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1990s / Exhumation of President Taylor - 1991
President Zachary Taylor became the second American chief executive to die in office when he succumbed to gastro-intestinal problems on July 9, 1850 at age 65. Known for generally having robust health, Taylor had been ill for five days with severe stomach cramps and diarrhea. The cause may have been Taylor's overindulging in cherries covered in iced milk following a Fourth of July ceremony on the site where the Washington Monument was going to be erected. Doctors tried to cure the president with blood-letting and laxatives, but to no avail. The cause of Taylor's death was officially listed as "cholera morbus"--which apparently was an all-purpose answer whenever someone died suddenly from digestive problems in the middle of the 19th century. There was no autopsy. The dead president's body was preserved in ice for five days but never embalmed. More than 140 years later a historian named Clara Rising claimed Taylor had actually been poisoned by arsenic, perhaps by political enemies. (Taylor, despite being a slaveholder, was an outspoken pro-Union man. He had threatened to use the army to quash any secessionist movements.) Rising's compelling arguments--plus her willingness to pay $1200 in fees--persuaded officials in Kentucky to exhume Taylor's body from his crypt and perform modern scientific tests on it. The exhumation was carried out on June 18, 1991 with about 200 curious onlookers watching silently from a respectful distance. Modern forensic examination of Taylor's fingernails, sideburns, and even pubic hair showed no signs of arsenic poison whatsoever. Taylor was re-interred alongside his wife at Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, KY. Today the medical community believes that the purgatives that Taylor was given by his physician to cleanse his system may have contained mercury which may have hastened the president's demise.