The Legend of Being Buried Alive

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fear of being buried alive was at its peak. Back in those days, embalming had not yet become a common practice, so many corpses were simply placed in their coffins shortly following being pronounced dead. Also, at the time, it was common for poorer families to bury their deceased family members in a plot in their very own backyard. Now that we know this information, this particular legend goes as follows:

In the early 1800s, there lived an old man who had been happily married to his wife for over 50 years. When his wife was pronounced dead by the doctor, he could not believe it true and had to be dragged from the body. The old man was so upset and hysterical – screaming that his wife was not dead – that he had to be heavily sedated so that they could continue with the burial in his very own backyard.

That night, the old man had a vivid dream that his wife was not only still alive, but also clawing frantically at the inside of the coffin. He awoke, alarmed, and called the doctor immediately. To put the old man’s mind at ease, the doctor agreed to exhume the body the following morning.

Once the coffin was dug up, they were met with a horrific sight. The old lady’s face was distorted into an eternal scream; her hands were facing upwards, bloody, with the fingernails completely bent backwards. On the inside of the coffin, there were bloody, frantic scratches. It was the determination of the old man and the doctor that the poor woman had been buried alive.

The origin of this Urban Legend is unknown, but it is likely to be linked to the late 18th to early 19th centuries, when the fear of being buried alive was very prevalent. This fear is likely to have surfaced due to medical breakthroughs, such as the technique of resuscitation, which allowed for patients thought dead to be “brought back to life.” This technique was not understood by the poorer, uneducated population, thus creating the fear of being pronounced dead while still alive.

Because of this widespread panic, many bodies were dug up. To the dismay of the people, scratches or other marks of disturbance were found on the inside of several coffins. While we now know that these could have been caused by postmortem muscle contractions or the release of gasses from the body itself, it was seen then as proof that too many people were being buried alive. This conclusion caused family members to start installing signaling devices in the graves, such as a bell connected to a pull rope that ran down into the coffin.

While there are now advanced techniques to ensure a deceased party is actually dead, the fear of being buried alive is still prevalent in today’s society. You can see this trope used in many horror movies and crime TV shows released recently. Even though we no longer instal signaling devices in the graves of our loved ones, it is still the biggest fear of a good portion of the population.

Tell me, are you afraid of being buried alive?


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