Body Farm

I’m reading a book about the body farm. In the first paragraph the name of the place was capitalized — Body Farm — and I wondered who Body was. In my mind, I pronounced it Bodie rather than Boddy, which mistake I immediately had to laugh at. I mean, I knew the book took place on the Body Farm. I knew it was a mystery written by the fellow who founded the Body Farm, and yet, there I sat, momentarily mystified by the identity of Body and wondering what we were doing at his farm.

I’d heard of the Body Farm before, probably the same way most people did — from a book of that name by Patricia Cornwell, back when I thought she was an okay writer. For some reason, I had the idea that the Body Farm was owned by the FBI since they use it for training exercises, so it came as rather a surprise that the FBI doesn’t have their own body farm but use existing ones.

The first body farm was created for the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Center in 1981 by Dr. William Bass. Apparently, after a janitor cussed him out for storing a dead body in the restroom, he went to the dean to find a better place to keep the corpses he was studying. He calls the field (behind the football field, of all places) where the bodies were left to decompose “Death’s Acre,” but “The Body Farm” is how it is generally known. The FBI has been training there for 24 years as part of their Recovery of Human Remains course. There are now seven such “Bodie” farms in the United States, but Bass’s was the first.

The place is intriguing to read about, but even if I wanted to see the place, I couldn’t — they don’t do tours because if all the people who wanted to see the place were allowed in, researchers would never get any work done. Also, I’m sure, having sightseers tramp through the place would affect what they are trying to accomplish — studying how the human body decomposes under various conditions, which helps with identifying bodies as well as learning the time and manner of the death. Anyway, even if I could handle the gruesome sights, I probably couldn’t handle the smell. Over 400 different compounds are given off by a decaying body. Interestingly, the bodies of people who die during or shortly after chemotherapy decay a lot slower than normal, which leads to the question of whether chemotherapy is a sort of live embalming process.

This is all very macabre, I know, but it started with a mental mispronunciation. And speaking of macabre — like most people who read a lot, I had (have) a huge vocabulary. I remember once a father of the kids I had just babysat was driving me home, and I mentioned that something was “mackaber.” He laughed and laughed, which embarrassed the heck out of me. How was I supposed to know how the word was pronounced? And anyway, if linguists can’t even agree on pronunciation — some say it’s “mikaab,” others “mikabruh” — why is “mackaber” so outrageous?

I particularly remember the macabre debacle because that was the last time I ever spoke out loud a word that wasn’t in the common parlance. Now, apparently, I can’t speak common words in my own mind without recurring laughter, even if it’s my own.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.