Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Sometime during the 19th century, a fat woman died and her body changed almost entirely into soap.
September 28, 2001 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Sometime during the 19th century, a fat woman died and her body changed almost entirely into soap. So it seems that people can turn into a soap-like substance after they die, in a process in which fatty tissues turn into adipocere, aka "grave wax" or "corpse cheese". I wonder what else can happen to my body chemically after death.
posted by meep (40 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Ack. I meant to add a warning about the pictures in the second link - they are rather grisly, so proceed at your own risk.

It seems that most of the examples shown in the pictures involve the bodies being underwater for a long time before being recovered and buried.

A picture of the soap lady can be found on this page, and it notes that the body has been deteriorating, perhaps the impetus behind the CT scan being done now.
posted by meep at 11:37 AM on September 28, 2001


and for those of you that haven't yet, i highly recommend going to the mutter museum sometime. it's in philly, and quite easy to get to and park near. it will take you around one hour to fully see the place, as it's not that big.
posted by mich9139 at 11:51 AM on September 28, 2001


I recommend you enroll in a remedial course in good taste.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:53 AM on September 28, 2001


WARNING meep ain't just whistlin' Dixie about the graphic nature of the photographs. Proceed with extreme caution.

Very cool story and link, though. The "Soap Lady" isn't even close to the best example of this process, based on the photos.

"Saponification" is a great word.
posted by briank at 11:56 AM on September 28, 2001


The fat-soap connection was also outlined very well in Fight Club. That in itself doesn't keep this from being extra freaky.

I wonder what else can happen to my body chemically after death.

It will rot and be very gross. You've had meat go bad in the fridge, right? Imagine between 100 and 200 pounds of it busily rendering itself down to components, inside a big bag of your skin.

When I was a reporter, I was on cops' beat quite a bit, and they would call me for "db's" to take pictures for them sicne they didn't have a regular photographer. It's really not very pleasant. The worst was a guy that had a heart attack closed in his bathroom with the heater on; they didn't find him for several days (neighbors called it in because of the smell...) and he'd pretty much looked like a giant puddle of Campbell's Chunky Bone Soup. I hurled.
posted by UncleFes at 11:57 AM on September 28, 2001


reminds me of the body farm.

nothing hits the spot after a long cold motorcycle ride like campbell's chunky bone soup. i also like the homestyle recipe. mmm...mmm...good!
posted by mich9139 at 12:02 PM on September 28, 2001


I love the Mutter Museum, especially the wall of faces. Makes a great first date!
posted by roboto at 12:12 PM on September 28, 2001


I wonder what else can happen to my body chemically after death.

Vyvyan: I don't know, Neil, but I'm going to stay and find out!
posted by aaron at 12:19 PM on September 28, 2001



Does comet cursor pay webmasters to pimp their spyware?

The little girl in the third link is especially creepy, she looks like she's taking a nap - a 100+ year nap. Its a good thing I'm not rich because when my sanity finally slips away all I can imagine doing is trying to buy that soap baby just to freak out babysitters.

"She's sleeping, check on her in about an hour. Thanks."
posted by skallas at 12:28 PM on September 28, 2001


Aaron: Oh, no, it's the "People's Poet!!!"
posted by metrocake at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2001


Thanks for the link + story! While the pictures were really gross, for some reason I had to look at them over and over again. . . anyone want to go look at some dead people? There is a mummy museum in Mexico (can't remember where, but very nice town) where you can visit the mummies, watch their hair grow, fun fun fun!
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 12:45 PM on September 28, 2001


"It's not a ferret, it's a pig!"

nothing hits the spot after a long cold motorcycle ride like campbell's chunky bone soup. i also like the homestyle recipe. mmm...mmm...good!

This is what happens when you spend too much time at stileproject.
posted by jpoulos at 12:50 PM on September 28, 2001


Hmmm, I wonder if saponification accounts for some reports of "eternally" fresh corpses of saints...? (I forget what the religious term is for it.) Perhaps that's how a legend like that gets started? (I agree: the Mutter Museum is well worth a trip to Philly. I was disappointed by the lack of explanations in their haphazard displays, tho.)
posted by realjanetkagan at 1:03 PM on September 28, 2001


It's more like a cabinet of curiosities than a museum. Still, I was fascinated.
posted by realjanetkagan at 1:04 PM on September 28, 2001


realjanetkagan: the adipocere site linked above does mention the phenomenon you asked about, on the History page. they were called incorruptible bodies.
posted by iamjacksamnesia at 1:16 PM on September 28, 2001


: waving weakly :

OK, I'm an idiot. People, heed the above warnings -- that one of the man in his coffin (fully dressed) has totally freaked me out.
posted by metrocake at 1:22 PM on September 28, 2001


realjanetkagan: i thought about that too. of course, they remark the soap lady is deteriorating, so even if saponification slowed the decay, it seems that's not enough to prevent degradation.

i had been told a long time ago, and i can't find anything on it now, that if one is buried in air-tight conditions, the decay is actually faster than if one has a porous casket - evidently, anaerobic bacteria are hungry lil beasties. but, as i said, i haven't been able to check this recently. anybody know?

in any case, i had decided to go for cremation quite a while ago. this is just one more argument for it. of course, many of the specimens were cases where people had drowned, so it's not like they could have prevented the saponification.
posted by meep at 1:30 PM on September 28, 2001


If any of you sickos are interested in reading more about this kind of thing, there's a great book on forensic anthropology called Dead Men Do Tell Tales, which I enjoyed thoroughly, being a bit of a sicko myself.
posted by ratbastard at 1:31 PM on September 28, 2001


Discover Magazine had an article about the Incorruptibles a couple of months ago. I posted it in another thread about mummies then, too.

