Every American school child spends a slice of their youth learning about the exploits of George Washington. Our first president is also surrounded by numerous apocryphal tales: the cherry tree, the wooden teeth, tossing a silver dollar across the Potomac. However, there’s one factoid that sounds like total malarkey and yet just happens to be true.
After Washington’s death, one prominent figure floated the idea of treating the deceased president like something out of a Mary Shelley book — he wanted to use (bad) science to bring Washington back to life.
The strange but true story, as researched by the site io9, began in December 1799 when Washington fell ill after a ride in the rain. Despite the best efforts of then-modern medicine (which mostly seems to have involved draining insane amounts of blood out of him), Washington died, exiting with a typically badass set of final words that foreshadowed John McClane: “I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.”
“I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.”
Then things get weird. Amongst those who rushed to Washington’s home as he spiraled toward his mortal end was a family friend named William Thornton. Amongst other things, Thornton was an architect who was responsible for the original design of the Capitol building.
He was also trained as a doctor, and upon arriving, he tossed out a crazy plan for resurrecting the late president. Washington’s body was being stored on ice – the president was paranoid about being buried alive, so he had left instructions not to inter him for at least three days – so Thornton wanted him thawed by the fire. Once Washington was closer to room temperature, Thornton would give the body a transfusion of lamb’s blood, perform a tracheotomy, shove bellows into the neck hole, and pump old George back into the land of the living.
I know, I know. Didn’t Miracle Max do that in The Princess Bride? Believe it or not, this was all based on actual – if wrong-headed in retrospect – research at the time. Sadly, Washington’s family decided the president shouldn’t be subjected to mad science, so we as a nation were deprived of the golden age that surely would have followed under the leadership of President Washington the Undying.