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The Cadaver and the Column

by Andrewknorpp


BTW, this is for a ghost walk I’m starting in my town. So it’s (mostly) based on a true story.

In reviewing it would be super helpful if you could tell me if the story was believable and creepy. Keep in mind I will be telling it at night, starting at a graveyard, and ending at the Chambers building.

Thanks!

Before I can tell you something interesting, I must tell you something boring. Well, upon first viewing, it was boring. I have asked many people throughout town for ghost stories. College Students are always the least helpful. Once I had been going all day and got nothing. But, I didn’t want to feel like my day was a waste. So, when one of the last students said they had a little something my heart rose. They said it was dumb, but I told them that I would take it. Because honestly, I would at this point.

“Well,” They said. “There is a rumor that someone died in the reconstruction of Chambers [that is the college’s main building], and now they still haunt the building. Sometimes at night, you can actually hear construction still happening. To tell the truth, I have heard it a couple of times.”

He was right. It was supremely dumb.

Worst. Ghost. Story. Ever. No one even died in the rebuilding of Chambers! You may be wondering why I’m telling you this crappy ghost story. We’ll get to that, but first, I have to tell you about graverobbers.

Or, more specifically, Body snatchers. In 1870-1900 there was a whole body-snatching fad. Grave robbing is when you raid a grave for valuable objects buried with the body, and body snatching is when you took the corpse itself. Normally, used by doctors and students of medicine, for directions and the study of anatomy. Cadavers were hard to come by, this was because there were few legal avenues to get them and no longer-term way to keep the body’s fresh.

But doctors and students still needed bodies, and they were going to get them, one way or another. Sometimes they would do the robbing themselves, or sometimes they would just buy them from whoever was selling, no questions asked.

This body snatching was frequently done in poor or black comminutes where it was easier to get away with.

This practice extended all the way out to our little “medical school” at Davidson College. Which at the time, had about 45 medical students in need of cadavers.

Now, grave robbing is obviously immoral and illegal, but let’s put ourselves in the mindset of a college student. You don’t have a ton of money, college is expensive, books are expensive, and most of all, fresh cadavers are expensive. But, you might notice that corpses are just lying around unused in graveyards. Taking one couldn’t hurt too much. In fact, by using a cadaver, you could be a better doctor, and therefore save lives. So, you and your friends are reading the morning paper and see that, in fact, recently, a healthy young woman had died. (well, as healthy as you can be and dead.) She was now buried, unused, in the next town. Since she had died recently, she was guaranteed fresh. So you might load up your buggy and shovels in the dead of night and go to snatch a body.

That is precise what three college students did. They arrived in darkness and began to dig with their wooden shovels, (which are quieter,) putting the dirt onto a sheet so as not to disturb the grass.

See, body-snatching was illegal. It needed to be done quickly and efficiently, so you couldn’t always dig a nice clean hole. Grave-Snatchers had strategies to maximize speed and stealth.

They would dig a hole straight down to the head of the coffin, where, with the help of crowbars, they would make a hole. From there, they would reach inside and wrap a rope around the shoulders of the corpse. They would take this rope, climb out of the hole, and yank the body up and through.

Then they would fill the hole quickly and heave the body up onto their cart and get out. Like boy scouts, leaving no trace. Or at least, that was the plan. But this time, they accidentally left a spade at the sight of the snatching.

Now, the story goes that their genius strategy for making college a little cheaper was going well until the father got involved. Seeing the spade, he got suspicious and checked the grave. Finding it empty, he was thrown into a rage.

Apparently, his beautiful daughter had been his pride and joy, so her death had been very difficult for him, but when she was stolen, that sadness turned to hot anger. He was ready to deal out punishment even if the law wasn’t.

The three students heard that the father was coming to the college. They either had to somehow dispose of the body or face the punishment. The resourceful students scrambled, grabbing the body and dragging it up the stairs of the Chambers building. Chambers was the largest building on campus, with five 45 foot tall columns. Each of these columns were hallow and let out into the attic. So, as the students stumbled up through the cobwebbed attic and dropped the body town a column. With a sickening crunch, they thought their problem was solved. Who would check a column for a body?

The father came by and demanded that the school be searched. The students held their breaths as the school searched high and low, but no corpse was found.

The intrepid college students thought their problems were solved, and so they went back to there normal lives. But they hadn’t factored in the heat. As the weeks began to warm up, and people began to notice a smell.

The students knew if people looked too hard and followed the smell, they might find the body. But, this was when they had their third stroke of genius. Lime. A chemical that halts the rotting process, today it is often used by the mafia and criminal organizations to hide a body's scent from the authorities. The students were men of science, so they were familiar with this chemical and knew where to find it. So with their second crime of the month, they began to steal the college supply, and every night one of them would be tasked with going up there and given her a healthy sprinkling.

This went on for a couple of weeks, until one night something happened that made none of them dare go back. It was the youngest's turn. In the wee hours of the morning, he took a small paper bag of lime and then crept out of his boarding house. I can imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been. If you were seen leaving at such a time of night, rumors might spread. At this time, even dancing was frowned upon, so I can't imagine what people would think if they caught you creeping out in the middle of the night.

