two classes, those that had been disemboweled, and those that were perfect. I took the trouble to dissect two of these, one of each kind, and found one in a perfect state. This I brought up to San Francisco and shipped to Berlin. It was hardly out of my hands, though, till I wished it back. Just then Professor Nichtken’s translations appeared (Note: the German Archaeological Institute’s offices in Berlin and Cairo have no record of a Professor Nichtken. They pointed out that Nichtken could be translated to “no-know” ). In regard to these perfect bodies, he claimed that they had not died, but were embalmed alive, and that according to their superstition the priests had expected to some day revive them. In one of the Bilingual Tablets, similar to the Rosetta Stone, he had found the grave assurance that a certain Sethos could be brought to life by “heaven’s fire” only (Note: the Rosetta Stone has the text of a 196 BC decree by Ptolemy V written in two Egyptian languages, hieroglyphic and demotic, and classical Greek. It was the key to deciphering hieroglyphics). This “heaven’s fire” had puzzled him. To me it was a revelation, for in one of the tomb paintings of the Incas I remembered a representation of several mummies, on one side, and on the other a like number of persons leaping from their shells, while a thunderbolt was in the act of descending amongst them. This then – lightning – was what was meant by “heaven’s fire.

“I still groped in the dark. For convenience in the dissecting-room I had at length composed a liquor which would restore partially the limbs of remains thrown into it. My principle was this: “Here,” said I, “these bodies, true, are old and dry, and have been held in bondage perhaps for thousands of years, but still they are as perfect now as ever. Why not supply the water which they have lost, and be able to dissect as readily as with fresh subjects?” It was a subject for thought. If you take a ripe peach and carefully dry it, you may reduce it to be a hard, black shell with a tight-drawn skin surrounding it. You have merely deprived it of its moisture. Reverse the process and it is possible to reproduce the plump, blooming peach. The time that has elapsed between the two experiments amounts to nothing.  With this idea to work on I proceeded with my experiments and with great success. Often I have taken an arm from a mummy, and after soaking it in my solution for some days have been able to pass it off as a green specimen. I have sometimes even followed up the nerves or removed the skin and traced out the venous system. At such times I know I used often too wonder why it would not be possible to revive a whole body in the same way. This I never thought of really trying till after I read Professor Nichtken’s book last Fall, and then I had no longer any of the right sort of mummies for my experiment. Here I should have rested a while, content that I had solved the difficulty in classifying my Incas, had it not been for some remarks let fall by my esteemed friend, Mr. Brooks, in the Union Club, San Francisco, one night. When I mentioned mummies, he spoke up. “Why,” said he, “when I was mining up in El Dorado twenty years ago, we found some regular mummies in a hole up on Squaw Hollow, near Hangtown.” I jumped at this. I had now and opportunity of testing the Professor’s theory. Binding him to secrecy, and getting as good a description of the locality as time allowed, I struck out. Before I left he gave me a letter of introduction to Hon. F. Collins, who he said was an official of considerable scientific attainments, and could especially assist me in regard to the handling of dead subjects. I arrived, presented my letter to the gentleman, but found that he was not then holding office. He was, however, on good terms with his successor, also a devotee of science, Dr. J. J. Lawyer, to whom the Hon. F. C. introduced me, and at the same time stated my object.”

Note: Frederick K. Collins was elected as the El Dorado County Coroner in 1872 and, after being re-elected in 1875, does not appear to have sought re-election in 1876. In the 1880 census he is living in Placerville with his occupation listed as a butcher-clerk.

Note: Dr. John J. Lawyer did not run for election in 1876, but the winner, Thomas F. Lewis, could not obtain a bond to qualify for the position (the Republicans said he could not get a bond and the Democrats countered, saying he was too ill to leave the house to get one). Lawyer was appointed in his place and took office in May of 1877. At the election in September of 1879, he would be defeated, but only by a small margin. The 1880 census shows him living in Kelsey with his occupation listed as a farmer.

