My Cousin’s Body Decomposed in a Field — Just Like She Wanted

Remembering the inspiring life of Zella Arnold

Johnny K.
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readMar 18, 2024


I’d like to tell you about a very special cousin.

Zella Arnold was born in rural Scott County, Virginia in 1926. After suffering a fall in 1939 that cost her the use of her legs, she was misdiagnosed with polio and would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

Zella Arnold. Photos from family collection.

She was bedfast from September 1939 until February 1940, when she was sent for treatment in Richmond, Virginia.

There, her atrophied legs were stretched by a contraption in her bed that nurses would slowly crank, which she said was quite painful.

Zella Arnold (right) receiving treatment in Richmond, VA. Photo from family collection.

As a teenager in the 1940s, she received medical care at Warm Springs, Georgia — where President Franklin D. Roosevelt was receiving hydrotherapy for polio.

She had even been scheduled to meet the President in the days just before his death there on April 12, 1945.

Zella remembered that Eleanor Roosevelt waved to her and other patients as she arrived at Warm Springs to retrieve her husband’s body.

Warm Springs Institute in Georgia. Photo source: New Georgia Encyclopedia.

These childhood trips for medical treatment were the only travels of her life, but she loved to read and learn about exotic places that she would never be able to experience herself.

Fond of crossword puzzles and books, she was extremely intelligent.

From her house on Park Street near the railroad tracks in Gate City, Virginia, she educated herself and read constantly — and she enjoyed talking with friends and family about the things she’d learned.

She loved to receive postcards, and in my travels, I would never leave a place without first dropping a postcard in the mail to her.



Johnny K.
Human Parts

Brand new to Medium! Traveler | Filmmaker | Storyteller. Last stops: Venezuela, Egypt, Iceland. Next stops: Alaska and Antarctica!