| John Torrington: The Frozen Mummy of the Franklin Expedition |
Meet John Torrington, Petty Officer of the fabled Franklin Expedition to the Arctic Circle. He died of lead poisoning at age 20 and was buried in the frozen tundra along with three others at the expedition's camp site.
Frozen in a block of ice for over 150 years, the body was perfectly preserved. The only sign of decay, the shriving of the eyelids and lips. He still wore the cloths he died in, arms and legs still tied together to make burial easier. A handkerchief was even tied around his head to keep his jaw closed. Blood samples revealed toxic levels of lead in his system, a result of poor food storage on board ship. In his lungs, the preserved remnants of pneumonia.
John Torrington suffered from extreme malnutrition in his final days. The emaciated appearance of the body and the absence of and calluses or dirt on his hands suggested that John was ill for quite some time before his death. This would ultimately lend credence to the theory that the entire Franklin expedition suffered from lead poisoning as a result of a poorly canned food supply.
In the 1980s, his grave was exhumed by scientists in an attempt to discover the cause of the expedition's failure. When they opened the coffins and thawed the solid block of ice inside, they were astonished, and frightened, by what was inside. John Torringtonstared back at them, literally
Digging into the ground, it didn't take long for the scientists to encounter a problem. Less than four inches down, the ground was frozen solid. The permafrost had all but locked Torrington's coffin in a frozen tomb of earth and ice. Progress slowed to a crawl as the scientists mined their way through the permafrost. Eventually their efforts paid off when a strange smell began to emit from the ground. Five feet down, the researchers hit the coffin.
Believe it or not, the presence of a coffin within the grave was significant enough. In the century since the expedition's disappearance, the graves had been subject to intense debate and even controversy. Some skeptics even claimed the graves were empty either by design or by removal.