Gallows Superstitions and the Bodies of the Condemned

While writing my steampunk murder mysteries, I read a lot about dead bodies and hangings. Gallows superstitions—those associated with executions—were rife in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Got a hanged man’s corpse? Don’t know what to do now?

Here are a few ideas from the pages of history:

Use him for science

If you were a medical student, you needed corpses to dissect. Unfortunately for you, folks were fussy about the fate of their fleshly remains. To be dissected was shameful and undignified, and in the pre-antibiotic age of epidemics, stories of prematurely diagnosed death were rife: fear of being “buried alive” and cut up before you’d fully expired was real. Not to mention that on Judgment Day, the dead were supposed to rise from the grave to be changed—if you weren’t buried according to Christian rites, your soul was in serious trouble.

So in 18...