Well, this is rather macabre. A decade prior to his Presidency, in 1878, Benjamin Harrison investigated a number of Ohio medical colleges in search of the stolen corpse of a deceased family friend, and came face to face with his own freshly fallen father. It’s likely the jaw-dropping tale is true as that state was known in those years for the brisk business conducted by so-called resurrectionists, who were often in cahoots with academics in need of cadavers. The full story from the March 13, 1910 New York Times:
“One of the strangest, and at the same time the most gruesome stories that ever reached a newspaper office was told by H.E. Krehbiel, the musical critic, the other night. Though it reached a newspaper office and has been known to a few persons in the twenty years succeeding, it was not printed when the incidents happened, because those concerned took the precaution of narrating them in confidence. Here it is, however, as Mr. Krehbiel tells it, long after those most intimately concerned are dead:
‘Many years ago I was at work one afternoon in the offices of a Cincinnati newspaper when Benjamin Harrison, afterward President of the United States, and his brother came into the office and began a long conversation with the city editor. They spoke in low tones, which did not reach beyond the desk where they were sitting.
‘After nearly half an hour had elapsed the city editor called me over to him and introduced me to the two gentlemen, both of whom seemed to be laboring under strong emotion. Benjamin Harrison appeared to be especially affected. This did not surprise me very much, as I was aware that they had only buried their father, to whom they were both devotedly attached, a few days before. The city editor instructed me to take down their story, giving me also explicitly to understand that, whereas, I was to listen to all they had to say, I was to write no more, and the paper was to print no more than they should decide.
‘Now,’ continued Mr. Krehbiel, ‘this is what Benjamin Harrison told me. A few days before the death of his father, the husband of a dear old German woman who lived near their farm also died and was duly buried. When he came from the East to attend his own father’s obsequies this old woman went to him in great distress and told him that the grave of her husband had been opened and his body stolen. Those were the days of body snatchers or ‘resurrectionists,’ before the State had made provision for subjects for medical colleges.
‘Mr Harrison went on to say that his old German friend’s distress was so intense that he and his brother had themselves undertaken a search for the body in Cincinnati. This search had occupied them two days and had just ended.
“‘We swore out a search warrant and took a constable with us,’ said Mr. Harrison. ‘One by one we have been to every medical school in the City of Cincinnati. It was a terrible ordeal for us, especially as our own grief was fresh and poignant. We kept up the search without inkling, clue or result, until we had visited every medical school in Cincinnati except one.
“‘The last one was the Ohio State Medical College. We went over there more as a formality than anything else. With search warrant and constable we were enabled there, as elsewhere, to have everything opened to us. We found nothing.
“‘Just as we were about to leave the college the constable noted a shaft such as is used in apartment houses. Down this shaft hung the ropes of a hoist. The constable went up to the ropes of a hoist and took hold of the taut rope. He turned to me sharply, saying that there was a weight on the hoist. I told him to pull it up. He did so.
“‘Attached to the rope by a hook was the body of my own father. They had known at the colleges whose the body was. They had taken this fiendishly ingenious method of moving it from floor to floor as we in our search had moved from one floor to another.’
‘This,’ said Mr. Krehbiel, ‘is the story in Benjamin Harrison’s own words just as he gave it to me.'”