Then, creeping across campus, thinking about all the possible things the father might do to them if they were caught. Then he climbed up into the champers building's creaky old attic. He looked down the long column to check the mangled body was still there. It should be noted that lime halts the rotting process, in effect, similar to mummifying. So, though the body was breaking down, it still looked quite like the person they first found. With a quick dump of lime, he crept back out and made his way down to the bottom floor of the building. He began to slowly and quietly walk down the large marble steps at the entrance of the building.

It could be chalked up to the fact he was tired, paranoid, and young, but from behind him, he heard a loud thumping, like someone of immense strength was attempting to burst out through stone.

He turned to find the source of the sound, terrified that it came from someone who could have seen him. He did not find a person; instead, his eyes fell on a column that shook with each mighty thump. For a moment of shock, he couldn't help but stare at the very column in which he had just poured lime dust.

"Help! Somebody help! Let me out. I'm trapped! I can't breathe!" A voice screamed from within. The columns considerably dampened the sobbing voice, but you could still hear how raw, terrified, and broken it was.

The young student turned and ran back to his boarding house. He refused ever to go back. The two others may have claimed not to believe him, but they never went back either.

Years passed, the students graduated, and the father stopped looking. Some people said they could still hear pounding and screaming coming from the column.

Later, college students wondering about the rumor lowered someone down the column. They did, in fact, find bones.

But time passed, and eventually, Chambers burned down and was rebuilt in the same spot it had sat before, and the story faded into myth.

After two hundred years and one fire, one would think that the sound would have faded. But after hearing a college student talk about the strange banging of late-night construction work, I personally think otherwise. 


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171 Reviews


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Tue Sep 29, 2020 10:37 pm
Vil wrote a review...



Finally here, dude!!! Sorry for the wait really, I am!

What I Like
This is a neat little ghost story you've set up here!

What I Dislike
There are some grammar errors here, bit those can be fixed with a quick Grammarly check!

I feel that your opening paragraph was a bit-- dull. It rally didn't pull me in, and I was kinda bored without having even heard the story. I also think that your plot is a bit off and disconnected. The beginning and the end really don't feel like they had a connection, and I really felt like I was reading two ghost stories instead of one. I'm really not sure why the first one was there, really.

What I Would Recommend Doing
I would recommend running this through Grammarly to work out the grammatical kinks in your short story. Then, I would re-evaluate the story as a whole. Ask "How did I get from start to finish?" and then go through and revise.

Have a nice [*insert time of day here*]!!!




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Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:36 pm
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Ichthys wrote a review...



The story was, overall, amazing, especially with the amount of research you seem to have put into it, but it could use a few tweaks.

When you first brought up the father, I thought you meant a priest. If you changed it to "the woman's father" or "the father of the woman whose grave they just robbed," what kind of father would be a little easier to understand. Since this is meant to be told aloud, however, I'm not sure whether a listener would have the same problem.

Like RadDog said, you could take out that bit where you talk about the students' self-justifications and replace it with the purpose of that evening's bosy-snatching excursions. Were they going to use the cadaver to practise a complicated surgery, or to study human atonomy on a real body?

Finally, instead of "After two hundred years and a fire," I would recommend using "one fire." Because the first item gives a number, it would sound more natural to have the second one give a number as well.

I really enjoyed the story, even if it didn't give me a scare. (It's when watching movies or using agumented reality that horror really gets to me, but I prefer reading horror so my chest doesn't hurt.) Graveyards aren't scary at all, but if I listened to someone narrate this in the dark, at the locations in the story, I wouldn't be able to sleep afterwards, so it's perfect for your ghost walk. Good luck!




Andrewknorpp says...


Thanks much for the review! I will be sure to make those changes. Also, late welcome to YWS! If you ever have any questions about the site I'd be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.



Andrewknorpp says...


Thanks much for the review! I will be sure to make those changes. Also, late welcome to YWS! If you ever have any questions about the site I'd be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.



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Thu Sep 24, 2020 3:21 pm
RadDog13579 wrote a review...



Hey @Andrewknorpp, RadDog here for a review! This was a great short story. The horror was good and I think it would be great for a Ghost Walk.

Before I can tell you something interesting, I must tell you something boring. Well, upon first viewing, it was boring. I have asked many people throughout town for ghost stories. College Students are always the least helpful. Once I had been going all day and got nothing. But, I didn’t want to feel like my day was a waste. So, when one of the last students said they had a little something my heart rose. They said it was dumb, but I told them that I would take it. Because honestly, I would at this point."


This was a great start. I like how you set the mood for the story, it really helped me get into the mood. It just feels a little informal for me. When I hear a ghost story, I want it to be spooky and dark without a ton of comic relief, I saw this throughout your story and think it could use a little work. I still like something to lighten the mood but it was a little too much in my opinion. Overall a good start.

"Or, more specifically, Body snatchers. In the 1870s-1900's there was a whole body-snatching fad. Grave robbing is when you raid a grave for valuable objects buried with the body, and body snatching is when you took the corpse itself. Normally, for the use of doctors and students of medicine. Cadavers were hard to come by, this came from the fact there were few legal avenues to get them, and there was no longer-term way to keep the body’s fresh.


