Crafting items from human skin is a horror movie trope that never loses its edge, from Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs to the more modern day Deranged the creation off trophies as an incentive to murder is something that really plays on our moral sensibilities, but like most of the truly chilling things in horror, these characters had plenty of real life inspiration.
Discounting the most obvious muse of Ed Gein, there are a wealth of items out there that were living crafted from the corpses of the executed or those who died in battle that probably fed into these iconic cinematic characters, and below are some of my personal favorites.
6. Drum Made of the Skin of Jan Žižka
Jan Žižka started his life as a one-eyed Czech Medieval battle lord and ended it as a war drum so he could continue to inspire his men on the frontline after his death.
After fighting successfully in the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles in Medieval history, and being a pioneer of using pistols in battle to devastating effect, Jan Žižka was eventually killed by the plague as opposed to enemy fire.
His dying wish was to have his skin made into a war drum and, due to the enormous amount of respect he had from his troops, his final wishes were carried out.
Žižka was so well regarded by both his enemies and own troops alike that when he died, his soldiers called themselves the Orphans (sirotci) because they felt like they had lost their father and his enemies said that "The one whom no mortal hand could destroy was extinguished by the finger of God".
5. Book Bound in the Skin of James Allen
James Allen was a 19th century American highwayman who went by the alias of George Walton and was eventually captured for his crimes in Massachusetts in 1883.
Before his was executed for his misdeeds, Allen made a very strange request, to have his memoirs bound in his own hide and given to John Fenno, Jr., the man who accused him of the attempted murder that led to his death sentence. According to Allen it was meant as a token of his respect to the man who stood up to him.
The book survives to this day and is housed in the Boston Athenaeum library after being donated by Fenno's descendants. Before it was donated, legend has it that the book carried on it's makers legacy of fear by being used to spank naughty children.
4. William Burke's Calling Card Case
William Burke was a notorious Scottish body snatcher and serial killer whose mortal remains also ended up being repurposed after his death without his consent.
Working alongside his accomplice, William Hare, Burke was partly responsible for the slaughter of at least 15 men, women and children in order to sell their bodies to medical schools to be dissected as cadavers.
The need for bodies had grown enormously with the flourishing 19th century medical industry and, due to a downturn in the amount of executions performed, doctors were willing to pay undesirables to provide them with the macabre tools of their trade.
After his execution on 28 January 1829, Burke was dissected in a public forum that almost caused riots due to its extreme popularity and a calling card made from the skin of his left hand was produced and eventually fetched £150 at auction, an enormous sum of money for the time. Burke's skeleton is still on display to this day in the Anatomy Museum of the Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland.
3. Antoine LeBlanc's Wallet
Antoine le Blanc was a French immigrant who arrived in America in In 1833 and murdered an entire family within weeks of his arrival.
As penance for his crimes he was executed and dissected. After his corpse was experimented on with electrical current in front of an audience of 10,000 people, his skin was made into a variety of mementos including wallets, purses, lampshades and book jackets.
2. Shoes Made from Big Nose George
George Parrott, also known as Big Nose George, was a cattle rustler and highwayman in the American Wild West in the late 19th century.
After killing two lawmen for their money, Parrot was captured and sentenced to hang, but after an escape attempt that caused a head injury to his jailer, Parrot was publicly lynched by and angry mob of 200 people and stung up on a telegraph pole.
His skin was made into a pair of shoes and a part of his skull had the indignity of becoming an ashtray that was presented to a then 15-year-old Lillian Heath, the woman who became Wyoming's first female doctor. The shoes can still be seen at Carbon County Museum in Wyoming.
1. Icelandic Magic Pants Made of Human Skin
Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft in Holmavik, Iceland holds the most macabre human skin trophy of this post, an entire pair of pants made from human skin.
17th century practitioners of sorcery believed that magical powers could be transmitted between people via the wearing of another's skin and friends with a close bond would agree to donate their skin to their ally in magic if they happened to die first.
According to a museum spokesperson, removing the flesh to make these trousers was a great skill, but even more went into making these ghoulish pants, they explained that:
In order to make the magical trousers, the living man would have to strip the skin off of the corpse in one piece. The wearer of the pants then had to steal a coin from a widow and store it in the scrotum of the trousers next to a magical sign called a nábrókarstafur.
The coin was a “tool to gather wealth by supernatural means.”
The skin of the pants would then stick to the wearer’s own flesh. They would immediately be stuck with your own flesh and be part of your body, People would be able to use them as long as they lived, but they would have to get rid of them before they die. If they would find someone to take them over they could last forever
And, if you thought this macabre tradition had totally gone away, this modern day website is food for thought... Human skin belt anyone?