“We spent the first two days in making plans and preparations for the journey, and at last set out on the morning of the 10th of March (1879). I need not describe the ride there, for you will doubtless remember the condition of the roads at that time. Scrambling up the narrow little gorge as best we could, on our hands and knees, clinging to the bushes as the stones gave way beneath our feet, we finally found the opening to the cavern we were in search of. After an hour’s hard work we enlarged the opening and entered, pausing first long enough to light the candles. I found the floor covered with a fine white dust that arose in clouds about as we stepped along. It was a form of soda, corresponding to the Egyptian natron.”

(Note: natron is a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfite. Because it is a water softener, it has been used for cleaning purposes for centuries. But most importantly, it was used as a drying agent and preservative during the mummification process in ancient Egypt).

“The cave seemed to be artificial, and hewn out of the solid granite, but I could see no signs of any further chambers, or of mummies in this. Finally I found an inscription on the wall, appended to which was an arrow, pointing down towards the northwest corner. Stooping down here, and scraping away the dust, I found a slab of stone which seemed to have been cemented, but was now loose.”

The Squaw Hollow Sensation: Part 3 – The Discovery

“Mountain Democrat,” June 14, 1879 (continued)

“We had no tools with us, and the only steel instrument, besides a small quill knife, was a pocket corkscrew which Mr. Collins fortunately had in his pocket, by aid of which I made shift to completely loosen the cement that held the slab of stone in place. It was finally loosened, and on lifting it up a flight of stone steps was discovered. I essayed to descend, but for some time was unable to do so, as the lower chamber seemed to have been artificially filled with nitrogen gas, which I may add “par parenthese” (Note: parenthetically; while on this subject), is a great preservative.  We lighted a fire of shrubs in the upper cave, and throwing the burning brands down below, at length established sufficient draft to drive out the deadly vapors. We then descended, I going first, as became the leader of the expedition. For some time I was blinded with corruscations (Note: glitter or sparkle) of the soda crystals that covered the walls. We came into a chamber smaller than the first, and whose walls seemed to have no further communication with any other chamber. The room was 22 feet long by 11 in width. The floor was covered, as the other one, with the same “natron” dust. This is not naturally here, and evidently had been artificially placed. Around the room at intervals were small catacombs, running lengthwise in the solid rock, and each containing, as I afterwards discovered, a human body. Mr. Collins went up again and procured a large rock, with which to force the slabs that protected the openings. After we were all three nearly worn out with hurling the heavy weight, the center slab at the further end of the cell gave way with a hollow crackling, and fell ringing down to the floor. Anxiously I approached the opening. Yes, sure enough, there within was a familiar looking bundle. We carefully lifted it out and began unwrapping the long bands which were wrapped about it. Just then a most vexatious delay occurred, through a misapprehension of Dr. Lawyer’s in regard to his duty. It seems that this gentleman holds the office of Coroner, and, reading the law on the subject of “bodies found” a little too strictly for Science, although legally exact, he had near to have stopped my further investigations. “Here,” said he, “are some fifty bodies, and according to my oath I am forced to hold an inquest on each of them: fifty inquests at –.” I laughed at the joke, and was preparing to pull away the inner bandages from my first prize, but the Doctor stopped me. “Surely,” I exclaimed, “you are not in earnest?” But I saw that he was. I reasoned, begged, expostulated and implored, but all to no purpose. I was in despair. The mummies would be sat on by a jury, and then would probably be re-interred without my being able to examine. I was just cursing my luck in having thrown me in the way of this over-zealous official, when Nichtken’s fantastic theory popped into my head. “Sit down Doctor,” I asked. He did so, and I told him of what had been said in regard to these bodies. For a long while he held out stoutly in his disbelief, but I was now becoming so enthusiastic that he could not at length but be convinced. I even went so far as to assure him of my belief in the theory that these bodies were not dead, but sleeping, satisfying my conscience with the notion that Science was worthy of that much sacrifice. Indeed I went further, and promised the Doctor to revive the bodies within a month, and besides to conduct all my experiments in his presence. In a month, I thought, I surely could find all I wished to from the bodies, and could possibly juggle one or two out of the cave and send them to the Museum. I did finally prevail on him to give me a month’s probation. After swearing secrecy, we again replaced the slabs, and, pulling some brushwood over the opening into the other cave took our departure. That night, you may imagine, I slept but little. I worked late in refreshing my memory with Nichtken’s process of vivification. On the morrow I procured tools, had some bright lamps mounted by Weatherwax & Woodward for convenience, and had Mr. Kemp to make me two large vats for my experiment  (Note: Charles H. Weatherwax and Edward F. Woodward were Placerville hardware merchants and William Kemp was a barrel maker, or cooper). It then took us two nights to move all this paraphernalia out to the gorge and within the cave. I next with a quantity of rubber hose conducted the water from a spring into the lower room, and set up a laboratory. I had great difficulty in preparing my restoring solution, as all the chemicals were not ready at the chemist’s, but Dr. Meglone assisting me, I finally made what I considered a vast improvement on my first discovery (Note: Doctor William E. Meglone was a physician in Placerville). These things took time, as I could only work at night. At length all was ready and I stared to work.

