Wild West

GRAVE BUSINESS

GRAVE, n. A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student
— Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Among 19th-century black market enterprises, grave robbing ranks blackest. It evokes Dickensian lowlifes haunting moonlit graveyards, plundering coffins for buried baubles, then skulking off to seedy pawnbrokers with their spoils. So it often was. But writer and master cynic Ambrose Bierce pointedly highlights a form of tomb raiding born of legitimate medical study, in which the robbers were often “respectable” citizens.

According to a 1910 Carnegie Foundation study, more than 450 independent medical schools—mostly private “medical colleges”—were founded in

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