WARNING: This article contains vivid descriptions of gruesome scientific experiments on small, cute, fluffy kittens. Although Karl Weinhold’s experiments strain credibility and may not have taken place, they still evoke revulsion and may not be for all readers.
Few doctors have the stomach for the kind of work that I am willing to do, and my moral flexibility provides me with broad experimental opportunities that other professionals wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot long hypodermic syringe. That being said, I do occasionally meet my likeness in the medical world, a personality of sufficiently repellent nature and behavior that I would consider them an equal.
Karl August Weinhold is such a character.
Described as a ‘small, peculiar man’, equipped with a disproportionately tiny head, gangling limbs and a ‘penetratingly shrill and high-pitched voice’, he possessed an unrelenting tendency to speak his thoughts on whatever topics he saw fit, regardless of current social norms, appropriateness or attached controversy. And not in a fun, progressive way.
Men of the age can be thankful that he didn’t pursue statesmanship. An example of one of his many heart-warming opinions was his avid support of population control that would allow the ‘underclasses to die out via forced infibulation of young males’ – the placing of a clasp through the foreskin to prevent breeding. This may or may not be related to him having deformed genitals – a fact only revealed upon his demise.
Weinhold was an avid experimenter and student of galvanism – the science of natural physiological electricity – and as you will read, he stopped at nothing in pursuit of scientific discovery. Recently enacted laws in Prussia prevented him from performing his bio-electrical experiments on his usual canvas – the decapitated heads of criminals. Weinhold was utterly certain that batteries – the brine-soaked zinc and copper contraptions of the age, could supplant and replace the brain and spinal column to reinvigorate the body. When his precious heads were denied to him, he proceeded to the next best thing – scientific butchery of the most loved of our domesticated friends: cats. And not just any cats. Kittens; small, furry, adorable kittens.
Beginning with a three-week old kitten, Weinhold describes with grim detail how at first he sliced off the head of the animal and extracted the spinal cord, replacing it with a fresh concoction of zinc and copper. The muscles of the tiny body were purportedly stimulated by the battery, and the circulatory system was reactivated, causing the decapitated kitten to ‘bound and bounce across the table’, ‘twitching and jumping’ with vigor:
“…the heart and pulse started again. The muscle contraction shows up so strongly that there is no noticeable difference between the natural and the artificial spinal column. Hopping around was once again stimulated after the opening in the spinal column was closed. The animal jumped strongly before it wore down.”
Part two of his experiment was more adventurous. Happy with the results of the headless feline, he moved further. Taking another lively kitten, he scooped out with a spoon a fair portion of its brain and the spinal column and repeated his previous technique of filling the cavity with zinc and copper. Once again he claimed success. He wrote that the kitten was seen to almost fully reanimate, opening its eyes and moving its head. Clearly this was simply the same kind of activity that Giovanni Aldini created during his dramatic demonstrations in 1803 – not actual life but a series of stimulated muscle groups – but Weinhold stated it was far more than that, describing fully articulated movement:
“I observed the sensory functions more and noticed that the pupil still contracted, the animal showed true photo-sensitivity at the approach of a burning light, and winced upon hearing keys crashing on a table […] For almost twenty minutes the animal […] raised its head, opened its eyes, stared for a time, tried to get into a crawling position, sank down again several times, yet finally got up with obvious effort, hopped around, and then sank down exhausted. The heartbeat and the pulse, as well as the circulation, were quite active […] after I opened the chest and abdominal cavities fifteen minutes later.”
What can we make of this? These experiments were never performed outside of Weinhold’s laboratory, and that which is not peer-reviewed is just not good science. Nor can we say that Weinhold didn’t just exaggerate the results. Were the kittens spared the fate described? Not likely – although his claims may have been hyperbolic, anyone who claims to perform such things is more than likely capable of doing so. His work was undoubtedly heinous and cruel, even for my tastes, but one thing we know for certain: whatever virtues the strange Karl August Weinhold held, moral rectitude was not one of them.
This article was first published on The Pandora Society on April 15th 2015.