“Mr. Collins and Dr. Lawyer were accustomed to sit in the upper chamber reading or playing at some game, while I worked below. I first loosened off the covers to a dozen of the catacombs, and noted the condition of the bodies. Those that were hollow-bellied I immediately rejected, as they had been disemboweled. Twelve perfect bodies then were in the vats, absorbing the moisture which they had lost. The human body, you know, is four-fifths of water, and this the mummies had been carefully and delicately deprived of. It would have surprised you if you could have seen Mr. Collins the first time he saw one of the restored bodies. At the time I was leaning over one of the vats, and feeling with my naked arm among the bodies which lay in the clear solution, for the softest one. Mr. Collins and Dr. Lawyer had been present when I consigned the blackened, dried mummies to the vats, but had not been curious to see them in the intermediate stages. I was just raising one of the bodies by the hair, when I heard an exclamation behind me. Turning, I beheld Mr. C. standing on the steps, his eyes protruding and fixed on the vat, his face lived, the perspiration standing in heavy drops on his brow. I saw that he had been horrified at what he had seen, nor could you blame him. It was midnight and he was coming down with my coffee. The blue flame by which I worked barely illumined my corner, and just as he looked he saw the face of my subject just rising through the liquid, its great staring open eyes and natural appearance being most startling to one of weak nerves. I was now working all night long, and writing up in the daytime, so you can understand the intensity of my fervor during those precious days. I was in the habit of dissecting a limb each night, superficially, and on consulting my notes after treating three bodies this way I was surprised to find how near I came to the same results as the best surgeons with living subjects. I was now busy also in improvising cells for a large Daniel’s battery which I wished to experiment with, and of which I shall speak hereafter (Note: The Daniell cell, also called the Daniel cell, gravity cell or crowfoot cell was invented in 1836 by John Frederic Daniell, who was a British chemist and meteorologist. It was a ‘wet cell’ battery that used copper and zinc electrodes immersed in a solution of copper sulfate and zinc sulfate respectively. It was especially useful for doorbells and telegraphs).

“So far I found additional evidence to convince me not only that the Incas were identical to the Egyptians, but I found that in embalming they were even more expert. Let me quote from Nichtken, and you will more easily catch my idea. In the second volume of “Alphabeta Genuina,” chapter of “De funera veterum Aegyptorum” (Leipsic 1878, Hamburg and Gotha reprint) page 217, you wil find the original of this passage: “In this so called ‘Book of the Dead’ of Lepsius, which he considers a set of rules for a heavenly life, and with instruction for burial, I find abundant internal evidence, allied to other bits of information taken from tomb inscriptions themselves, sufficient to justify me in saying that its title is ‘The Book of Caste and life in the future’ This does not mean a soul-life, but a material one. The instructions were the private words of the priests, showing that thy could and did kill people and brought them to life again. Full instructions were given for the manner of killing and embalming. The priests took advantage of this power, to suspend animation in examples for a while, and then, unexpectedly, restore it again in full sight of their followers, thus gaining credit for great miracles. The sect which possessed this secret comprised the kings, and they were always preserved in this manner. The bodies of many of these mummies are as perfect today as in the hour when they were deposited in their resting places, two thousand years ago or more. Dissection will show no derangement of any organ, now wound, no sign of any disease to cause death. In the ‘Book of Kem’ (Nature) the process is clearly described for resurrecting the, and the very chemicals are stored in urns and put into the tombs with the bodies. We much concede that numbers of these people voluntarily put themselves in the hands of the priests to be preserved in this manner.”

