The identity of a 150-year-old body found buried in an iron coffin in New York City seven years ago has been revealed in a documentary airing this week on PBS, according to the New York Post.
When construction workers in 2011 discovered the human remains in Queens, the body was in such good condition they thought it could be a recent homicide case.
But instead, the almost perfectly preserved body turned out to be that of a woman born decades before the Civil War who had been buried in what was then the grounds of a church founded in 1830 by free African-Americans.
The documentary, “The Woman in the Iron Coffin,” reveals that researchers believe her to be Martha Peterson, who worked for a local white man with abolitionist leanings.
Peterson was buried in an airtight Fisk iron coffin, which allowed corpses to be sanitarily transported via trains and ships. The coffin was so effective in preserving Peterson's body that her skin still had smallpox lesions on it and was intact to the point that she appeared to have been dead for only a week.
Researchers revealed that the disease had infected Peterson’s brain and most likely killed her, while bone structure experts put her age between 25 and 35.
A check of the 1850 Census of New York City – which was the first to list everyone in the population by name, age, sex and race – had only 33 individuals fitting her criteria, but it was Peterson’s that stood out. She would have been 26 in 1850 and probably died around 1851.
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