Dr. John Stockton Hough

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The inscription found in one of the books attributing its binding material to Mary L___

The inscription found in one of the books attributing its binding material to Mary L___

The Strange Case Of The Woman Whose Skin Was Turned Into Books

No one knows much about Mary Lynch apart from the fact that her thighs are wrapped around three medical books in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Historical Medical Library.

Preserving your tattooed skin might be the next big thing in tattoos but that wasn’t quite the deal almost 150 years ago. As if flesh bound books don’t sound too macabre enough, how about dying in a hospital far from home, not knowing that the skin from your corpse will soon be used to bind three books?

On Wednesday, July 15, 1868, a 28 year old woman named Mary Lynch was admitted to Old Blockley, Philadelphia’s almshouse, officially known as Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH). Old Blockley was located at what is now the intersection of 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard, on the southeast corner of the University of Pennsylvania. Blockley was where you went when you could not afford care in a private hospital.

The Women’s Receiving Register from PGH lists a small amount of information for each patient: name, birthplace (a country, if other than the United States. Mary was born in Ireland.), age, temperate or intemperate habits (Were you a drunk, or not?), date of admission, ward, color and diagnosis.

Mary suffered from phthitis, an archaic term for tuberculosis of the lungs. She was listed as being of temperate habits.

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