“Taking these statements, and bearing in mind the first quotation in regard to ‘Heaven’s fire,’ I came to the conclusion that direct reference was made to the vivifying influence of electricity. I prepared a modification of Daniels’ battery, with 10 good-sized cells, weighing probably 12 pounds each. The only thing now left undone was to find whether the nerves were still sensible to the fluid. I prepared a large slab of stone and placed a long dry board on glass standards upon this. My first experiment was on a leg which I had denuded of its skin. The first shock was too violent, and only resulted in a slight tremor. I worked away for a long time before I discovered that the nerves had snapped. With another limb I got better results with a gentle current, and finally determined to try the action of the spinal cord. This, to my great delight, I found sound in all its properties and delicately sensitive. In turn I tested the brain, the heart and other principal organs, all of which I found sensible. The next day I made grand preparations and had a body beautifully restored, when a defect in my battery caused me to suspend operations and repair damages. I had now a vexatious trouble with my eyes, which had been so strained through the many busy nights, that I was fain to rest them a couple of days and nights before my grand “coup.” However, I was not altogether idle, and my two friends, Mr. C. And the Doctor, were of great use in procuring necessary articles for me. The last night I took out in the wagon warm blankets, bottles for heating and holding hot water, hypodermic syringes of different sizes and delicate thistle tubes. We had already made ready a dozen sheep to procure fresh blood from, and I had under my cloak a fresh jar of artificial chyle for use at the supreme moment (Note: Chyle is a milky looking bodily fluid consisting of lymph and emulsified fats or free fatty acids). At about midnight everything was arranged, and I commenced operations in great anxiety for the result.”

The Squaw Hollow Sensation: Part 4 – The Work Begins

“Mountain Democrat,” June 14, 1879 (continued)

