In 1830, William Patrick and William Whayley, labourers of Farcet were charged with bodysnatching from Yaxley churchyard.
Together they stole the recently interred body of Jane Mason.
Abraham Rist, labourer of Yaxley told the court of Patrick’s attempts to get him to enter a body-snatching partnership.
Patrick assured him that the watchmen turned a blind eye when he carried the sacks from the churchyard if he tipped with a few pieces of silver. Patrick also said that a certain ‘Grimmer’ repeatedly offered him money for the dead bodies.
A common purpose of body snatching, especially in the 19th century, was to sell the corpses for dissection or anatomy lectures in medical schools. Those who practised body snatching were often called “resurrectionists” or “resurrection-men”.
Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.
Those who were sentenced to dissection by the courts were often guilty of comparatively harsher crimes. Such sentences did not provide enough subjects for the medical schools and private anatomical schools (which did not require a licence before 1832).
While during the 18th century hundreds had been executed for trivial crimes, by the 19th century only about 55 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year.
However, with the expansion of the medical schools, as many as 500 cadavers were needed.
As a student, I occasionally helped out as server at a small American, family-owned restaurant (it wasn’t my regular job).
On one occasion I was beckoned over by an elderly lady (imagine Driving Miss Daisy) who said there was a mess under her table I needed to ‘see to’.
I knew it was clean before she sat down, but I smiled and looked underneath and saw about 15 perfect yellow rose petals underneath. I smiled, probably made small talk, cleaned it up and then buzzed off to refill drinks.
Two minutes later she called me over again and said I had missed some of the mess, this time there were several pink rose petals carefully spread equidistant under the table.
The first time I thought maybe someone had a bouquet that had fallen or something but this time it was clear this lady was spreading flower petals on the ground JUST FOR ME TO CLEAN UP!
The third time the petals were red and the fourth white. I never accused her or anything (I was just there helping a friend and didn’t want to make to trouble) but just smiled and cleaned them up.
At the end of her meal she gave me a very condescending “good job dear” and a lousy 50 cent tip.
After that, the owner kept calling me and saying an elderly lady was requesting me, saying I was clearly smarter than the ‘normal sort’ he had (because I could clean up rose petals?) and could I work regularly?
I declined the kind offer and kept my office job. I could smile through that as a one-off, but no way could I deal with stuff like that all the time.
On 15 March 15, 1892, the young Jesse W. Reno, one of five children of the Civil War hero (who, just for the record, our Biggest Little City is named after), patented his moving stairs or inclined elevator as he called it.
With a rather inauspicious curtain opener, Reno created a novelty ride at the Old Iron Pier in Coney Island, N.Y., a moving platform if you will, that elevated passengers on a conveyor belt at a 25 degree angle to another level from which they now had to walk down.
You had to hold on tight with this design because the steps were also inclined at a 25 degree angle causing many people to stand sideways, one foot higher than the other.
Although a little hard on the feet, Reno used his profits from that venture to begin a small production facility, eventually founding the Reno Electric Stairways and Conveyors company in 1902.
Reviewing his patent today (470,918), it seems to have most of the things we take for granted in an escalator.
The moving belt was made of sections of cast iron and had grooves cut into it to comb people off of the steps at the end, preventing them from getting caught as the belt turned around a large end roller below the floor level.
It also incorporated a moving handrail to which passengers could grab onto for “… the feeling of security and comfort as they move along.” A great invention for its time but one other people were working on as well.
Jesse W. Reno.
In 1896, Chicago engineer Charles Seeberger came up with an idea for a spiral type escalator that also used a moving belt. His design was novel in that it had separations that rode in grooves on the upwards helix to the next floor.
About the same time George Wheeler of New York invented a flat step escalator and received patent 617,788 for his design. This one allowed people to stand upright comfortably as they moved between floors.
All of this people-moving business was newsworthy and eventually attracted the attention of the Otis Elevator company — a leader in the enterprise of transporting people vertically from one floor to another.
By 1899, Seeberger bought out Wheeler’s patent, probably realizing it was an improvement over his own, and coined the name “escalator” from the word “scala,” which is Latin for steps and the word “elevator.”
He was hired by Otis as a design engineer. Sensing escalators might intrude on their elevators, the Yonkers, N.Y., business invested heavily in its design and produced the first commercial one in direct competition with Reno’s company in 1899.
Within a short time the new Otis wooden escalator — with Seeberger’s help — won first prize at the Paris 1900 Exposition. Seeberger eventually sold his patents to Otis in 1910 and the next year Reno followed suit.
According to Otis history, “In the 1920s, Otis engineers, led by David Lindquist, combined and improved the Jesse Reno and Charles Seeberger escalator designs, and created the cleated, level steps of the modern escalator in use today.”
Over the years, Otis dominated the escalator business but lost the product’s trademark.
The word escalator lost its proprietary status and its capital “e” in 1950 when the U.S. Patent Office ruled the word “escalator” had become just a common descriptive term for moving stairways.
Just like Kleenex and Jell-O, the word was used so much it became part of our vocabulary.