Knoxville’s Doctor Frankenstein
In early August 1829 Presbyterian minister and East Tennessee College professor Dr. Stephen Foster met with 24-year-old James White and 60-year-old Joshua Young in jail in Knoxville, Tennessee. Both men were convicted murderers and scheduled to be hanged. As a man of science and faith Dr. Foster had an eerie fascination with galvanism that stemmed from his love of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein”. By hooking electric current to the body, he was convinced that he could bring a dead man to life.
After meeting with James White, Dr. Foster was certain that a young, healthy man in his twenties would be the ideal candidate to be resurrected. James agreed to the minister’s request because he really had nothing to lose.
On August 17th, the two convicts were hanged on Old Gallows Hill in Knoxville. When James’ body was cut down, Dr. Foster placed it in a cart and took down Market Street to the Second Presbyterian Church.
Inside the church Dr. Foster laid James’ lifeless body on a table and attached wires from a galvanized battery to his temples. When he flipped the switch James’s chest slowly began to rise, not once but three different times. As witnesses questioned in the background whether or not they had just seen the dead man drawing a breath, Dr. Foster quickly removed the wires from the murderer’s head.
Upon concluding his experiment Dr. Foster told those present, “What God has declared dead is not for me to bring back.”
In an interesting side note, Dr. Foster passed away six years later at the age of 36 and was buried in the First Presbyterian Church’s State Street cemetery. At the bottom of his headstone is an interesting sentence, “Mysterious are thy ways O Lord.”