I like how you explained this well. It was good for me since I didn't know the difference between grave and body robbers. It worked really well in getting me intrigued in the story. Just a small grammar mistake (I'm one to talk) 1870s-1900's <-- you don't need the apostrophe.

Now, grave robbing is obviously immoral and illegal, but let’s put ourselves in the mindset of a college student. You don’t have a ton of money, college is expensive, books are expensive, and most of all, fresh cadavers are expensive. But, you might notice that corpses are just lying around unused in graveyards. Taking one couldn’t hurt too much. In fact, by using a cadaver, you could be a better doctor, and therefore save lives. So, you and your friends are reading the morning paper and see that, in fact, recently, a healthy young woman had died. (well, as healthy as you can be and dead.) She was now buried, unused, in the next town. Since she had died recently, she was guaranteed fresh. So you might load up your buggy and shovels in the dead of night and go to snatch a body.


This was good but you justified it a little too much. Try to keep the fact that this was wrong and bad in your writing. Also, you could explain a little more about why college students needed bodies. I found myself wondering why exactly they were digging them up.

This is a really great ghost story that sent chills up my spine. It felt very realistic and original since I've never heard a story like it. This is a great piece. Thats all from me! until next time, happy writing!




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Wed Sep 23, 2020 8:17 pm
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Rosewood wrote a review...



I always love a short story... the more horror the better! That being said, on to the review.

Before I can tell you something interesting, I must tell you something boring. Well, upon first viewing, it was boring. I have asked many people throughout town for ghost stories. College Students are always the least helpful. Once I had been going all day and got nothing. But, I didn’t want to feel like my day was a waste. So, when one of the last students said they had a little something my heart rose. They said it was dumb, but I told them that I would take it. Because honestly, I would at this point.


This beginning gives the aura you would if you were telling a ghost story, which, I suppose, you were going for - so good job on that! But in terms of grammar, I felt that the sentences were a little rushed. Ghost stories work best when you build up suspense, and you do that went you lull your readers in a false sense of security. Longer sentences are a good backbone to tell the story while short sentences are there to help narrate a point or to drop a bomb. For example, "Before I can tell you something interesting, I must tell you something boring. Well, upon first viewing, it was boring. I have asked many people throughout town for ghost stories. College Students are always the least helpful." could be "Before I tell you something [interesting, [it's my sorrowful duty to tell/relate to you] something [boring/uninteresting]. Well, [at the time, I had thought it to be boring]. [You see,] I have asked many people throughout my town for ghost stories. [It took me to the least helpful of the bunch, college students.]"

That was just a couple of the sentences I was concerned about, but if this is meant to be more educational, it doesn't have to apply!

“Well,” They said. “There is a rumor that someone died in the reconstruction of Chambers [that is the college’s main building], and now they still haunt the building.


The description in parenthesis, while meant to be helpful, felt unnecessary. If you really want it, I suggest changing it to something like " "Well," They said. “There is a rumor that someone died in the reconstruction of of the college's main building, the Chambers". That way, it ends on something you want your readers to remember and it's still clear.

I mean, other than those issues, I didn't see any other problems needed to be fixed! If you want my opinion, I feel that your writing progressed beautifully and the 'mistakes' fewer and fewer. My only other questions is what was exactly in the columns. What it the girl's spirit? Another unlucky student? A trick on the student's mind?

Anyway, I saw that you wanted to know whether or not the ghost story was believable or creepy... certainly! The pacing was a little awkward in the first few paragraphs or so, but you cleared that up quickly afterward. It was quite enjoyable, actually!




Andrewknorpp says...


Thank you so much! I will definitely try to fix those passing issues. The reason I had the parenthese thing was because this story will normally be told to locals, who are familiar with chambers. But since I thought that YWS members might not be able to figure that out. But it seems I was wrong, I will delete that!



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Wed Sep 23, 2020 3:41 pm
Andrewknorpp says...



I found a lot of interesting facts while researching this, some of which I will include on my walk. But they didn't really seem to fit the mood of the story, so I'll just put them down here.
1. Practical corpse jokes
Apparently the college students used the poor cadavers for jokes. (College students am I right?) apparently, once a student saw his friends going off in the middle of the night to do a little cadaver shopping. He was in a pranking mood, so he stealthy followed them, and watched hidden, as they dug up a coffin and then put it in the back of the wagon. He saw his chance while they began to fill back in the grave. With them distracted, he snuck up, took the body out of the coffin, and got in himself.
Later, as they were driving back, one of the students checked on the “corpse” and, out of surprise, exclaimed, “This one’s still warm!” Before the other could respond, the body rose up, “So would you,” It said in a low gravelly voice, “if you’d been to hell"
I wish I could have been there to see their hasty exist.
2. Back in the days of body snatching, a product came to solve the problem (yay capitalism) called a coffin torpedo. It would litterly blow up someone if they opened you coffin after it was buried. People argue how much these booby traps actually did, but the idea of them was a probaly more affective to deter snatchers han the actual blowing up. Though there is one recorded case of it killing a grave robber.





"I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul."
— Pablo Neruda