This is a craaaaaaazy ass story.
This really happened.
So I have been reading about this woman in this book that I recently picked up about hoaxes. And I am just aaaaaabsolutely fascinated by this woman and her incredible (and, WARNING, extremely graphic) story.
This story is so stupid and gross and idiotic and, somehow, 100% TRUE!
So I thought I'd sit down and share the (GROSS) story of Mary Toft with everybody.
SOOOOOOOO buckle up, buttercup, because things are gonna get reeeeeeeeeally crazy reeeeeeeeeeally quickly here.
Mary Toft was a 25-year-old English peasant in the 18th-century. She got pregnant in 1726 and complained of painful complications early on in the pregnancy. And so, in early August, she started having complications and pushed out several pieces of bloody animal parts.
This was odd, yes, but people just thought that there were some complications in the pregnancy and just went on with their lives.
Then Mary Toft went into labor on September 27th. Her neighbor was called and watched as she "gave birth" to a big pile of bloody animal parts.
Umm ... yeah. Eww.
The neighbor showed the pieces to her mother, who happened to be a midwife, who then sent some of the pieces to John Howard, a Guildford-based man-midwife with a buttload of experience. Initially, Howard dismissed the notion that this crazy peasant girl was giving birth to animal parts, but the next day, despite his reservations, he went to go see her and inspected more pieces of the previous night's "birth" but, on examining Mary, he found nothing.
Man-midwife. That sounds awesome.
When Mary went into labor again, she once again gave birth to several animal parts.
Howard returned to continue his investigations. According to a contemporary account of November 9th, over the next few days he delivered "three legs of a Cat of a Tabby Colour, and one leg of a Rabbet: the guts were as a Cat's and in them were three pieces of the Back-Bone of an Eel ... The cat's feet supposed were formed in her imagination from a cat she was fond of that slept on the bed at night." Then Toft became ill yet again and over the next few days delivered more pieces of rabbit.
So the story of the woman giving birth to rabbits started spreading around, so much so that Mr. Henry Davenant, a member of the court of King George I, went to go see for himself what the hell was going on. He examined the samples Howard had collected and returned to London, convinced that the whole story was real.
Eventually King George sent his personal surgeon and another man, an astronomer and scientist, to go and investigate. In their interview with Mrs. Toft, she told them that before this started she had had a strong craving for rabbit meat and began dreaming of rabbits, and as a result she would spend a ton of her time trying to catch them in her garden. She then gave birth again and the two men were so convinced by the whole story that they did a scientific examination of one of the rabbit parts.
Now, during one of the examinations they put one of the newly birthed rabbit lungs in water. The lung floated when they placed it in there. This meant that the rabbit that the lung had come from had been filled with air and therefore had in fact breathed oxygen before the birth occurred. The lung wouldn't have floated if it had in fact been born inside of the woman.
So, did they find proof that it was all a hoax?
Yes. Yes they did.
However, despite this damning evidence, these dumbasses still concluded that Mary was telling the absolute truth.
Since this story occurred in the early days of newspapers, Mary Toft's story spread quickly all over Europe and she suddenly became an 18th-century celebrity, so much so that she was brought to London, where a crapton of fan and lookey-loos camped outside of her lodgings, waiting at all hours to catch a glimpse of her next rabbit birth. However, while under this constant supervision, Toft went into labor several times but did not produce any animal parts from her hoo-hah.
So in comes this guy named Barron Thomas Onslow. He had enough of this rabbit birthing business and began his own investigation and discovered that for the past month Toft's husband, Joshua, had been buying a bunch of young rabbits. Convinced he had enough evidence to proceed, in a letter to physician Sir Hans Sloane he wrote that the affair had "almost alarmed England" and that he would soon publish his findings. The same day, Thomas Howard, a porter, confessed to the justice of the peace that he had been bribed by Toft's sister-in-law, Margaret, to sneak a rabbit into Toft's chamber.
When arrested and questioned, Mary denied the accusation but eventually cracked and admitted to shoving dead rabbits and animals into her vagina, then pretending to be in labor and "giving birth" to piles of bloody, dead animal parts.
Again, I would like to remind you that THIS STORY REALLY HAPPENED!!!
That. Is. SOOOOOOOO FREAKING GROSS!!!
The British Gazetteer reported on December 24, 1726:
"A Prosecution is ordered to be carried on in the Court of King’s Bench, next Hillary Term, against Mary Toft of Godalmin, for an infamous Cheat and Imposture, in pretending to have brought forth 17 præter-natural Rabbits. She is still detained a Prisoner in Bridewell, where none but the Keeper’s Wife is permitted to go into the Room to deliver any thing to her; the infinite Crowds of People that resort to see her, not being suffered to approach her too near, and more especially her Husband, who is strictly search’d when he comes to the Prison."
However, after about four months in jail, she was released without being prosecuted, a fact that brought joy to the heart of one of those who had believed in the rabbit births. An anonymous gentleman wrote in The Craftsman in April that he was absolutely convinced that Mary Toft's story was true because the authorities wouldn't have let her free "if there had been any reasonable Grounds to form a Prosecution against Her."
On January 7th, 1727, John Howard, the awesome sounding man-midwife, and Mary Toft appeared before the bench, where Howard was fined £800 for being a dumbass and unwittingly fooling the globe. He returned to Surrey and continued his practice uneventfully and died in 1755. Mary Toft made no money from her crrrrrrrrrazy ass scheme but she DID eventually manage to give birth to a daughter, although I bet she was teased in school for smelling like dead rabbit parts.
It STUNS me that so many people, including noted doctors and freaking scientists, could somehow believe that this woman was actually be giving birth to rabbits. How could people be so gullible? Were people more susceptible to cons and scams back then?
I mean, sure they might have been gullible back then but I actually know someone NOW who ACTUALLY sent money to Nigeria because of one of those scam emails that you think no one would ever fall for, so maybe people back then weren't as gullible as we are now.
But, I mean, come on! Dead rabbit pieces? Really?
The reality, the logistics, of shoving a number of dead rabbits and dead, rotting animal pieces, limbs and paws and bladders and hooves, deep into your vajayjay and then fake "birthing" it out is perhaps the most disgusting thing that I have ever imagined. And why would anyone do this? For fame and publicity?