Dr. Gottfried Knoche and his mummies – Caracas, Venezuela - Atlas Obscura

Dr. Gottfried Knoche and his mummies

Ruins of the laboratory where a mysterious doctor invented an embalming fluid and stored his mummies. 


Gottfried Knoche, born in Halberstadt , Germany in 1813, was a German surgeon famous for inventing an embalming fluid with which he created dozens of mummified bodies… including his own.

Knoche emigrated from Germany to Venezuela in 1840 to settle in La Guaira. There he embedded himself in the coastal population and founded the San Juan de Dios Hospital sometime between 1854 and 1856. Once settled, Knoche brought his wife and began work in the city as a doctor. The doctor quickly gained a reputation as a charitable person by caring for poor patients without charge while tirelessly fighting against the cholera epidemic that afflicted the region in those years.

Knoche’s fascination and persistence in avoiding the inexorable process of bodies decomposing after death, he began to experiment with unclaimed bodies from the federal war (not a terribly unusual practice for physicians of the time), returning them on horseback from San Juan de Dios hospital to his laboratory located in the Hacienda Buena Vista, at the Palmar del Picacho in Galipán. Over time Knoche created a liquid that could be injected into corpses that would keep the body pristine without necessitating the removal of their organs. In this fashion, the doctor kept several bodies mummified for study in his laboratory.

Knoche had anticipated the arrival of his own death, and made sure that Amalie Weismann, his nurse in charge of administering the “mummification serum” (embalming fluid, as we know it today) to the bodies, had prepared doses for his own infinite preservation. He then apparently had Amalie inject it into his still living body before locking himself in a mausoleum for all eternity.

Dr. Thomas Lander, a famous Venezuelan journalist and politician, and Francisco Linares Alcántara, president of Venezuela from 1878-1879 were both said to have been preserved by Knoche. The mummy of Landers theoretically sat in the entrance of the Landers house for some 40 years before he was buried. In 1929 an expedition to the Knoche family farm found that many of the mummies had been removed from their niches and were scattered on the ground. A picture was taken at the time prominently featuring one of these mummies.

Amelie, the doctor’s faithful nurse and aide, followed Knoche to his grave in 1926. Ever since, the Knoche’s homestead has been slowly engulfed by vegetation and pillaged by vandals, looters and medical students either seeking the secret of the embalming fluid or attracted by the myth of this dark work. Some of the exterior walls, door frames of the main entrance, stables, a tank, the laboratory and oven are all that remain.

To this day, the exact composition of the substance used by Knoche to preserve his corpses has never been discovered. The closest scientists have come to approximating the concoction has been a potent solution based on aluminum chloride.

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April 12, 2010

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