History – The secret in Benjamin Franklin’s house

From 1757 to 1775 Benjamin Franklin, who helped draft out the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, lived in Central London in Craven Street, close to Charing Cross Station. The building was also accepted to have been the first American Embassy in London. But it hid a secret.

Benjamin Franklin’s house today is a museum

    Many, many years later, the house was being renovated. And it was during this time that the builders made a shocking discovery. Whilst digging in the basement they found a human bone. The police were called and a forensic team began a careful search. They discovered over 1,200 assorted human bones ranging from a baby to an old man. Tests showed them to have come from the time of Franklin’s residence. So what was the reason? Was a secret mass murderer at work?

    Careful examination soon began to indicate the likely story of how the bones ended up under the basement floor. A number of the skulls had been trepanned (a medical procedure) and many of the limbs had been surgically removed. This all indicated that the bones came from the bodies of dead people who had ended up at a medical research or teaching facility. But why were they then buried in Benjamin Franklin’s house?

    Further research showed that around the corner in The Strand was an anatomy school run by a friend of Franklin’s, William Hewson. Recently deceased bodies were always in demand and legitimate ways of obtaining them fell short of demand. This was why grave robbing was such big business at the time. Now Franklin was known to take a great interest in the sciences and it is very likely that he would have been an interested part of the audience during autopsies. And it is not too far to imagine him allowing his friend to dispose of the remains beneath his basement.

    As a footnote to this story, William Hewson died of blood poisoning due to being infected during one of his dissections. Today, you can visit this building as it is now the Benjamin Franklin Museum.

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