Tourist trap dungeon's skeleton turns out to be real

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For more than thirty years, the managers of the London Dungeon tourist attraction have assumed that a human skeleton they have on display must be fake. Turns out, it's genuine. A curator from Guy's Hospital medical museum thinks a second skeleton there may also be the real thing. From the BBC:

London Dungeon operations manager Catherine Pritchard said: "We have no idea where they originally came from, but suspected they might date back to… when bodies were regularly smuggled in from the Far East for dissection."

Both skeletons were due to move to the Dungeon's annual "Satan's Grotto" feature in mid-December, but will now have to be replaced by other props.

Dungeon bosses now have to decide whether to pay more than £2,000 a year for a licence from by the Tissues Authority to keep the skeletons on display or have them removed altogether.

"London Dungeon skeleton found to be real" (via Fortean Times)


  1. I read in a book about the prates of the Caribbean ride that the skeletons were originally real. It also mentioned they have since been “returned to their countries of origin”.

  2. source:

  3. are they sure it wasn’t just a tourist who couldn’t beat the queue?
    seriously, these type of tourist traps are a ripoff and a pure waste of time. go and see the real london.

    1. seriously, these type of tourist traps are a ripoff and a pure waste of time. go and see the real london.

      When I lived in San Francisco, I tried to explain to tourists that if they really wanted to experience the city like one of the inhabitants, they should skip Fisherman’s Wharf and get their genitals pierced instead.

  4. Something like this happened with a “Believe it or Not” type curiosity museum in the US.

    The mummified body of a gunslinger, once an attraction, had been somewhere along the line lost its identity as a corpse, been painted orange, and used as a prop.

    1. Yes, I was trying to find the reference for that just now.  Cliff Johnson (of “The Fool’s Errand” fame) wrote it up at some point, but his website is mostly Flash and I cannot trawl it at the moment.

    2. Electric Zither player Drian Dewan has a macabre song about this (“The Cowboy Outlaw”) on his album “Tells the Story”, all about a once-famous outlaw’s remains that were once famous as the remains of said outlaw, but as time  goes on, the origin gets forgotten and he gets dressed up and re-billed as any number of characters, only to be rediscovered as an actual corpse decades later. A sad and macabre little ditty, possibly based on the Ripley’s story you’re thinking of. The Tissues Authority is probably involved because the skeleton has not been cleaned and prepped for display as classroom skeletons are (brains and icky bits removed and all).

      Also really funny on the same album is the song “The Letter,” which is about the unfortunate consequences of various people neglecting to forward a lucky chain letter. The rest of the album is pretty hit or miss.

      1. There is a famous pair of mummies at Seattles ‘Ye Old Curiosity Shop’. Here’s a link to a 2001 article:

        One mummy was supposedly a gun-slinger and a 2001 CT scan confirmed a bullet wound killed him and found healed bullet fragments in his face.  

        I saw them in person as a teen in the 80’s…not sure if they are still on display…but I bet they are.

    3. Yep, the old Long Beach Pike. Apparently it used to be a real hole of an amusement park, since cleaned up.

  5. They need a license from the ‘Tissues Authority”?

    I’m sort of boggled. I went to high school in Britain in the 1970s, and our A level Biology class had a skeleton hanging in the corner. It was treated with a good deal of respect, and was said to be female, and from India. It had much better teeth than most Britons.

    I wonder if it is still there. I did hear that many in India objected to the sale of skeletons overseas, so maybe the TA is a followup to that.

    1. So Return of the Living Dead was at least partially correct when it talks about medical skeletons coming from India? That I never knew.

      1. This is pretty much the same thing that my figure drawing teacher here in the U.S. told us back in college about the skeleton hanging in the corner of our classroom/studio. Except I think that he told us that masses of bones were dredged from rivers in India by companies that wired skeletons back together and sold them for educational purposes.

        There were no guarantees that all of the bones in a given skeleton came from the same individual, but the specimen we studied and drew matched up quite well.