“From the large vat of my elixer (sic), which I have mentioned already, we carefully lifted one of the prepared subjects. I had prepared two, a male and a female, the second to use in case of accident. I chose the man for the first attempt, as having a stronger nervous system, and less complex functional organization. As we carefully lifted the body up out of the water and laid it on the slab, I thought I had never seen a finer form in all my hospital experience. The elixer had worked to a charm, and he seemed not to have been dead more than a week at most. The skin was in a beautiful condition, and I argued favorable from the clearness and fullness of the beautiful dark eyes. He was a true Inca, or Egyptian if you accept my theory, with a fair complexion, showing the least trace of the tawny hue peculiar to this people. His hair was long, his eyebrows fully arched, and thee facial angle of the prevailing great angle of the Caucasian. I first carefully dried off the body and proceeded to examine the condition of the veins, which I was in great fear had become agglutinated. As far as I could judge, though, the process of embalming had been perfect, even to empty the brain, heart and venous system of all fluids. What little blood remained I forced, as well as I could, by rubbing, into the cavity of the heart, tracing it in its passage, every few seconds, by sound, with the stethoscope. I then passed a fine steel tube, not larger than a hair, into the heart, and drew, by means of a little pump not bigger than a thimble, what had accumulated there. This was a very delicate operation, and it was successfully performed, and no air got in. This is the chief aim in venesection, to keep the blood from sucking in air, a single minute bubble of which will cause instantaneous paralysis of the heart. I now discovered by a neat little experiment whether the veins were open or not. I bound the leg tightly at the knee with a ligature, so that nothing could run below. I then passed one of my thistle injectors into the internal saphena, and forced in about sixteen ounces of the restoring elixer. In the course of half an hour, by careful manipulation, I had forced this fluid through the veins and was rewarded by finding it making its appearance in an artery below the puncture. This shows that everything was clear. Now, to get rid of the elixer, I forced in some 50 ounces of fresh, warm goat’s milk, drawing it off again, until sure that the body was saturated with the health-giving milk. This was with two objects, 1st to arrest and further corroding action of the elixer, and 2nd to soften the coats of the veins and arteries and open the mouths of the absorbents which line the veins. I now arranged the table as if for the purpose of making a living person comfortable. The body was insulated by being raised up by the glass standards. I had now my water heated, looked to my battery, and had everything in readiness. I now tied my sheep, and connected an artery from each, by means of a small rubber tube with a gold mouthpiece, to a lateral incision in the median basilic of each arm, allowing the blood to force out the milk, which has performed its office. The poor sheep soon were dead, and I attached two more in the same way, therefore I could be absolutely certain that pure blood filled all the veins. I kept the body at blood heat and by the tube of a thermometer read the changes. I now had the whole surface of the skin rubbed in warm oil and briskly removed it with flannel cloths, after which I applied a tincture of pure veratrine over the entire body (Note: Veratrine is a poisonous irritant extracted from the seeds of the sabadilla plant, which grows in Mexico and Central and South America. When applied to the skin it creates a sense of heat and tingling or prickling pain).  This peculiar substance has a wonderful effect on the nerves, and is probably the greatest known stimulant. The appearance of the body was something wonderful. The veins were all full of pure blood, the flesh was firm and elastic and had the ruddy, delicate glow of health, especially the cheeks, lips and finger-nails. Before I repeat the process of my wonderful electrical experiments, I must related to you my system, and wherein I consider the cause for my success over so many other experimenters. In my reasoning I take life and death as two opposites, hence if a person loses animation, it is by a certain succession of phenomena, which are invariably repeated in reversed order in regaining it. A man being paralyzed loses the power of motion before sense. So in fainting and dying. I went on the theory that if I restored life the patient would recover power of the sensory nerves before the motor, therefore I put a pressure on the brain at the seat of consciousness, to save any mental shock. In every detail I proposed to merely reverse the process of dying. Again, in regard to the electric fluid, I discarded, with a moment’s hesitation, any notion of using static electricity. To be sure, it is more powerful, but it performs all the motion itself, leaving the subject shattered in nerves and unfit for any other motive. At the time I was  highly in favor of a combination of a constant current (galvanic), to be supplanted by static shocks, but this I was induced to forego by means of a hint derived from Pereira, which I immediately enlarged upon (Note: Pereira, which means pear tree, is a very common Portugese surname and the name of towns in Brazil, Columbia and Portugal. To whom or what it refers to here is unknown). I imagine that in suspension of sensation only, the static centrifugal current would be beneficial. In the suspension of motion only, the constant centripetal galvanic current should be used. But in my case the patient was deprived of both sensation and motion. Hence I lit upon the vibrating current of Faradization, by which I alternately stimulated the sensitive and motor nerves.

“Laying the body on its belly, I firmly fixed one pole at the base of Poupart’s ligament, on the anterior part of the thigh. [Mind, I don’t say “positive’ or “negative pole, for by my “oscillator” the poses change some half dozen times in a second.] Now I made small incisions running up the spine from the lumbar vertebra to the base of the brain. As I took the electrode in my hand, I trembled exceedingly, so that after everything was prepared I was compelled to sit down for a time to compose myself. I used this time in getting ready my oxygen bag, at which I took a good breath now, to invigorate me. Mr. C. And the Dr. had to use the corkscrew at the vessel they drew their inspiration from. Now again I was firm. I motioned to the Doctor to turn the screw very gently, while I used my moistened hand as a precautionary electrode, passing it gently up and down the cerebro-spinal column, over the head, face, side and soles of the feet. By this means I could be sensible of the exact strength of the instrument, besides communicating a certain small degree of animal magnetism, carried over by the current. I noticed a slight, hardly perceptible twitching in the toes at first, but it occurred only once with the first current. I next electrified the “coccyx ganglia,” stopping again to sound the abdomen with the stethoscope (Note: the coccyx ganglia are an important collection of nerves in front of the coccyx or “tail bone).

