January 08, 2011

Suspended Animation in Vermont

Once the December holidays are over winter in New England can be tough to get through. Wouldn't it be nice just to sleep through the cold dark months like bears do?

According to an article in the December 21, 1887 edition of Vermont's Argus and Patriot newspaper, some farmers in Calais, Vermont could. They knew the secrets of suspended animation, and used their technique on the old and infirm during those winters when food was in short supply.

To begin the process, the farmers would feed their elderly relatives a special chemical brew (ingredients unknown) which induced a comatose state. After leaving the comatose elders outside overnight in freezing weather, the farmers would build a large wooden box.

When this was completed they placed about two feet of straw in the bottom; then they laid three of the frozen bodies on the straw. Then the faces and upper part of the bodies were covered with a cloth, then more straw was put in the box, and the other three bodies placed on top... Boards were then firmly nailed on the top to protect the bodies from being injured by carnivorous animals that make their home on these mountains.

The box was left outside to be buried in snow. In early May, the farmers would open the box and thaw their relatives out with hot water and hemlock, just in time to help plant the corn.

Sadly, the story doesn't seem to be true. In his book Green Mountains, Dark Tales Joseph Citro explains that Allen Morse, a Calais farmer and teller of tall tales, told this story to his daughter one day to entertain her. She worked at the Argus and Patriot, and arranged to have the story printed as a gift on his 52nd birthday. Its title? "A Strange Tale"!

However, Citro says he isn't 100% certain "A Strange Tale" was a hoax. He claims the University of Vermont still fields questions from scientists asking about the technique. I don't know how they answer.

I guess in closing I'll just say that no matter how tempting this sounds you shouldn't try it at home!

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