Today's post was inspired by a note I received from A Few Good Cats, who drew my attention to this most odd and fascinating bit of history. Warning: rabbits misused. Dear me.
In 1726, a woman living in Surrey, England "gave birth" to animal parts. Her name was Mary Toft, and she would become (in)famous for her elaborate hoax in birthing rabbits. The situation began with her delivering various legs and guts of cats and rabbits, and the backbone of an eel; this was brought to the attention of a local male midwife, John Howard. Howard had 30 years of experience, but somehow bought into the situation. Admittedly, Mary Toft did manage to deliver some bits in his presence, so that might excuse him. She began to specialize, if you will, in producing rabbits in varying stages of completeness.
Members of the British Royal Family's court, including a Swiss surgeon named Nathaniel St. Andre, heard of the phenomenon and did their best to verify. They bought into it too. Mary Toft was eventually moved to London, evaluated by a number of other medical experts, and unmasked at last as a fraud by an independent investigation. There was a deal of severe embarrassment for the medical community as a result.
If you're like me you've already asked by now, How in the world did she manage that? Ugh. Let's just say she was determined to do it - for details, I'll send you to the Wikipedia on her Confession.
There's a rich trove of archived period literature on the Mary Toft hoax. Many can be found at the Wellcome Library (a treasured find in itself). Wow.
And what happened to her? She was busted, and after a while sent home to Surrey. That's all.