A Look at "Soapman"

Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011  |  Updated 1:47 PM EDT
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A Look at "Soapman"

Smithsonian Institution

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Who knows what evil lurks in the bowels of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History?

Make a wrong turn and you could come face to face with "Soapman."

While "Soapman" sounds like a character on the new NBC series "The Cape," he's actually the body of a Philadelphia native who was buried there around 1800.

What makes him so special? According to the Smithsonian, it's all about the saponification. For those of us not very knowledgeable in the ways of how a body decomposes, let's let the Smithsonian fill us in on the details:

The body was discovered in 1875 during the digging of a train depot foundation. This unusual preservation occurred because water seeped into the casket and brought alkaline soil with it, turning the fats in his body to soap through a type of hydrolysis known as saponification.

"Soapman" (and his knee-high socks that are still intact) now lives at the Natural History's Dry Environment room so scientists can study how the body is preserved through chemical changes.

Unfortunately, though, he's not available for viewing by the general public. So the legend of "Soapman" lives on behind closed doors...

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