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Issue Date: August 2007 Issue

The Morgue at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office

Written by Heide Aungst, Photograph by Thom Sivo

A lonely foot protrudes from under a sheet — a tag hanging from its rigid, blue big toe. On the gray plastic gurney next to it, withered flowers and a collapsed Mylar balloon lie lifeless.

Welcome to the deep freeze, in a strictly off-limits area of the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office.

When the freezer’s heavy, metal door is opened, frost swirls around the 15 or so carts inside, creating an eerie fog that drifts over the floor and throughout the 28-by-32-foot space. But it’s the smell that will haunt you most. The pungent odor permeates the frigid air, clinging so tightly to the hairs inside your nose, you can taste it long after you leave, like a piece of raw onion stuck between your teeth.

This is not the part of the Coroner’s Office where the bodies of loved ones are brought immediately following death — and before being released to a funeral home — for an official record or an autopsy or the identification by family.

It is, instead, in the building’s basement, reserved for the decomposing remains of crime victims and the forgotten.

Two large, gray garage doors — the first sealed shut before the second is open — ensure that the fetid air doesn’t contaminate the rest of the building.

County coroner Dr. Elizabeth Balraj, forensic scientists and six pathologists examine the remains in the immaculately clean lab area. There’s a scale for weighing organs; a big bottle of bleach; an X-ray machine and light screen for viewing; a safety shower; gloves and a big bottle of Johnson’s Baby Powder for easier glove-fitting.

The floor is new white linoleum, with a ring of older, yellowing linoleum around it. Most of the floor was recently replaced after acid — dripping from a murder victim — had damaged it years earlier.

A digital clock on the wall displays the date and time by the second in bright red numerals for accurate documentation. Next to it is a large, wiry box emitting an ominous purple light. Maggots, comfortably living in decay, will turn into flies — and those glowing violet wires will ensure their quick demise. Add a few flies to the remains of the day.

Saturday, September 20, 2008 4:11:37 PM by Art ledger III
dose theCuyahoga County Coroner’s Office give tours of the building?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 3:17:11 PM by Anonymous
Does the Cuyahoga county give tours of the building
Wednesday, August 05, 2015 11:16:33 AM by Mrs.E
This is something I really wanted to do Mortuary science but there is no school's in Cleveland!! Does the Cuyahoga County Coroner's office give tours or can some one set an appointment for a tour??
Monday, November 02, 2015 3:02:52 PM by Victor C. Ernst
The following sentences derive from a 1906 Toronto newspaper: "FOUND MODEL MORGUE: HEALTH OFFICER PLEASED WITH CLEVELAND INSTITUTION - Medical Health Officer Sheard and City Architect McCallum have been on a quest for information about modern morgues, which data they expect to use in the construction of the morgue on Lombard Street. They went to Buffalo and Cleveland and found in the latter city a building which was splendidly equipped. The morgue there includes a Coroner's Court, rooms for witnesses, and an ammonia freezing plant. The walls and staircases are marble, and the building cost $50,000. The Buffalo morgue did not find favor in the eyes of the Medical Health Officer." (The Lombard Street Morgue building still stands at 86 Lombard Street, Toronto, but there have been two new locations since, the most recent opening in 2013).
Tuesday, November 03, 2015 2:15:35 PM by Victor Ernst (Toronto)
In early 1906 Toronto Ontario's Medical Health Officer, Dr. Charles Sheard, and City Architect Robert McCallum visited the U.S.A. seeking information about modern morgues, which they planned to incorporate into the construction of a new morgue at 86 Lombard Street in downtown Toronto. They found their model morgue in Cleveland, Ohio. The $50,000 Cleveland building included marble walls and staircases, a Coroner's Court, rooms for witnesses and an ammonia freezing facility. The Lombard Street building still stands although it has not been used as a morgue for many years.

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