Mar 29, 2022 I Brent Swancer

Dog Heads, Monkey Heads, and the Bizarre Race Between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to Reanimate the Dead

The United States and Russia have always had a bit of a competitive streak going. The race to space, the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, the race towards psychic powers, the flexing and posturing, it has all been going on for quite some time. Yet, more bizarre than anything else is perhaps the back and forth experiments into trying to reanimate the dead. Here we get into some pretty dark territory, involving mad scientists, macabre experiments, and the stuff of nightmares.

Starting from as early as the 1930s, creepy reanimation experiments began to pop up mostly using dogs as subjects. One rather infamous figure in the field of trying to resurrect dogs was the American biologist Dr. Robert E. Cornish of the University of California at Berkeley, where he had received his doctorate and carried out his research in the 1930s. Before his field of interest took a turn for the macabre, Cornish had already accrued a reputation for being a bit of an odd one, designing weird inventions such as underwater reading glasses, but it was when he started his reanimation experiments that he really earned the title of mad scientist. Cornish became obsessed with the idea of life after death and, after several false starts trying a variety of bizarre techniques, he truly believed that he had figured out a way to do it. The theory was that a dead subject could be restored back to life if the body was swung up and down rapidly on a seesaw-like contraption to simulate blood circulation while at the same time being fed oxygen through a tube and injected with a cocktail of adrenaline, liver extract, gum arabic, blood, and anticoagulants.

Cornish was so convinced that the technique would work that he immediately began testing the theory on animals, namely dogs. Cornish acquired fox terriers for the purpose of his ghoulish experiments, all of which he named Lazarus, after the biblical figure who had risen from the dead. Cornish would asphyxiate the animals with nitrogen gas, after which he would wait 10 full minutes after death before starting the revival process. Lazarus I, II, and III proved to be failures, staying as dead as they had been before the process, but Cornish had more luck with Lazarus IV and V. Lazarus IV was claimed to have woken up with a “whine and a feeble bark” 5 minutes after its heart had stopped. Although the dog had gone blind and sustained severe brain damage, Cornish reported that after several days Lazarus IV was able to hobble around, sit up on its own, bark, and even eat. Encouraged by such promising results, Cornish moved onto Lazarus V, whom he considered an even bigger success than Lazarus IV. It was reported that Lazarus V was brought back to life a full 30 minutes after it had stopped breathing, and even so exhibited more of a range of movement and cognizance than Lazarus IV had. Both of these shambling zombie dogs went on to live for months, and it was said that other dogs displayed a marked fear of them.

Robert E  Cornish 1934
Dr. Robert E. Cornish

Cornish was extremely excited and emboldened by his successful results and went to the scientific community with his findings, but they were less enthused. His experiments became very controversial and derided as nothing more than twisted, Frankenstein-esque grotesqueries. The public found the idea of killing and zombifying cute little dogs to be repellant, and the outcry over Cornish’s experiments prompted the University of California to evict him from the campus, after which he continued his work on his own from a garden shed, apparently upsetting the neighborhood with the odious fumes he produced. The mad scientist continued to perfect his techniques, going through who knows how many dogs until finally in 1947 he had an opportunity to finally experiment on a human being.

Cornish was contacted by the convicted child murderer Thomas McMonigle, who had heard much of the experiments and was willing to offer his cadaver for experimentation upon his execution at San Quentin Penitentiary. Cornish was ecstatic to finally have the opportunity to try out his outlandish methods on an actual human corpse, and went about working out the best way to do so. He believed that a technique using a homemade heart-lung machine and 60,000 shoelace eyes would do the trick if he could have access to the corpse quickly enough. Although he made his preparations and manufactured the machine he had planned to use, alas Cornish’s grand plan would be thwarted by several obstacles. Besides the fervent opposition he met from the warden of the prison at the time, Clifton Duffy, there was also the problem that McMonigle was to be executed by gas chamber, which required around an hour after death to air out all of the poisonous gas before the body could be removed safely, which was far too long for Cornish, who needed immediate access to the body for his plan to have any chance of working. There was additionally the moral dilemma of what to do with the criminal if the whole bizarre experiment actually worked; after all if the criminal was put to death and then revived, would that mean he had already served his sentence and was to be freed as a walking dead man? In the end, Cornish never got his chance to bring a person back from the dead. He would eventually give up on his experiments and move on to the rather baffling occupation of making and selling toothpaste until his death in 1963.

