December 1897: Warrensburg Residents Line Up to See Petrified Woman
In 1897, two days before Christmas the body of a petrified woman went on display at Hunt and Shackelford barbershop in Warrensburg on Holden Street.
Cost to residents to see the woman, ten cents. This according to an article from the Star-Journal posted by the Johnson Country Historical Society on Facebook over the weekend.
According to Definitions from Oxford Languages and Google, petrification is, "The process by which organic matter exposed to minerals over a long period is turned into a stony substance." When Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii, erupted in 79 AD, people and animals wound up being petrified and frozen in time. And of course, there's Petrified Forest National Park which you can visit.
Yet do a Google search on "petrified woman" you tend to get stories and books and mythology more than any archeological information on the subject. And this is the twenty-first century. So imagine how much curiosity the petrified woman on display in the barbershop generated in Warrensburg back at the end of the nineteenth century.
Country boys Oscar Cobb and John Shackelford allegedly "found" the petrified woman on Shackelford's farm in Hazel Hill Township, shipped her to Warrensburg, and put her on display at the barbershop. This according to an article from Los Angeles paper The Herald posted on The Show Me The History Johnson County website.
The Star-Journal article says hundreds of people went to see the specimen, and handbills had been posted the next morning announcing a special hour where ladies could view the wonder.
It turns out though, those country boys, Cobb and Shackelford had a lot in common with the scam artists that call us today and tell us if we send them $300 in Walmart gift cards, our arrest warrant will be vacated. The petrified woman from Hazel Hill Township turned out to be made of Portland cement. She was buried, and then dug up by the boys, so they could make some money.
The Los Angeles Herald reported in April 1898 that it was found out that the boys had pulled a scam and Cobb and Shackelford had been indicted for accepting money under false pretenses.
Warrensburg's petrified woman proves one thing. While society may have evolved since then, there's always someone looking to separate us from our money by running a scam. At least Cobb and Shackelford used their imagination. That's more than we can say about the email from a Nigerian prince that promises to make us rich.