The human petrifaction of Ernest Flucterspiegel

 Plasticized human head from the Body Worlds exhibit

The following story is from an Australian newspaper, The Perth Gazette and Independent Journal of Politics and News, Friday, December 10, 1858.

HUMAN PETRIFACTION. The 'Alta California' contains a strange, if true, story, in a letter from a German physician, Dr. Lichterberger, at Fort Langley, Fraser River, giving an account of the death of a miner by petrifaction, consequent upon drinking a mineral fluid known as water of crystallisation - a solution of silica found in a geode or rounded mass of quartz containing cavities lined with crystals, and varying in size from a few inches to some- times a couple of feet in diameter. The quantity of this liquid is usually so small that it has never attracted attention, but Ernest Flucterspiegel in striking the geode broke off a piece, leaving a cup, which, according to the statement of his companion, contained half a pint of water, The unfortunate man swallowed it at a draught. In fifteen minutes he expired. Upon removing the body, and attempting properly to dispose the limbs, an unusual rigidity was observed. In the course of two hours and a half the whole body became as stiff and inflexible as a board. The muscles affording a crackling sensation on being pressed, as if the minute capillaries were in a state of ossification. A post-mortem examination the next day presented the following results: The smaller blood vessels were solid and apparently ossified. In the stomach and duodenum were several hard masses of the size of a hazel nut, evidently composed of biliary matter, but as hard as the hardest quartz. Evidences of food also existed, and a large mass containing fibres of muscle and lumps of undigested potatoes, moulded to the form of the antrum pylori, were taken out, of the like solidity. The solidification of the contents of the stomach, of the food and the bile-their conversion in fret, into stone-was complete but the coats of the stomach appeared nearly normal. The heart was as hard as a piece of red jasper, exhibiting here and there those varied colours which give such beauty to that mineral. By means of a small hatchet it was separated from its connections with the aorta, pulmonary artery, and vena cava, and with some difficulty was broken into pieces. The larger blood-vessels were all as rigid as pipe stems, and in some cases the petrified blood could be cracked out from the veins, exhibiting a beautiful moulding upon the valves of the latter. The lungs were not collapsed at all. The brain exhibited nothing extraordinary, except the petrifaction of the blood vessels. The contents of the lower intestines were not solidified.

Triturating some petrified blood with four parts of carbonate of potassa, the whole was melted in a platinum crucible, with water at a high temperature, until a solution was formed, and by pouring a small quantity of this into a test-glass, containing a few drops of hydro-chloric acid, a beautiful and transparent jelly was precipitated which was recognized as silica acid or silica. It is supposed that the water of the geode contained an immense quantity of silica acid in a nascent and soluble condition, that on being swallowed it had entered into an unusual combination with the conjugated acids of the bile (acting as an alkali), and with the albuminose of the ingesta ; that it had also been absorbed by the blood, and formed, perhaps, a silicate of albumen with that fluid (acting in this case as a feeble acid), and that the result had been a silicification or petrifaction of those substances for which it had most affinity!

(Thanks to the National Library of Australia)

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