The Magician Killed by an Autopsy

Washington Irving Bishop was a renowned mentalist of the late 19th century. Today he is remembered more for his death than his exhibitions. Bishop considered the Spiritualism of the age to be superstition, and campaigned to expose it as such. He preferred to pitch his act as science-based, although it certainly wouldn’t be considered such today.

His own act was pitched as "thought reading," and he emphasized that it was not anything supernatural but instead his careful reading of the movement of the human body. Known as "muscle reading," he learned his skills from mentalist J. Randall Brown and soon soared to his own fame with a distinctly frenetic performance style, one that had an added drama with his suffering from cataleptic fits. He kept a note in his pocket that stated his seemingly catatonic state was not death, although the presence of that note on a fateful performance in 1889 would lead to a great debate of what really brought down the mentalist.

On May 12, 1889, Bishop fell into an unconscious state twice during a performance, the second which lasted quite long. How long? The contemporary accounts of the timeline are murky, but by the time his wife arrived, Bishop had already undergone an autopsy! His brain had been removed and samples taken. Bishop’s wife and mother were appalled, and Eleanor Fletcher Bishop spent the rest of her life trying to fix the blame for her son’s death on the medical examiners who carried out a premature autopsy. Read the entire story, or what we know of it, at Atlas Obscura. -via Digg


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