Cincinnati is known for a lot of things but in the late 1880’s it seems beer, caskets and cadavers were top of the list, and I think this tale links them together quite splendidly.
Back then, our city’s beer consumption ranked 2 1/2 times the national average. That comes in at about 40 gallons for every city resident – man, woman and child. As for cadavers, Cincy was known as the nation’s largest producer of caskets and undertaker’s supplies around the world. Our fair city is also home to the oldest private nonprofit mortuary science school in the country, Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science. Founded in 1882, the school was home to many pioneers in the field including Joseph Henry Clarke known as the “father of American embalming schools” and Charles O. Dhonau who worked tirelessly to improve and expand mortuary education.
In addition to beer, caskets and cadavers, we also have some pretty interesting topography, being a city of hills. In the old days one of the most popular ways to travel outside of the city center was with a series of inclines. In all, there were five inclines which radiated outward from the downtown area. These efficient lifts were used in conjunction with our streetcar system to transport folks throughout our city of seven hills. The Bellevue Incline, often referred to as the Elm Street Incline, was the primary choice of students making their way to McMicken Hall – which housed the city’s first medical college. The school was named for Charles McMicken, a local real estate tycoon and businessman, who left a fortune to the city when he passed.
Trips on the Bellevue Incline weren’t for the faint of heart, however.
You see, the college which sat right next to the track was home to some very serious scholars as well as few pranksters. With no shortage of cadavers for the students to practice on, it has been said commuters on the incline often complained about the medical student’s habits of waving dismembered arms and legs out the windows at female passengers as the trolleys passed.
Body parts for the medical college were kept fresh thanks to nearby Schoenling Brewery. One of the few area places with proper refrigeration. They were known to allow their coolers to be used for housing both cadavers and lager.
Given Cincinnati’s penchant for beer drinking, one has to wonder if those medical students weren’t imbibing some of Schoenling’s finest when they made the decision to wave those amputated limbs outside their prominent institute of “higher” learning.
Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science (2007). “History of CCMS”
Grace, Tom and White, Kevin. Cincinnati Revealed: A Photographic History of the Queen City. 2004. Arcadia Publishing. Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina
Hand, Greg Cincinnati’s Fashionably Bizarre Nineteenth-Century Coffins. October 17, 2015. Cincinnati Magazine. Cincinnati, Ohio.
Nobel, Greg and May, Lucy. Cincinnati’s Rise and Fall as a Brewery town Part 1: From Porkopolis to Beeropolis, How It All Began. September 2013. Wcpo.com