A UC Berkeley Medical student, a corpse, and an attempt to “reanimate” the dead with electricity in a rented Emeryville Warehouse. An E’ville urban legend that has never been proven … or disproven.
In a letter to the Emeryville Historical Society, Cal State East Bay Chemistry professor Dr. Richard E. Bozak recently inquired about the existence of such an event. “I recall hearing that in the 1930s or 1940’s, a deranged medical student from U.C. Berkeley tried to replicate the Frankenstein monster myth.”
EHS founding member Donald Hausler exhaustively researched the story in local newspaper archives and other sources, but was not able substantiate it. Hausler noted that the 1931 movie based on the 1818 Mary Shelley novel did apparently inspire similar events. “Tragically, the movie ‘Frankenstein’ inspired unscrupulous scientists to experiment on dead animals and humans in an attempt to duplicate the Frankenstein experiment.”
Despite his inability to produce any recounts of the story, Hausler remains convinced that these experiments did occur and thinks Emeryville at the time would have been a likely location for them. “At this time, because of the economic depression, there were numerous empty warehouses in Emeryville where illegal experiments of this nature could be performed without fear of detection.”
Hausler also thinks Emeryville would be a likely location for such an event because of its proximity to Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. “Mountain View Cemetery was a likely source of dead bodies, easily purloined from the many crypts and graves. The Mountain View Cemetery is host to its own mysteries including being the burial site of the gruesome and still unsolved 1947 Black Dahlia murder.
“Grave robbery and the dismemberment of disinterred bodies is a criminal act according to state laws” said Hausler adding his own thoughts on such a despicable act. “The violation of the dead should never be tolerated in the pursuit of science.”
The original Frankenstein story was allegedly inspired by a 1803 true story of an attempt to reanimate an executed criminal. While blasphemous by today’s scientific standards, electricity was still considered mysterious and possibly supernatural at the dawn of the 19th century. Shelley’s tale is said to be a cautionary story of the dangers of scientific experimentation and man’s attempt to “play god”.
Hausler hasn’t given up on finding an archive that might shed some light on this mystery, but until then, this story will persist as nothing more than a legend.