Tech partnership brings new life to Connecticut’s creepy corpse protector | Catch My Job


In the days before modern embalming, there was ice.

And a mortuary—a hardwood box large enough to hold the remains of the recently deceased.

After being placed in a lower chamber, a body was nestled under a thick layer of ice intended to slow the decomposition process while allowing mourners to view the faces of their deceased loved ones, albeit through a small window and a pane of glass.

Water from the melting ice flowed down through two openings at the end of the conservator’s legs, continuously emptying into waiting buckets and signaling when additional ice was needed to cool the interior. The corpse was laid on a board and rested on iron supports, and an external crank allowed the head or legs to be raised or lowered inside the box for better visibility from the outside.

The Connecticut Historical Society houses a hearse from the late 1870s – walnut, iron, horsehair insulation and glass. Preservatives like this were used by local cemeteries in the late 1800s. The devices grew in popularity especially due to the influx of Catholic immigrants.

“When many Catholic immigrants started coming to Connecticut and brought the practice of vigils with them, they needed something to preserve and display the body,” explains Andrea Rapacz, director of collections at the Connecticut Historical Society.

Wave breaker advertisement from a 19th century newspaper.
A mortician’s ad from a 19th century newspaper (courtesy Connecticut Historical Society).

While the historical society’s collection includes more than 265,000 artifacts and images from the state’s history, the antique mortuary stands out for its uniqueness — few in the nation’s collection remain untouched — and its eeriness.

“It’s one of the scariest things we do,” says Rapacz. “We have other creepy stuff like hair jewelry and stuff like that. But this is high on the list.”

And just in time for spooky season, members of the public will have the opportunity to see and experience this macabre antique innovation in a whole new way on Thursday, October 20 with the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut Tech Council and UConn.

History of modeling

Joseph Luciani is the Director of the Proof of Concept Center at the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at UConn Tech Park. He has been at the university for six years and primarily runs a prototyping lab that works with small businesses.

“My lab focuses primarily on small and medium-sized manufacturers and helping them make technological leaps,” says Luciani. “The space I operate in is a prototyping lab, so it’s full of 3D printers and machining centers — machines that help us make products. Most people think of the prototyping lab as where I can take my next big idea. But we’re really focused on the tools that help people create ideas.”

This October, he brought one of the modern technological tools of his trade—photogrammetry—to the Connecticut Historical Society’s Hartford Library and Museum to help build an interactive virtual model of the society’s antique cadaver conservator.

Luciani took highly detailed and high-resolution photographs of the visible surfaces of the hearse. After completing this process, Luciani used photogrammetry—a coordinate measurement technique—to extract three-dimensional information from two-dimensional photographs to create a permanent, highly detailed digital representation of the six-foot corpse.

“If I were to model this from scratch, just make a 3D model, it would be perfect,” he explains. “It wouldn’t have any history or even imperfections if it had been built by a woodworker – it’s hard to replicate the finished hand of a woodworker or where it’s black forged together. Handcrafted, much more than simply manufactured.”

On Oct. 20, the historical society, UConn IPB and the Connecticut Tech Council will host “X-Ray Vision: A Look in the Past” at the historical society’s museum and library on Elizabeth Street in Hartford, a family-friendly event where the the public can view and interact with the new digital model – just like the original mortuary – and learn more about how modern science and technology are helping historians and researchers learn more about the past.

    A coffin-like object, made of dark wood, known as a hearse.
The body guard in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society (Jaclyn Severance/UConn Photo).

“The CT Tech Council is a networking hub for tech companies in Connecticut – we strive to make technology accessible to people of all ages, and this family-friendly event does just that,” says Simon Lichter, executive director of the tech council. “We partnered with UConn and the Connecticut Historical Society to offer this innovative and fun event around Halloween. On the evening of Thursday, October 20th, attendees will be amazed at how high-tech research equipment can be used on historical objects and how these observational techniques bring history closer to study and learning.”

Innovative partnership

While the partnership with the historical society was Luciani’s first encounter with a grisly piece of burial history, the organization and UConn IPB plan to continue using advanced technologies to uncover hidden secrets while helping preserve some of the collection’s artifacts.

“UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building offers a wealth of incredible equipment for Connecticut businesses,” says Michael DiDonato, IPB Business Development Manager. “We wanted to partner with the Connecticut Historical Society to highlight the stark contrast of IPB’s new state-of-the-art equipment with historic artifacts from our state’s history, all to get the word out about our facility’s capabilities.”

It’s a partnership that benefits both groups—IPB researchers are using their technology skills in new and creative ways while helping the historical society create a lasting digital representation of priceless pieces of Connecticut history.

“We usually try not to touch the objects too much,” explains Rapacz. “To be able to get scans like this, to be able to see something from all directions, is really good for us. We might see something we’ve never seen before and look at it from a different perspective.”

“Partnership is fun!” DiDonato says. “Our researchers are excited to be able to use state-of-the-art scanning and microscopy equipment to explore our past, and secretly hope to discover something historically relevant – but we’ll see. Our mortuary investigation is the first of what we hope will be many interactions as we showcase Connecticut’s available resources at IPB to help research Connecticut’s past.”

For more information or to RSVP for the Oct. 20 “X-Ray Vision: A Glimpse into the Past” event, visit

For more information on the technology offerings and business and nonprofit partnership opportunities available through UConn IPB and the UConn Tech Park, visit the following page.


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