In Reply to: re; Graveyard shift posted by Graham Cambray on March 01, 2009 at 03:19:
: : I've read your ideas on where 'graveyard shift' came from. When I was studying for my degree in health science, I remember reading somewhere that the graveyard shift had to do with the practice of watching the newly buried, to keep grave robbers away, during the times when it was almost impossible to find a subject for human anatomy class. People used to make quite a good living digging up the newly buried and selling their corpse to medical schools for dissection. Just an idea.
: Your suggestion is a lot more plausible than most of the suggestions which have circulated about this phrase - the trouble is that there seem to be a lot of "plausible" explanations of phrases which turn out not to be true. You say that you read this "somewhere" - there's no chance, is there, that you could run this reference to ground, so as to help us?
: One hurdle we would need to jump, if we want to tie this to "body-snatchers" is that the phrase seems to have originated right at the end of the 19th century. I'm not quite clear about the US chronology (I'm in the UK, where the practice ended around 1832), but I think we'd have to get the phrase back to at least the 1850s in the US - as the phrase appears to be of US origin. And I don't think anyone has found a usage that early.
I recently saw a documentary about what happened after the death of President Lincoln. A few years after his death, there was a plot to steal his body and hold it for ransom. According to the historians, at the time, grave-robbing was not considered a serious crime, a misdemeanor at most, and rarely prosecuted unless there were other valuables stolen or property was damaged. There was no on-site groundskeeper or night watchman, and Lincoln's body was protected by a single padlock.