    2.  It’s a result of the Human Tissue Act 2004, which established the Human Tissue Authority, and requires licensing of various activities involving human remains, including ‘public display’ and ‘education or training relating to human health’. Remains more than a hundred years old are exempt.

      Presumably a school wanting to keep a skeleton would need a licence under ‘education or training…’, but I don’t think many schools have human skeletons these days. My school did have an Indian skeleton in the 1980s.

      I think the Act is more to do with incidents like Alder Hey than the skeleton market, or possible biohazards.

  6. I’m surprised by the need for a licence from the Tissues Authority too.  I can understand a one-off permit, with an associated one-off fee, but why a licence, with a substantial annual fee?
    Cui bono?

      1. Hmph.  I wonder what biohazard on a thirty-years-dead skeleton might be absent on a plastic prop kept in the same space for the same period of time.

        I should look up a way to legally preserve my own mortal remains for use in a Halloween haunt or some such.  I can think of no better end for my corpus, nor one which would honor my memory more.

  7. “I don’t wanna be here, in yo’ London Dungeon
    I don’t wanna be here, in your British hell
    ain’t no mysterrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

  8. And all this time, ive been in and out of the London Dungeons so many times , and i am walking past a real skeleton..not even a notion of it! :O  Guess you do find out something new everyday :) 

  9. I just saw a film exploring this same phenomenon in haunted houses, knowingly or unknowingly using real body parts in their displays to “up” the scare factor.  It was called The Houses October Built and I think it’s still making the festival rounds.  Highly recommended though.

  10. Most likely there’s a Tissue Authority because London has an extraordinarily rich history of murdering poor people for use as medical specimens.  Once they managed to stop that, those in need of cadavers turned to middlemen who arrange to have poor people murdered in the third world and shipped back to London for dissection.

  11. Good thing my mother threw out that unlicensed jar with my tonsils in it. Well that, and there was no such thing as an annual £2000 tax on “tissue”. On second thought, let’s not go to London. It is a rather silly place.

  12. I’ve never really understood the whole issue of special treatment for human remains.  Other than for health reasons, I see no reason to treat human remains (from natural causes, at any rate) with any more concern than I do the contents of my compost heap.  Once the former inhabitant is gone, it’s all just fertilizer.

    1. Other than for health reasons, I see no reason to treat human remains (from natural causes, at any rate) with any more concern than I do the contents of my compost heap.

      Human remains are tracked because they are frequently the result of murder. Skeletons for sale are sometimes a byproduct of the organ-legging business. How would you know if they were from natural causes if you didn’t track them in the first place?

  13. Years ago, I was propmaster at a large midwestern theater, for one season. Every year, they did “Christmas Carol”, and every year, the props were brought out. It was directed/designed differently each year, but a lot of props were reused, of course. And the designer for that year, and I, were going through the props.
       “Here’s the hand for the Ghost of Christmas Future”,  I said, pulling out a skeletal hand wired to a piece of broom handle.
       “Kind of small, isn’t it? ” he said, picking it up.
       “Yeah,” I said. “Probably a woman’s hand. From India.”
     He was silent for a moment. “Not a real hand,” he said.
     I looked closer. “Yep. They’re cheaper than plastic. They were, at least. Up till about ten years ago, there was a big trade in human remains from India. Outlawed now.”
     He set it down quickly. “Ah. So… let’s not have… ah, human bones on stage, alright?”
     “Fine with me,” I said. “The actor is nine feet tall on stilts, anyway. This is way too small. You want me to make one? I can do a nice articulated one, on an extension,  cable controlled, a foot long.  The actor inside can curl up the fingers, point, whatever you want him to do.”
     “That would be fine,” he said, staring at the hand.
     “I think you’re gonna like it,” I said. “Proportionate, and a nice subtle effect. So what do you want me to do with this hand?”
     “Let’s just make it go away,” he said. So I did. It sits on my library shelf, in a place of respect, and helps me keep perspective.

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