08 December 2009

Autopsy Turvy....

Violet Dear goes on the strangest fieldtrips.

The Old Morgue is the coldest room in the building that stands at 240 Cordova Street in Vancouver's - hell, Canada's - most notorious neighbourhood: The Downtown Eastside. Here, amongst the tricks and johns and junkies stands the Coroner's Court. This art deco building (1932) houses the Vancouver Police Museum's collection of guns, gore and city-specific crime lore and just happens to be curated by my good friend Joanna.

She is the reason that I find myself here, in the sketchiest part of my fair city on this subzero degree day shivering and cursing the airplane that ever pried me from Fiji. As I am not working (thank you, S) until I start school I find myself with the luxury to volunteer and flit around for a while this December. Because I know that Joanna always needs help down at the Museum I decided to pop in for a few days to research some topics for their blog (and also here, natch.)

As I mentioned last week I am always fascinated by the turning shifts and changes in any city's history, especially mine. I don't know whether it is the traveler or the historian in me but I cannot think of a better spent afternoon than one elbow deep in the seedy underbelly of this Klondike port town turned beacon of livability. The Vancouver Police Museum - whose building also houses the former morgue and CSI lab - is at the navel of this belly (too far?)

Care for a cold one?

On this brisk December morning the old morgue was really, really cold. Perhaps that is why an infamous Vancouver coroner was known to keep one of the big slab drawers reserved exclusively for beer..... The rest of the morgue has been converted into a display showcase for some of the city's most infamous crimes pre 1960 - macabre cases of murder that make people gasp and tarnish our affable reputation. Who's livable now, bitches?

Sir, I am not willing to overlook your, um - warts.

Through the morgue is the autopsy room - famous for one very special visitor, one Mr. Errol Flynn, legendary film actor of Robin Hood and swashbuckling fame. In 1959 a nearly bankrupt Flynn arrived in Vancouver, a 17 year old plaything in tow, to sell a yacht to a wealthy local businessman. After a few days of parties and rich food he retired to his room on Burnaby Street (mere blocks from my old heritage building on Jervis) complaining of a sore back. He was discovered dead hours later by the girl and transported to the City Morgue for his autopsy.

Over the next few days press and gossip rags from around the world descended on Vancouver to dissect the case of Flynn's death. The news of his humdrum heart attack was spiced up by his practically pubescent companion (when approached at the airport as to why he always had such young women with him he replied "because they f*%$ so good!") and the fact that his wife was safe at home in Hollywood, oblivious to teenager's existence.

No mention of any unmentionables in the autopsy report.

But most gossip centred on Flynn's most, ermmm, prodigious feature. Women were said to line up by the hundreds to try and catch a glimpse of his member - but would they have felt the same way if they had known what coroner Glen McDonald had known? Flynn had been afflicted by "huge VD warts," four of which McDonald's partner removed and set in formaldehyde. Upon some consideration of the potential scrutiny their handiwork may face during a second autopsy in Los Angeles the coroners elected to replace the VD warts - with scotch tape. Apparently, no further questions were asked of the duo regarding the subject. It seems they got away scotch free (way too far, yeah? Sorry. It's been a pun-filled day.)

I emerged from the morgue feeling that warm (now there's irony) sense of connection to my city's history and my forebearers lives that can only come from setting your feet (and keister) where those who have come before you have stood. Joanna had many, many more surprises to show me in the Coroners Court building - downstairs and down, downstairs hold many treasures (Tommy guns! Opium pipes! Old crime labs! Mannequin after mannequin!) that I will tell you about very soon.

In the meantime, try not to get Shanghaied as you wait for my post on Vancouver's seedy opium history. You'd best also try to avoid Mr. Flynn's, ermmm, condition as well....

Atmospheric Autopsy Shot to end with.


The Bug said...

I read a book recently where Errol Flynn was one of the characters. It was a novel in the style of Danielle Steele - called Glitter Baby. It was pretty interesting - she definitely played up his penchant for sweet young things...

Anonymous said...

Thats tight...er, um...I mean light. "Danielle Steele", I couldn't have said it better. At least U didn't call it "I see dead people".

MeanDonnaJean said...

Now THIS is definitely THE kinda stuff that sparks my interest. Gimme any kinda blood/gore/death/autopsy stuff 'n I'm here for the long haul.

I'm so damn twisted, it's scary.

Anonymous said...
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blackish said...

More Vancouver history posts plz!

Why am I not there to explore and volunteer with you?


Anonymous said...

I am used to Dear Violet as Avenging, and thinking of shit I should have thought of...but didn't. So it startled me. I commented in haste...It is not "light"...

...it is totally AWESOME!

U blog "Luge", or "Hockey" at the Olympics a few Month's from now? ...with your albeit sometimes alarming, but nonetheless muthfuckin awesome! style!

Your gonna kill it!

Britta said...

This was a fascinating post. Scotch tape, eh? Wow.