The Cadaver's Arm

Cadaver Arm
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Also known as "The Severed Arm"

A friend of a friend knew this girl in nursing school named Sarah. Sarah was in that part of the program where they were dissecting corpses to study anatomy, and she was kind of squeamish — no, very squeamish — around the dead bodies. It wasn't that no one else nauseated by the experience; they were, but they were too "cool" to let on. But one day Sarah just completely lost it and threw up in front the class. That's when some of the other students started picking on her.

At some point a group of them got together and decided to play a prank on her. One day, when the anatomy professor wasn't looking, they removed a cadaver's arm and managed to sneak it out of the classroom in a backpack.

There was a party at the dormitory that night, and everyone had a little too much to drink, even Sarah, who normally didn't imbibe that much. She decided to go to bed early, so went back to her dorm room alone, washed up, and got into bed in the dark.

She froze. She felt something cold and rubbery and wet in the bed with her. She flipped on the light and saw the severed, bloody cadaver arm that the other girls had placed there. She began to scream, and kept on screaming, and couldn't stop.

When the other girls got to her room, they found Sarah, white as a ghost and laughing maniacally while gnawing on the severed arm.

She spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum.

Analysis: There are umpteen variations of this story, including one wherein the pranksters attach the severed cadaver's arm to a light cord in the victim's dorm room, so the first thing she does when she enters the dark room is reach up and grab it.

And scream bloody murder, of course.

In other versions the severed arm prank is supposedly a sorority initiation rite. Most often the pranksters are girls, but sometimes they're all boys, or a mix of both genders. In every case the victim is female.

"The Cadaver Arm" is actually quite old and well-traveled, dating back as far as the turn of the 20th century.

A version of it is recounted, for example, in the Spanish novel The Tree of Knowledge, the English translation of which was published in 1928:

There was a story of a second-year student who had played the following prank on a friend, who, he knew, was rather timid. He took a dead mans arm, wrapped it in his cloak and went up to greet his friend.

"How do you do?" he said, putting out the hand of the corpse from beneath his cloak.

"Well, and you?" — answered the other and shook his hand but shuddered at the coldness of it — and was horrified when he saw the arm of a dead man coming out from the cloak.

Many more variants, most from the late 1960s and early 1970s, can be found in the Indiana Folklore Collection on the website of the Wabash Valley Visions & Voices Digital Memory Project.

Sources and further reading:

The Cadaver Arm
Hoosier Folk Legends by Ronald L. Baker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984

Arm & Stammer, 23 July 2014

Lending a Hand at Med School
The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994)

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Your Citation
Emery, David. "The Cadaver's Arm." ThoughtCo, Aug. 23, 2016, Emery, David. (2016, August 23). The Cadaver's Arm. Retrieved from Emery, David. "The Cadaver's Arm." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 20, 2017).