Real-life reanimator and his zombie hounds

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Dr. Robert E. Cornish was a highly gifted American biologist who received his doctorate from the University of California in 1924, aged just twenty-two. Cornish remained at the Berkeley campus of the university carrying out research and working on various outrageous projects, such as reading glasses for underwater, but in 1932 shortly after Universal Pictures had released Frankenstein the doctor’s interests took a macabre turn.

Robert E. Cornish

Robert E. Cornish

Cornish began work on a method to reanimate the dead. The mad doctor had created a bizarre see-saw which could be used to tilt cadavers up and down at a fast enough pace to circulate the blood. Whilst the corpses were being thrown around on a playground ride he would begin pumping them full of a blood-thinning agent mixed with adrenaline.

As this was 1930s America and not Georgian era Scotland, fresh human corpses were more difficult to get hold of so Cornish’s first test subjects were all fox terriers, killed by his own hand. The ghoulish scientist asphyxiated the dogs with nitrogen gas and left them for dead for approximately ten minutes before starting to revive them. Each dog was named Lazarus, after the fictional character raised from the dead in best selling book, the Bible. Lazarus I, II, and III shuffled off this mortal coil never to be seen again, but Larry’s IV and V returned from the dead to walk the Earth once more.

The doctor reported that Lazarus IV shuddered back to life with a whine and a feeble bark. The stone-blind terrier was severely brain damaged, but Cornish says after a matter of days the pooch was able to crawl around, bark, sit up on its haunches and eat a bowlful of meat a day. Encouraged with these results Cornish went on to kill another terrier, Lazarus V, who he was also able to revive 30 minutes after the dog had stopped breathing and five minutes after its heart had stopped beating. The excited doctor said that Lazarus V recovered to an even greater extent than Lazarus IV. Armed with these results Cornish informed the scientific community of his project, but his work caused quite a stir.

Lazarus IV and Lazarus V

Lazarus IV and Lazarus V

Such was the controversy this real-life Victor Frankenstein created that the University of California eventually evicted him from their campus and Cornish was forced to continue his work in his garden shed, much to the distaste of his neighbours. His zombie hounds were already rumoured to be terrifying other dogs, and residents began complaining of strange fumes leaking from the Cornish property.

It wasn’t until almost 15 years later that Cornish eventually sought a human specimen, he had improved his system by incorporating a home-made heart and lung machine, constructed from vacuum cleaner parts and an old radiator. After appealing for volunteers Cornish was contacted by death row prisoner Thomas McMonigle who agreed to be his first human test subject. But Cornish didn’t get to prove his theories or test drive his equipment. Authorities in the state of California refused Cornish permission to carry out his experiments on the dead criminal. Their main concern was what they would do with a zombie murderer if the treatment was a success, the fear was that if McMonigle did return to life following his execution they might have to free him.

Following this final setback Cornish discontinued his research and concentrated on manufacturing and selling toothpaste. He died in 1963.

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