For those of you new to the term ‘galvanism,’ Zombie Research Society is here to educate.
‘Galvanism’ is a term often more connected to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein than to modern day zombies. Named after the 19th century scientist Luigi Galvani, Galvanism is the contraction of a muscle or muscles that is stimulated by an electric current. In physics and chemistry, it is the induction of electrical current from a chemical reaction. (Wikipedia)
Any way you slice it, ‘galvanism’ made dead flesh animate.
So, let’s dig a little into its current as well as its unsettling history to uncover some of its more extreme horrors.
First off, we are all very familiar these days with the role that electricity plays in life; life in its everyday existence and life when it’s endangered. Life would not exist without electricity, as demonstrated by how senses, and thoughts and signals traveling along vast networks of nerves communicate inside our bodies. And watching a human being brought back from the brink of death through the use of electrically-charged defibrillator machines is nothing short of miraculous.
But the link between life and electricity goes back hundreds of years. Mr. Luigi Galvani performed a number of experiments using frog legs that were controversial enough to solidify his name in history with an “ism.” It was called Galvanism. Many of his theories were vehemently disputed by such scientists as Alessandro Volta (creator of the first battery). Galvani believed in an “animal electric fluid” — which was further explored by his nephew Giovanni Aldini in his morbid experiments with, among other things, executed criminals’ severed heads (and documented in “An Account of the Late Improvements in Galvanism.”)
It is important to note that these electrical charges were generally created through chemical reactions (the aforementioned animal electric fluid), and not external generators.
Aldini actually performed experiments on several freshly executed criminals (heads and torsos) to further qualify his uncle’s conjectures that there was indeed an “animal electric fluid” that flowed through the body, and especially from the head and brain. By applying electricity to the severed heads, for example, he was able to produce movements in the heads that absolutely horrified observers, who believed the body parts were coming back to life.
From Aldini’s records: “The first of these decapitated criminals being conveyed to the apartment provided for my experiments, in the neighborhood of the place of execution, the head was first subjected to the Galvanic action. For this purpose I had constructed a pile consisting of a hundred pieces of silver and zinc. Having moistened the inside of the ears with salt water, I formed an arc with two metallic wires, which, proceeding from the two ears, were applied, one to the summit and the other to the bottom of the pile. When this communication was established, I observed strong contractions in the muscles of the face, which were contorted in so irregular a manner that they exhibited the appearance of the most horrid grimaces. The action of the eye-lids was exceedingly striking, though less sensible in the human head than in that of an ox.”
The photo at the top of this page is that of an interesting modern version of Galvanism at work. While it might be more art than science– it really drives home the connection between life and electricity. Check out Garnet Hertz’s Experiments in Galvanism — essentially a frog with a webserver inside of it, the legs of which were controlled externally by visitors to the site. Unfortunately it is no longer running, but you can read all about it HERE.
From Return of the Living Dead…
Frank: Let me ask you a question, kid. Did you see that movie Night of the Living Dead?
Freddy: Yeah. That’s the one where the corpses start eating the people. Shaw! What about it?
Frank: Did you know that movie was based on a true case?
Freddy: Come on. You’re shitting me, right?
Frank: I’ve never been more serious in my life.
Freddy: That’s not possible. They showed zombies taking over the world.
Frank: Well, they changed it all around. What really happened was, back in 1969, in Pittsburgh at the VA hospital, there was a chemical spill and all that stuff kind of leaked down into the morgue, it made all the dead bodies kind of jump around as though it was alive.