As far as the records show, it was far more common for the individual to eventually be reunited with their lost limb. J.A. Craig is one such individual who we can track through two newspaper articles. In the first, the 1904 Evening Star account describes the incident which cost Craig his legs: “He was employed on the P., W. and B. railroad as a brakeman and while cars were being shifted last night he fell and the wheels of one of the heavy vehicles passed over his legs. Both legs were so frightfully crushed that they had to be amputated after he reached Providence Hospital.” The article notes that his amputated legs were subsequently buried in 1904. Flash forward to over forty years later to a 1945 obituary, which details Craig’s final accident at the age of 63: “Police said Mr. Craig, who had artificial legs, got out of his wheel chair and lost his balance.” Craig unfortunately perished from these injuries and was interred at the cemetery alongside his legs.
So why do these records matter? Some might say it is cemetery trivia, albeit interesting trivia, but the interment of amputated limbs speaks to a larger historic tradition. For many of us, it can seem strange to bury a body part without the body, as in present-day it is typical for hospitals to dispose of amputated body parts accordingly. But the prevalence of this practice in the past reveals that these body parts were still viewed as an integral piece of the still-living human being, at least by some. Certain modern religious sects, including Orthodox Jews, still firmly believe that all body parts must be interred with the body, continuing this tradition.
The Sickles anecdote, then, makes a certain sort of sense. It is often recounted as an example of his eccentricities, but as we have seen in the Congressional Cemetery records and in some modern instances, it was and is not unusual to think of amputated limbs as an important extension of the person, even when these limbs are no longer a literal part of the whole.