In the strange case of William Shy, it took a while to answer the questions raised by his burial. The experts were baffled at the time, even though the answer was closer than they thought.
Colonel William Shy’s Grave
The Facts: On December 15–16, 1864, the city of Nashville became a battleground for the already bloody American Civil War. William M. Shy, a Confederate Colonel of the 20th Tennessee Regiment, was shot in the head at point-blank range on the second day of the Battle of Nashville. This is where the story should have ended, but a 1977 excavation of his grave site proved that Colonel Shy was not yet through with the world.
The Weird: In December 1977, forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass arrived in Nashville to investigate a case of vandalism at William Shy’s grave. The grave had been excavated, and a headless body had been propped upright on top of a 19th-century cast-iron coffin. The body appeared to be in an advanced state of deterioration and decay, but some discernible flesh and joints were still completely intact. Dr. Bass and the other forensic experts on the case made the natural assumption that the body had not belonged to the colonel, because his body should have already decomposed to dust.
After further examination, Dr. Bass declared that the body had been dead less than a year, and therefore definitely could not belong to Col. William Shy. But the inconsistencies kept piling up. Soon after the initial investigation, the body’s head was found—with a gunshot wound through the skull. Further, the clothes and casket did seem to be authentic Civil War-era artifacts. The answer was almost laughably simple, but it kept the forensic experts baffled for weeks. The cast-iron coffin—which was a rare privilege reserved for someone of Col. Shy’s social status—was secure enough to keep out all moisture, insects, and oxygen that would have progressed the decomposition process. With none of those present, the body was essentially trapped in a time capsule.
Now, I have to say that I didn't know this fact about the cast iron caskets. I would have been just as baffled as the experts, even if I had their knowledge.
Coffee out on the patio again this morning!