“I was pleased to hear a sound which showed the fluid had affected the viscera. After the sacral ganglia I experimented slightly with all those of the thoracic cavity, and, as I expected, produced a perceptible action of the heart and lungs. Leaving these, which I had only tried in order to find out if there was any use in continuing the experiments to the end, I centered my attention on the brain. When I touched the ophthalmic, Dr. Lawyer, who manipulated the ophthalmoscope, said he distinctly saw a change in the iris, and a consequent movement of the retina (Note: the ophthalmic nerve is a major cranial nerve to the eyes) . I charged the “otic,” although of course I had no means of testing the result. When the “sphenopatatine,” or “Meckel’s ganglion” was touched, the tongue roughened up and the little salivary glands opened and shut their mouths as they do in mastication (Note: Meckel’s ganglion is a small parasympathetic ganglion giving off nerves to eyes, nose, and palate. It was first described by German anatomist Johann Friedrich Meckel, the Elder). In turn I touched the “submaxillary,” the gasserian of the wonderful 5th pair of nerves, and devoted much care to the pneumogastric and glossopharyngeal (Note: gasserian refers to a group of nerves first described by Austrian anatomist Johann Ludwig Gasser. Pneumogastric (lungs and stomach) and glossopharyngeal (tongue and pharynx) are major cranial nerves). I now doubled the power of my machine and touched first the “cardiac plexus” (Note: the cardiac plexus is a network of nerves around the base of the heart). My experiment was successful; the heart beat several strokes as distinctly as the tick of a clock. I was now hardly able to contain myself. The sweat stood cold all over my body, and my nerves throbbed in time to the oscillator of the battery. Indeed, I attributed much of the good effect on the patient to the immense amount of nervous power which I was generating, and which I could feel was being drawn from me. I had to work very rapidly, and after injecting a small quantity of the prepared chyle into the stomach, I doubled the working power of the battery again. At the faintest touch the muscles responded, twitching and acting like life; indeed, as the Doctor was using the instrument on the chest I happened to touch the shoulder of the body, when the arm contacted so suddenly as to hit my friend a smart rap on the head. I passed the current a third time to the “cardiac plexus,” and this time with the extra power it beat naturally. I now fixed a tube to the oxygen bag, and, bringing another electrode to bear, I had Mr. Collins hold on to the middle and superior ganglia of the sympathetic nerves, and, true to my design, we got breathing and beating of the heart at the same time. I now introduced a minute quantity of powdered veratrine into the upper chest, at the same time keeping up the artificial breathing and heart action. The result was absolutely startling; the lungs worked convulsively, heaved, and made efforts to expel the irritating substance by coughing. I was highly elated, as I was sure of having produced an effect on the sensory nerves, as well as the motor. “The time had come, I considered, for the removal of the pressure on the brain. This done, and the other muscular action being kept up, I could see that the eye was becoming sensitive to the light. A small vibrator being held to the ophthalmic center made the eyes wink. The face now began to become active, only it was odd to see the face laugh, and sobs come from the throat and vice versa. The whole body was in active play, and I introduced the oxygen blast into the lungs. I could count the pulse, which was getting regular. By a glass I found that vapor was becoming thrown off by the lungs, and by slightly increasing the temperature of the body I produced perspiration. The body was now essentially alive, but the moment I withdrew the electrode the moisture died away. From this I caught a hint which I was not slow in following. I re-attached the battery, and muscular action was renewed. I found that the brain was the place for most of my attention. After an hour or more of these interesting experiments, the patient was making blood of the food introduced into his stomach, and I began to very gradually withdraw the quantity of energy from the lower part of the body, and concentrated it upon the brain. Finally I caught a gleam of consciousness in the eyes, and felt my heart flutter with joy. Taking the electrode away as an inevitable thing, I found that the Aztec was absolutely alive. He went quietly to sleep, and, leaving Mr. C and the Doctor to take care that nothing happened adverse to his safety, I sunk into a stupor, brought on by my intense application.

Respectfully
Lr. Von Herbst”