01 February 2012

Father of Modern Embalming

The American Way of Death Revisited by Jessica Mitford, 1996, Excerpts

The two widely divergent interests which spurred the early embalmers – scientific inquiry and the financial reward of turning cadavers into a sort of ornamental keepsake – were to achieve a happy union under the guiding hand of “Dr.” Thomas Holmes and is affectionately referred to by present-day funeral men as “the father of American embalming.” Holmes was the first to popularize the idea of preserving the dead on a mass scale, and the first American to get rich from this novel occupation.

Holmes developed a passionate interest in cadavers early in life, and when the Civil War started, he saw a great opportunity. He rushed to the front and started embalming like mad, charging families of the dead soldiers $100 for his labors. Some four years and 4,028 embalmed soldiers later, Holmes returned to Brooklyn a rich man. During the late 19th century Dr. Thomas Holmes embalmed a young girl from Kentucky. In the 1940's the remarkable upper torso was donated to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.

Dr. Bunnell's embalming establishment in the field 1861-1865

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