Lillian (Ross) Hall didn’t know her 38-year-old brother Charles had died, so it was a huge shock to discover he was a “pickle” at Yale Medical School.
Charles Stephen Ross grew up in Pawtucket and left there as a young adult, destined for life at sea. He became the captain of a tugboat and, in 1897, began renting a room from a lady in New London to use as his home base. He wasn’t used to keeping in touch with family or friends and they only heard about him occasionally.
His mother, Mary, died in 1899 at the age of 53. His father Stephen, a fisherman and furniture upholsterer, lived in Cranston with Charles’ 33-year-old sister Lillian and 10-year-old son Robert. Some sources list Lillian as a married woman while others list her as a widow. One Family History Her husband, 45-year-old Harry Hall, was killed in a car accident in Colorado in 1901 before she returned her son to Rhode Island to live with her father. However, there are records of her giving birth to her daughter, Alice Bradley Hall, in Rhode Island on November 29, 1902 which mention the child’s father as the 29-year-old cabinetmaker Robert H. Hall. Lillian was living with her father on Bridge Street at the time and had no husband with her. Additionally, there are no records for Alice again. Lillian’s death certificate, which states that she died of “negligence” in a Rhode Island hospital on October 31, 1910 at 10:56 a.m., states that her clothes caught fire while she was putting kerosene in the stove and caused severe burns to her neck, arm, and chest, culminating In sepsis and shock, she is remembered as a married woman. At the time, she was living on West Street in Providence with her father where she told a census employee a few months before her death that she was a widow and had only one child.
When Lillian received a letter from a representative of Yale University School of Medicine on January 5, 1903, she was informed that Charles had been killed in a train accident in New London on Christmas Day. She was told that if she had no desire to claim the body, the result might be financially rewarding for her. Lillian was shocked not only to learn that her only brother had died, but she was also surprised by the offer of money to give up his body.
Lillian immediately told her father of Charles’ death and he was sent to the autopsy room at Yale University. As the news spread throughout the extended family, many people tried to get some answers but none were obtained. Finally one took it upon himself to contact a local politician who got to the bottom of things. Charles had not yet become a corpse of a medical student. He was lying in a container of chemicals in the school cold room.
The family also discovered that Charles was not killed in an accident. The owner of the house came to explain that he had been sick in bed due to consumption of lungs, bronchial tubes and intestines for some time and had expired at Christmas. Because relatives needed to claim the body, the homeowner gave Stephen Ross’ address to the city’s Commissioner of Charity, Ronald B. Mosell. He told her he would take the body and hand it over to the family. However, this was not what he did.
Once the investigation began, he told the story of a man named Mr. Stinnett who arrived claiming to be a relative of Charles’s wife who ordered him to return the body to New Haven, where she was living. This story was very confusing to all who knew Charles, because he never married. Mossell then quickly changed his story, explaining that he had delivered the body to Yale University School of Medicine and had every right to do so. Members of the Charity Commission responded that he had absolutely no authority to do such a thing. By law, if the body has not been claimed for 24 hours and the person is an inmate in a prison or poor house, rather than burying the body at public cost, the custodian of the institution can direct its donation to the medical school. However, Moselle overstepped his bounds and when faced with the accusation, he quickly resigned his position.
Stephen Ross and Lillian Hall were so angry that they threatened legal action if they were in a better financial position. Contact a lawyer to find out how much legal aid they can afford. Meanwhile, Herbert E. Smith, dean of the Yale University Department of Medicine, vehemently that the school had anything to do with the purchase of the body. He stated that Yale University did not send people to surreptitiously go get their bodies because they got everything they needed through legal means to accept unclaimed body donations.
However, Yale University anatomy professor Dr Harry Burr Ferris stated that he knew the body had been purchased in New London for use by medical students, and that it was a practice that was regularly followed. Investigators found it interesting that Frank Valentine Chappelle, a member of the Charity Committee, owned the barge Charles had driven for the Thames Tow Boat Company prior to his illness.
Stephen demanded that his son’s body be returned to him immediately and he was put on the 12:05 train to Providence that day. I arrived at the rooms of Thomas F.
By the time Charles Ross’ body appeared in a bowl at Yale University School of Medicine, there was an acute shortage of bodies for those pursuing the profession to become doctors. There were records of medical schools paying $50 to $75 for a new body, where in the years before that they had been paying $5 to $40. In 1902, it was not uncommon for doctors and undertakers to sell the bodies of those who died without a family.
In 1883, it was discovered that the janitor at the Boston Poor House was keeping those who died there inside pickling brine in ham barrels and selling them to Harvard for $3 to $12. The mourners at the funeral had no idea that the doorman had packed the coffins with wood to give each of them the weight of the corpse that was not there.
In February of 1900, Mrs. Mary Henry of Naugatuck was shocked to find out that her husband had died and was in a bowl at medical school, just as Mrs. Robert Byrd had been in July of the previous year. Selling dead bodies was a big business. Medical schools needed the bodies, pimps needed money, and most families didn’t even know what was going on. Stephen Ross was one of the lucky ones who got his son back before the sculptors did so and put him in sacred ground.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island-based columnist, lecturer, and author.