Tombstone of the Month

Dr. William J. McKnight

The Honorable William James McKnight was born May 6, 1836, in Brookville, PA, the son of Alexander an Mary (Thompson) McKnight.  The McKnight family had emigrated from County Down, Ireland, settling first in Franklin County about 1790.  He became a school teacher and learned the printer's trade.  He studied medicine with Dr. A. M. Clarke of Brockway, while supporting himself as a staff member at the Elk County Advocate newspaper.  He later shared a medical practice with Dr. Niver at Brockway.  In 1863, he opened a drug store in Brookville, in partnership with his son, J. B. McKnight.  During the Civil War he served Company G, 57th United States Emergency Regiment.  Beginning in 1869, he attended medical lectures in Philadelphia at Jefferson Medical College receiving his M. D. Degree.  Politics became an interest and he served from 1881 to 1885 in the Pennsylvania State Senate.  Dr. McKnight is best known in Jefferson County for his involvement in the removal of a newly buried body from the Brookville Cemetery.  He and other doctors in Brookville intended to disect the body to gain medical knowledge which was not then available to them at medical schools.  The town soon learned of their deed, the body was found and re-buried by the deceased's family, and the doctors all had to "disappear" to avoid arrest.  Later, during his tenure in the Senate, he sponsored legislation to enable medical schools to used unclaimed bodies for anatomical research.  In one of his books, Dr. McKnight finally told the whole story of the midnight raid on the grave of Henry Sutherland.  Dr. McKnight died in 1918 and is buried in the Brookville Cemetery.

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