Giovanni Aldini — The Original ‘Doctor Frankenstein’

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Giovanni Aldini (1762–1834) was a professor of physics at Bologna who had a scientific interest in a variety of fields. But the one that stands out most was galvanism. Aldini helped put together a group of scientists in Bologna to experiment in this area, which involves the therapeutic use of electrical currents.

This interest led him to create one of the most macabre road shows ever devised. Traveling all over Europe, Aldini choreographed countless gruesome theatrical displays. Crowds of patrons would pay to gather and gleefully stare in horror while the proverbial “mad scientist” electrified an assortment of grisly human and animal body parts. Aldini put on spectacular demonstrations, producing hair-raising spasmodic convulsions of arm and leg muscles and even more spine-tingling contractions of the facial muscles of dead human heads.

Using the severed remains of animals and humans and the current of a powerful battery, Aldini would cause eyes to roll, jaws to open, teeth to clack, and fleshy-smelling smoke to curl eerily into the electrically charged air. A truly appalling spectacle, witnesses were reported to say that they could not shake the feeling that the “victims” had really just been brought back to life only to suffer death again.

Always the showman, Aldini enjoyed his most famous performance in 1803 at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Using the corpse of an executed convict named George Forster, he proceeded to poke and prod the dead man with a pair of conducting rods connected to a battery, causing various parts of the corpse to quake, quiver, and contort.

In his day, he was not considered to be a “mad scientist” especially since the emperor of Austria, in recognition of his achievements, made Aldini a knight of the Iron Crown and councillor of state at Milan.

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