The 1940s and 50s were not a good time to be a dog in the Soviet Union either, as they were also keeping up by pursuing their own depraved experiments along these lines. The Soviets were already engaged in a wide variety of experiments to revive severed limbs and removed organs, so it seems like a natural step that they would move on to full reanimation of the dead, and indeed some of the creepiest such efforts come from the Soviet Union. Perhaps the most infamous and indeed gag inducing such experiments were carried out by Soviet scientist Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko at the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy, Voronezh, U.S.S.R. The scientist became heavily involved in the reanimation of dead animals, mostly dogs, through the use of various arcane, scary looking machinery. In his most famous experiment, the decapitated head of a dog was hooked up to a sinister looking heart-lung machine that was called the “autojector,” after which the head apparently regained consciousness, moved its mouth, and blinked its eyes. In an effort to prove that the animal was indeed awake and cognizant, Bryukhonenko proceeded to torment the dog, rapping it on the head and even rubbing the inside of its nostril with acid, which the dog head then began to try and lick off. The dog reportedly remained awake and alive for quite some time, even eating and drinking things that were offered to it, which proceeded to move through the mouth and leak out of the severed esophagus. The machine was used to reanimate several dogs, as well as a wide variety of organs and severed limbs, although it is unclear how exactly it all worked. All we have are various archived videos of the experiments, and there have been those who suggest that the Soviets faked the videos.

Not to be outdone by his colleague in sheer depravity and cruelty, in the 1950s another Soviet scientist and surgeon by the name of Vladimir Demikhov conducted a macabre experiment to create what can only really be truly described as a two headed zombie dog. Demikhov was convinced that the key to reviving the dead was to graft the dead to the organs of the living. He believed that a single organism’s blood circulation system was strong enough to support another foreign organism, that the two could be successfully merged, and he wrote much on the “surgical combination of two animals with the creation of a single circulation.” To prove his theory, he took a puppy and chopped it in half just below the forearms, after which he attached the half-body to the neck of a living fully grown dog. Unbelievably, the dead portion of the dog came back to life looking around and lolling its tongue about in its mouth, like some ghastly moving tumor upon its host. Both heads also reportedly reclaimed their senses of hearing, smell, sight, feeling, and taste. Although this abomination would only live for four days, encouraged by this success, Demikhov would go on to create 20 such chimeras, which sometimes lived for up to a month before tissue rejection caused them to die. As macabre as all of this sounds, it is his research into this that paved the way for the first successful human to human heart transplant which took place in 1967. 

vladimir demikhov 1
Vladimir Demikhov

In the ensuing years, the United States would get in on more experiments to reanimate the dead as well. One such series of experiments was carried out in 1967 at the Foreign Technology Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, in which dogs were brought back from death using a system of artificial circulation. These dogs were reported as being revived up to 19 min 30 sec. after death. The subjects of these experiments apparently fully recovered and led normal lives for years after, showing no physical abnormalities or differences in behavior from normal dogs, and even bearing litters of puppies. Another experiment was funded by the U.S. government in 1970, when scientist Robert White chopped off the head of a monkey and successfully brought it back to life by grafting it onto the decapitated body of another monkey. The resuscitated money lived for a full day. White maintained that the monkey could see, hear, taste, and smell due to the fact that the nerves of the brain and head were fully intact. White, who wanted to perfect the head transplant to save people suffering from debilitating injuries or organ failure, would go on to seek two human subjects to try the experiment on, hoping that he would eventually be able to perform the procedure, which he referred to as a “full body transplant,” on the physicist Stephen Hawking and the actor Christopher Reeve. He even found volunteer in the form of a partially handicapped man named Craig Vetovitz, but after he was unable to find a second volunteer his work was discontinued.

Although a more rigid sense of ethics has taken hold in recent years, essentially putting the kibosh on many such animal experiments, there has been at least one notable case of such dramatic experiments as recently as 2002 at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, headed by a Dr. Patrick Kochanek. In the somewhat unsettling experiments, dogs were completely drained of blood and their veins then filled with an ice cold saline solution which put the subjects in a state of extreme hypothermia and made them clinically dead, with no signs of heartbeat, breathing, or brain activity, while preserving the tissues in a state of frigid suspended animation. The animals were then successfully brought back to life up to 3 hours after death by gradually returning blood to the bodies while providing pure oxygen and stimulating the heart with electric shocks. The experiments had mixed results, with some of the dogs being none the worse for wear from their ordeal while others displayed severe brain damage and/or “behavioral problems.” It is unclear if one of these might be shambling around attacking the living. The Safar Center has continued this research with the stated aim of eventually using their techniques to buy time for critically wounded people by putting them into a state of suspended animation until they can be properly treated. To allay fears and public outcry that the experiments are inhumane and unethical, the Safar Center has claimed that all of its experiments use proper pain medication and anesthetics, as well as pointing out that they are overseen by the University of Pittsburgh’s veterinary staff. The center ultimately plans to begin human trials. What could possibly go wrong?

Who won this battle of horrific experiments being carried out between these two superpowers? Who knows? None of it seems to have added up to much other than some serious grotesque mad scientist stuff, and such avenues of research have seemed to have died up for the time being. It remains unclear why these two superpowers were both simultaneously pursuing such crazy schemes to play god at around the same time, but it goes to show that there will always be some sense of rivalry that might just go down dark routes best left alone.

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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