Some people choose strange passions and interests and we really shouldn’t judge them for it. However, sometimes someone will have an obsession that sends a chill up the spine.
Take for example Doctor Gottfried Knoche. Knoche was a German doctor who invented a new type of embalming during the 19th century. He was such a big fan of it that he even had himself embalmed with it. But this mysterious liquid has been surrounded in mystery ever since its creator’s death.
Who was Gottfriend Knoche?
August Gottfirend Knoche was born in Halberstadt, Germany in 1813. Records of his early life are almost impossible to track down but we know that by 1837 he was studying medicine at the University of Freiburg and that he was working at the University Hospital.
In 1840 he moved to Venezuela and settled in La Guaira. The area had seen a surge in German emigrants who had flocked to the area to work the area’s fertile lands. As a German native speaker, his services were in high demand.
The doctor was a family man and as soon as he had established himself his wife and daughter joined him. Not just his family, they chose to work with him at his hospital working as his nurse and assistant.
In 1845, five years after his arrival, his doctor’s credentials were certified locally by the Universidad Central de Venezuela. From 1854 to 1856 he devoted himself to reestablishing the area’s old hospital, the Hospital San Juan de Dios.
Despite his rather macabre reputation today Doctor Knoche was a popular man. He was believed to be a charitable man who often treated his poorest patients for free. During his time in La Guaria, the area was ravaged by a cholera epidemic and Knoche worked tirelessly in his fight against the awful disease.
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He was also known to be a nature lover who spent his free time horseback riding in the surrounding mountains. It was on one of these excursions that he was inspired to become a landowner after coming across one of the many small fincas (an area of rural land with a cottage or estate on it) in the area.
He bought a parcel of land and called it the “Hacienda Buena Vista”. But the would have a dark future, housing the laboratory where he carried out his macabre experiments as well as his family mausoleum.
What Did He Invent?
From 1859 to 1864 Venezuela was shaken by a terrible civil war fought between the country’s Conservative and Liberal parties. It was during this time that Doctor Knoche’s interests started to steer down a path some might consider unnatural.
Seeing so many bodies being brought in from the battlefields Knoche became fascinated with the process of decomposition. In particular, he became obsessed with the idea of halting it. He would claim any corpses which had gone unclaimed and would take them back up to his laboratory at Buena Vista on muleback.
Through the course of his experiments, he created a liquid that could be injected into corpses that would keep the body in pristine condition without having to remove the organs. This was a breakthrough in the area of embalming that had, for years, necessitated the removal of organs to work.
Today Knoche’s recipe has been lost to time and despite various medical students visiting his old family home, no complete formula has ever been found. It has been hypothesized that his special fluid was based on aluminum chloride but that’s all we know.
Who Did He Embalm?
As time has gone by, and the locals of La Guaira became increasingly creeped out by Knoche’s legacy, rumors have spread as to who Knoche tested out his formula on. Most famously it has been said that he embalmed Tomas Lander, a famous journalist, and politician.
The story goes that Lander had heard about Knoche’s miraculous fluid and asked the doctor to mummify him upon his death. Supposedly Knoche embalmed him perfectly and then dressed the corpse elegantly and placed it at a desk in the entryway of Lander’s home. It was said to have sat there for forty years until President Antonio Guzman Blanco had it buried on behalf of the journalist’s family.
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The only problem with this tale is that Lander died in 1845, quite some time before Knoche had developed his embalming fluid. While the fluid was good, it was a few years too late to have been of much use to the dead Lander.
In fact, besides his various anonymous test subjects, Knoche seems to have predominantly used the fluid on his own family. The Mausoleum that Knoche built at Buena Vista eventually held the bodies of his daughter Anna, her husband Heinrich Muler, and Knoche’s brother Wilhelm. All of them were embalmed with Knoche’s special fluid.
Knoche eventually joined them when he died in 1901 at the ripe old age of 88. By this time his wife had left him and returned to Germany and the rest of his immediate family was waiting for him in the Mausoleum. One local story goes that he had his nurse Amalie Weismann (who may also have been his cousin) inject him with the fluid while he was still alive, before locking himself in the Mausoleum.
Amalie stayed on at the Knoche residence until her death in 1926. By the time of her death, the locals had become openly hostile to the Knoche legacy. She had become increasingly reclusive and the locals referred to her as the “witch of Avila”. They believed she had the ability to talk to birds.
An Empty House
Since Amalie’s death, the Buena Vista has become somewhat of a ghost house. The homestead has been engulfed by vegetation and repeatedly looted by people looking for Knoche’s formula.
In 1929 an expedition looking for the formula found that the family mausoleum had been broken into and vandalized. The family’s bodies had been pulled from their tombs and scattered on the ground. Supposedly the bodies of two embalmed dogs were also found, said to be the mausoleum’s eternal guardians.
Today many locals do not dare venture onto the property and the ghost stories surrounding Knoche have become more and more exaggerated. It is a pity his legacy has come to this. He was a charitable man and a good doctor who worked tirelessly for years to help the people in his district. He should be remembered for this, even if he did have a slightly disturbing hobby.
Top Image: Doctor Gottfried Knoche. Source: Doctor Knoche Blogspot / Public Domain.
By Robbie Mitchell
Editor. 2010. Dr. Gottfried Knoche and his mummies. Atlas Obscura. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/dr-gottfried-knoche-and-his-mummies
Radeska. T. 2016. Gottfried Knoche – the doctor who invented an embalming fluid and mummified his body without taking out the organs. The Vintage News. Available at: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/11/22/gottfried-knoche-the-doctor-who-invented-an-embalming-fluid-and-mummified-his-body-without-taking-out-the-organs/
Editor. 2013. The mummies of doctor Knoche, the mausoleum of Waraira Repano. Historic Tourism. Available at: http://historictourismve.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-mummies-of-doctor-knoche-mausoleum.html