They were not subject to saponification -- the researchers showed it was a combination of cool temps, gases in the crypt, etc. that caused the preservation.
posted by briank at 1:41 PM on September 28, 2001


for another fantastic read on the wonderful world of mortis, check out The Big Book of Death, which is a wacky romp through all things relating to the great beyond, as illustrated by a slew of varied comic artists. a surprisingly informative and light-hearted examination of the processes of death, what morticians really do, an examination of autopsy, mass death in history (war, plague, etc) the architecture of boneyards, and more... the bizarre deaths section is a riot. definitely a recommended buy.
posted by dagon at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2001


iamjacksamnesia: Thanks. I'll go look further when I have more stomach for it.
posted by realjanetkagan at 1:46 PM on September 28, 2001


Thanks Metrocake - the mental image I have from your " waving weakly " is great - hilarious, concise and informative.
posted by kokogiak at 3:54 PM on September 28, 2001


"it was beautiful... we were selling rich women their fat asses back to them."
posted by sixtwenty3dc at 4:07 PM on September 28, 2001


I followed a link to this beauty of a page. It makes those waxy folks look like the Olson twins.
posted by jessie at 4:30 PM on September 28, 2001


Thanks SO much about the warnings for the links, because I was about to look and I don't need that. Now I'm afraid to click them on accident.

But just in case the info is on one of the sites with the nasty pictures, can someone tell me how they initially realized the material is soap-like? Are there bubbles or something?

Please understand I'm asking innocently and not trying to be gross. I'm just really curious (and I slept through most of my chemistry classes).
posted by lnicole at 4:31 PM on September 28, 2001


*waves weakly, following Metrocake's example*

Please explain to me why I can watch the History Channel and A&E when they have their "Unsolved Mysteries/Crimes" shows and not be affected, but a couple of pictures makes my skin crawl?

*shudder* Thanks for the warning.
posted by KoPi_42 at 4:46 PM on September 28, 2001


i wonder if it tastes like bacon...

...yum... ...bacon...
posted by jcterminal at 4:54 PM on September 28, 2001


Yum...soap...
posted by jessie at 4:59 PM on September 28, 2001


I followed a link to this beauty of a page.

Well there's no need to pile it on. The adipocere thing was gruesomely fascinating, but we don't really need a whole bunch o' links to autopsy photos and such, do we? A little of this goes a very long way.
posted by briank at 5:36 PM on September 28, 2001


Metafilter....The rotten.com it's okay to like.
posted by Optamystic at 6:27 PM on September 28, 2001


alright, no more fight club references, it's too obvious, and in the book, it's marla's mom's fat, which marla has preserved for lip augmentation, that gets made into soap.

i've always maintained that when i die my body should get cremated and this is yet more auxilary to that conclusion. and on the saint note, some buddhist monks turn into one or a few crystalline 'pebbles' after cremation, sometimes found among ashes and sometimes there's no ash at all. weird.
posted by elle at 6:49 PM on September 28, 2001


I could have lived my entire life without hearing the phrase "corpse cheese". Thank you for ruining my remaining years...
posted by aramaic at 7:16 PM on September 28, 2001


"With the television crew and museum workers eating cheese steaks a few feet away..." Who says irony isn't dead?
posted by gimonca at 7:24 PM on September 28, 2001


I second (or third) the greatness of the Mutter Museum. My favorite exhibit was the drawers full of things that people have swallowed. Hundreds of objects, from pins to fairly large toys. Eerie and neat. However, for those seeking sights that will haunt them forever, try the Walter Reed Museum in DC. They have a hairball there shaped just like a stomach, which I find myself thinking of whenever my cat coughs one up. There are also many things in jars that I prefer not to think on, at all.
posted by kittyloop at 7:50 PM on September 28, 2001


"alright, no more fight club references, it's too obvious, and in the book, it's marla's mom's fat, which marla has preserved for lip augmentation, that gets made into soap. "

they turned fight club into a book!?!
posted by jcterminal at 8:04 PM on September 28, 2001


I'd much rather you all be soap after death than evil samurai zombies.
posted by fuq at 8:21 PM on September 28, 2001


> I wonder if saponification accounts for some reports
> of "eternally" fresh corpses of saints...?

Cleanliness is next to godliness.

And if this woman's name has been "lost to history," I suggest they call her 'Bubbles'.
posted by pracowity at 5:20 AM on September 29, 2001


they turned fight club into a book!?!

In case you're not being ironic, Chuck Palahniuk wrote the book first, then sold the rights for a movie. Just like Alex Garland's 'The Beach' or Nick Hornby's 'High Fidelity'.
posted by ikalliom at 6:55 AM on September 29, 2001


I knew about this story, it was in a book named Fat?So? , about the Soap Lady by Lynn McAfee. In fact this is a really gross story, Lynn wrote about how some medical students who worked at the museum, drew bets on whether or not the "soap" would lather up and took a chunk. Seriously. Thats gross and shows huge disrespect of the dead. So even seeing this link reminds me of that whole horrible story. This link is in pretty bad taste. And I didnt need to hear the term corpse cheese either. I didnt look at the pictures. Cremation looks better and better.
posted by Budge at 8:04 AM on September 29, 2001


i wasn't being ironic. i was being sarcastic.

;)
posted by jcterminal at 6:39 PM on October 1, 2001


« Older London pilot taught hijackers...   |   Interested in taming your man?... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments