This Day In 1864: Remarkable Case Of Petrifaction

The Monongahela Republican contains the following: “Parties engaged in exhuming the bodies of the MERCER family for removal from the old graveyard to Monongahela City Cemetery on Friday last, found the body of Mr. J.B. MERCER in a singular state of petrifaction. The graves of Mrs. MERCER and the two children on each side were about sixteen inches lower than that of their father, yet while their bodies had returned to dust and were perfectly dry, his grave was filled with water, and his body turned to stone. Mr. MERCER was drowned in May, 1843, at what is called the old wharf, and his body, remaining in the river for eighteen days, was found on the ‘riffle’ near Parkinson’s; he was forty-five years of age, and was buried on the hill in the above described grave.

Through the kindness of Mr. FILSON we were permitted to examine the body closely. It was solid and firm, turned to stone, from the ankle joints to the neck; the feet had fallen off and were mouldered to dust, but the head, which had also fallen off, was petrified, and the hair well preserved. The body was solid, and upon being struck, gave out a dead heavy sound; the petrification was so perfect that the pores of the skin were distinct, and the proportions of the form well preserved. This has been attributed by many to the length of time the body remained in the water before interment. As petrification is never caused by internal action, but is always the result of external deposites and surroundings, this theory cannot explain the circumstances fully.

The bodies of the family were reinterred in the Monongahela Cemetery by the M.E. Church of this city, and a handsome marble shaft placed above their graves by that congregation, to which, it will be remembered, Mrs. AGATHA MERCER bequeathed some $1,000 at her decease.”

~ The New York Times, October 24, 1864

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