• Secrets of the Dead: The Woman in the Iron Coffin receives an encore on Wednesday, February 8, 10 p.m. It premiered in October 2018.
  • The Woman in the Iron Coffin | Secrets of the Dead | PBS
  • I love PBS! This is a follow-up to the discovery of three years ago with what new information researched revealed.
  • In October 2011, while building an apartment complex, construction workers were shocked to uncover human remains in an abandoned lot at 90-15 Corona Avenue in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, New York. So great was the level of preservation, witnesses first assumed they had stumbled upon a recent homicide. Forensic analysis revealed a remarkably different story.

  • This is where the rest of the story is uncovered. And perfect timing to those wanting to cancel teaching history. It’s exactly why history is being rewriten. False narratives have been unfair and often cruel to those they subject to it. It is TRUTH that sets us free!
  • This gets into how the air-tight iron coffin was able to preserve remains before embalming was used. Then they take us through the process of identifying the remains through the use of science technology.
  • Buried in an elaborate and expensive iron coffin, the body belonged to a young African American woman who died in the first half of the 19th century, before the Civil War and the federal abolishment of slavery. She was dressed in a long white nightgown with thick, knee-high socks and a hand-crafted comb that held a delicate knit cap on her head. Who was she, and why was she buried there?
  • The film follows forensic archaeologist Scott Warnasch and a team of historians and scientists as they investigate this woman’s story and the time in which she lived, revealing a vivid picture of what life was like for free African American people in the North.
  • Warnasch joins forces with Jerry Conlogue, Professor of Diagnostic Imaging at Quinnipiac University, to conduct a “virtual” autopsy. Using sophisticated computer software and hardware, they determined the woman was between 25 and 30 years old, and died from smallpox in the 1850s, more than 150 years ago.

  • Scott Warnasch, then a New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner forensic archaeologist, initially viewed the finding as a recent homicide. “It was recorded as a crime scene,” Warnasch, 52, told The Post. “A buried body on an abandoned lot sounds pretty straightforward.”
  • It turned out to be anything but. The almost perfectly preserved body was actually that of a woman born decades before the Civil War. She had been buried in what was once the grounds of a church founded in 1830 by the first generation of free African Americans.
  • Another concern was the obvious cause of death, Smallpox, which brought in another group of investigators from the CDC. The autopsy revealed it had infected her brain. The iron clad coffin had kept out oxygen in which the pox couldn’t survive either. Regardless, all precautions were taken.

The ornate iron coffin also provides clues about the woman’s identity. Created in 1848 by New York stove merchant Almond Dunbar Fisk, the coffin was designed to preserve bodies for sanitary storage and transportation prior to modern embalming. These airtight coffins were very expensive for the era and used by the wealthy and elite, including former first lady Dolley Madison, former President Zachary Taylor, and former Vice President John C. Calhoun.

Click link below to see the face reconstruction of the woman Martha Peterson

Forensic reconstruction reveals a face from history | Secrets of the Dead | PBS 

After examining the body and studying the 1850 Census of New York City, Warnasch determines that the remains likely belonged to Martha Peterson, a 26-year-old African American woman living in New York City in 1850. Peterson was the daughter of John and Jane Peterson, prominent figures in Newtown’s African American community. Public records also noted that Martha Peterson lived with William Raymond, the brother-in-law, neighbor and business partner of Almond Dunbar Fisk, the iron coffin creator.

In 2016, five years after a construction crew dug up her coffin, Martha Peterson was given a proper burial by the Saint Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church of Jackson Heights.

“Because of her and because of the finding of her, our church has had a renewed fervor in learning more about who we are and who we were,” Pastor Kimberly Detherage said. “We lost some of the history throughout the years.”

It is TRUTH that sets us free!



Iron Coffin Lady, Queens NY, Secrets of the Dead, PBS
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