Our (Almost) Zombie President

Sometimes, truth is even stranger than fiction. We tend to think that it takes a robust imagination, and perhaps a little bit of paranoia, to actively fear a zombie uprising, the likes of which we see in films and on TV. But is it really that far beyond the realm of possibility? They certainly didn’t think so in the late 1700s, when a prominent American physician attempted to bring a very high-profile figure back from the dead. George Washington, as everyone knows, was our first president…but as it turns out, he was almost our first zombie president, too.

Here’s another thing you might not know about Washington: like many folks of his era, he was afraid of being buried alive. When he died of epiglottitis in 1799 his body was kept above ground on ice, for three days, according to his wishes. Physician William Thornton (also an architect, who first conceived of the design for the Capitol) was on his way to Mount Vernon to treat the commander-in-chief when Washington finally passed. Upon arriving and hearing the unfortunate news, he came up with an idea straight out of a gothic novel: to ‘resuscitate’ Washington.

Dr. William Thornton

Here’s a step-by-step recap of his plan:

  1. Thaw Washington’s frozen corpse.
  2. Give him a tracheotomy, so as to pump air into his lungs.
  3. Lamb’s blood. Infuse Washington with lamb’s blood. Boom.
  4. Party!

There was, to some extent, a method to this madness: Thornton reasoned that the president had suffered from want of air as a result of the epiglottitis, hence the tracheotomy. As for the lamb’s blood, at the turn of the 19th century it was considered by many in the medical community to be chock-full of restorative properties. Despite this no-doubt foolproof plan, friends and family of Washington objected, and put the kibosh on the experiment.

A woman is given a transfusion of goat blood (France, 1800)

As Thornton recalled the incident decades later, he wrote that he still wondered:

“whether if it were possible it would be right to attempt to recall to life one who had departed full of honor & renown; free from the frailties of age, in the full enjoyment of every faculty, & prepared for eternity.”

Eternity, huh? I guess you’d have to ask Robert O’Hara’s council of zombies how an everlasting life of civic duty is going for them…

Do you have your tickets for Zombie: The American yet? Visit our website here to get them now!


“Death Defied: Dr. Thornton’s Radical Idea of Bringing George Washington Back to Life (George Washington’s Mount Vernon)”

The Capitol architect wanted to reanimate George Washington’s dead body (io9)

Zombie George Washington: How a mad scientist planned to reanimate the first president with lamb’s blood after he died (Mail Online)

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