Body Farm in Pennsylvania – Dawson, Pennsylvania - Atlas Obscura

Body Farm in Pennsylvania

Dawson, Pennsylvania

A macabre farm reserved part of its 222-acres for dead bodies, all in the name of science. 


“Old MacDonald had a farm, ee i ee i oh. And on that farm he had a…pile of dead bodies…?” This will soon be the tune of farmer John O’Laughlin at Grace Lair Farm in Upper/Lower Tyrone Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

Mr. O’Laughlin donated a sizable piece of his 222-acre farm to the California University of Pennsylvania to be used by students and researchers as an outdoor laboratory. This anthropological research center or “body farm” will be a place where human cadavers are analyzed in order to better understand the process of human body decomposition for the sake of forensic analysis. Sadly, it will not be open to the public.

This body farm will be the fifth in the country and the first in the Northeast. The others are located in Tennessee (University of Tennessee), North Carolina (Western Carolina University), and two are in Texas (Texas State University and Sam Houston State University). The smallest, at Western Carolina, can hold up to 10 bodies at a time, while the facility at Texas State University is five acres.

These facilities play an integral role in developments of forensic anthropology. “Whether it’s looking at crime scenes, or putting the bodies there, we’re going to provide meaningful education to students in the field,” says Dr. John R. Cencich, director of California University’s Institute of Criminological and Forensic Sciences.

The fact that this will be the first facility in the Northeast is notable because it is located in a completely different geographical region from the other four farms. Bodies decompose at different rates depending on the climate, and the more elements human cadavers are exposed to, the quicker the rate of decomposition. Therefore, the hot and humid summers, the cold and snowy winters, and the regular precipitation throughout the year in Pennsylvania offers new discoveries in the field of forensic anthropology.

Plans are still being made and details are still being sorted, but Old MacDonald will soon have a new sort of farm that will keep scientists, students, and investigators well occupied.

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