CSI: Colonial Boston comes to a close with my favorite question from last month, sent by Boston 1775 reader Brian Self. He asked what I knew about a photograph that Esther Forbes wrote was taken of Dr. Joseph Warren’s remains in 1855. Not much at all, in fact, but the beauty of email is that I had time to look things up before answering.
As I’ve been discussing, Warren was first buried by the British army on the Bunker Hill battlefield in Charlestown, in the same grave as a farmer. About a year later, Americans dug up those corpses. Warren was reburied with full Masonic honors in the Granary Burying Ground. In 1824 his brother’s family moved him again, to their vault under St. Paul’s cathedral. But that wasn’t the end of his body’s travels.
We now turn to Dr. Jonathan Mason Warren, shown above courtesy of the University of Miami Medical School. (Curiously, his given names trace back to the uncle and employer of the first man to identify Dr. Warren’s corpse.) The Memoir of Jonathan Mason Warren, M.D., by Howard Payson Arnold (published privately in Boston in 1886), quotes this entry from its subject’s journal, dated 6 May 1859:
The remains of General Joseph Warren were removed from St. Paul’s to Forest Hills [Cemetery] on Aug. 3, 1855, when my father, Sullivan [the diarist’s brother], William Appleton, and myself put them into a stone or earthen urn, like those of John Warren, Mrs. Warren, and my mother.So what’s happened to those photographs? Robert Shackleton’s The Book of Boston, published in 1916, said of Old South Meeting-House:
The place was quite moist where they were put, and the hole in the head of General Warren was becoming enlarged by the crumbling of the margin. I had a photograph made of it in three positions.
A few relics of Revolutionary days are shown in this building, and there are photographs, to suit the taste of such as care for such a thing, of the skull of General Warren, showing the fatal bullet-hole: an exhibition which perhaps might have been spared.Those prints are no longer on display, but are they still in the Old South’s collection?
There are at least three prints of these photographs in the collection of the Harvard Medical School. They’re described this way:
- “Profile of Joseph Warren’s skull, showing the bullet hole.”
- “The back of Joseph Warren’s skull, showing the bullet hole.”
- “The front of Joseph Warren’s skull.”