OK, so Harvard Law School doesn't have a book bound in human skin, but the Boston Athenaeum does

Boston Magazine disabuses us of the notion that Harvard Law owns a human-skinned book, thanks to some research that showed the book is actually bound in sheepskin.

That still leaves two other books owned by Harvard - and the Boston Athenaeum's copy of "The Highwayman," by James Allen, which, its catalog says, was:

Bound by Peter Low in Allen's skin, treated to look like gray deer skin.

Why, you ask? As you might guess by the title of his autobiography, Allen was a highwayman. In 1833, he tried robbing John Fenno, Jr. of Springfield on the Salem Turnpike. Fenno resisted and Allen shot him - but Fenno lived because the bullet was deflected by a suspender buckle.

Allen was eventually caught and sent to jail, where he wrote his autobiography. Allen admired Fenno's bravery in standing up to him and decided that on his death, Fenno should get a copy - bound in his skin. When Allen died in 1837, his body was brought to Massachusetts General Hospital, where enough skin to cover a book was cut off and then delivered to a bookbinder, who dyed it gray and added some gilding before shipping it to Fenno. Later, a Fenno descendant donated the volume to the Athenaeum.



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    This is...

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    ...one of the crazier things I've ever heard. I always thought human skin made really crappy leather, but it sounds like it was fairly commonplace for a while.

    "Died it gray?"

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    The gray came from dyeing, not dying.

    Well ...

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    ... the dead are often a little more grey ..

    And furthermore ...

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    " ... brought to Massachusetts General Hospital, where enough skin to cover a book was cut off and then delivered to a bookbinder ..."

    Sure as heck ain't gonna be me writing the IRB protocol for that these days, nosireebob.

    "Your protocol application has been rejected. Please resubmit, addressing the committee's concerns and including a point-by point response with the revised submission.

    Reason: You're a complete stark raving mad lunatic."

    The real problem for rejection

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    If everyone involved agreed to this, including the deceased, there actually would not be a moral objection.

    The real problem would be the issue of proper disposal of human remains - in other words, it would probably not be legal to do so in this manner nowadays.