What's Historic About Brookville, Pennsylvania?

The First Autopsy in Brookville
By Allan Barch

On Sunday morning, November 8, 1857, Brookville was in a state of chaos. W.C. Smith had jus made a great discovery. While he was in the icehouse owned by K.L. Blood, on the corner of Pickering Street and Coal Alley, he found a body. It was lying on the floor of the icehouse and it had not been there the night before. The intestines had been taken out and a lump of ice had been put in their place. Smith, extremely frightened, ran to tell everybody about what he had discovered. Men and women rushed to the icehouse. Henry R. Fullerton made a close inspection of the body and declared it to be Henry Southerland's.

Fullerton and many others rushed to Southerland's grave. They dug up the coffin and found that the body was gone. All that was left were some old clothes. The crime left many questions in people's minds. Who was Henry Southerland? Who had done this to his body, and why?

Henry Southerland was the son of a runaway slave. He died of a fever at age 30. Dr. J.G. Simons thought Southerland would be a great subject for dissection at medical school. He asked his friends to help him get the body: K.L. Blood, John Dowling, Hugh Dowling, A.P. Heichold, W.J. McKnight, and Augustus Bell. On October 31, 1857, the seven men went to the graveyard, dug up Mr. Southerland's body and put it in the icehouse. They then moved the body to the McElhose printing office. The men wanted to dissect the body, but ran out of time. So, they skinned the body so no one would know its identity. The head, arms, and legs were divided among the four men for skinning. They decided to give the body to Drs. Reynold and Ralston, hoping to get rid of it. The plan did not succeed, because of the four men's mistakes. Forgetting the door key and not removing the body, the next day the body was discovered.

The coroner's inquest could not figure out who did the crime. After the inquest, jurors viewed the body and the icehouse on Sunday evening. A rope was tied around Southerland's neck and he was dragged into Coal Alley and buried again. K.L. Blood and William McKnight were arrested a few days later.

McKnight was the scapegoat because he was a Republican with very little money or friends. He was fined $25 for the crime.

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