Sunday, August 6, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: August 6

August 6, 1911The village of Chisholm is in turmoil today as a result of the arrest of a local undertaker, J. L. Phillips, who has been charged with disinterring without proper authority the dead body of a two-headed baby that was born July 31 and died a few hours later. The father of the child, Peter Hrdonvich*, a miner originally from Austria, today swore out a warrant causing the arrest of Mr. Phillips; the undertaker was released later on his own recognizance.

Phillips, who had allowed scores of people to view the baby in his establishment, was accused by Hrdonvich of digging up his child for exhibition purposes, asserting that Phillips knew the family had already been offered $1,000 for the infant’s body by a museum.

Phillips side of the story was slightly different: according to him, Hrdonvich, believing that the child must have been sent by the devil, feared to have it buried in his plot in the cemetery, and asked Phillips to take up the body and embalm it, the father believing that he could sell the body for a good sum to some museum.

Hrdonvich claimed he did not order the body disinterred, but that the first he knew of the action was when the body was accidentally found by two little girls in Phillips undertaking rooms. He also refused to pay a bill of $37 that Phillips has presented for the embalming of the body.

Phillips claimed to have a witness to the instructions he says Hrdonvich gave him, and declares he is being made the victim of a plot.


On Aug. 9, the preliminary hearing of J. L. Phillips was expected to be held in the afternoon before Judge Masters. Assistant County Attorney Boyle was in Chisholm to represent the state and spent the morning looking into the case, which was attracting widespread attention, and opinion was divided as to the charges and counter charges. If Judge Masters decided after hearing the evidence that it was strong enough, he would accordingly bind the undertaker over until the next grand jury at Virginia; if not, he would turn him loose.

There seemed to be a veil of mystery over the case that nothing but an investigation, like that scheduled for the afternoon, could penetrate. The body of the malformed child was in Phillips’ establishment, where it had been since he exhumed it at the request, he says, of its father, for Phillips admits taking the body from the grave and says the whole trouble is due to a misunderstanding about the time of the exhumation, the father not being present. Many people saw the body and it was pronounced a freak.

There were two distinct heads, with four ears and four eyes. The stomach appeared to be abnormally large, otherwise the torso and limbs appeared to be normal. The child lived only about 15 minutes (the death certificate says it was stillborn), but there was some semblance of hair upon the two heads. It was rumored that an Eastern museum had offered a large sum, over $1,000, for the body, and it was claimed this has prompted all this fuss over the matter.

The scheduled hearing was not held as announced.

Assistant County Attorney Boyle, after making a long examination and study of the charges and talking with several people who would be called as witnesses, decided there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Phillips to warrant proceeding further, and dismissed the complaint.


*The family’s surname is spelled differently in every source—newspapers, census records, birth and death records, etc. (Hajdukovicy/Idocovich/Hajdukovich/ Hrodoeovich/Hrdonvich)—so I am using the name Hrdonvich because I don’t know what it really was.

There is no further record of this event. I don’t know if the infant was reburied, or if the body was ever sold to the museum that had offered $1,000. I certainly hope the baby was given a proper, respectful burial.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Arrest Over Freak Child. Undertaker Charged With Illegally Disinterring Body of Two-Headed Baby.”; Aug. 7, 1911; p. 1.

The Duluth Herald; “Two-Headed Boy Center of Mixup. Chisholm Undertaker Is in Trouble With Parent and Alleges Plot.”; Aug. 7, 1911; p. 2.

The Duluth Herald; “Alleged Grave Robbery Case. Hearing of Undertaker Phillips Is Set for Tuesday Afternoon.”; Aug. 8, 1911; p. 5.

The Duluth Herald; “Assistant County Attorney Drops Charge Against Chisholm Man.”; Aug. 9, 1911; p. 13.


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