google10fa0980c6101c7f.html The Many Faces of Death: DEAD, DEAD and DEADER: Being BURIED ALIVE


The stories mentioned on this site are of real deaths (famous or otherwise), and may contain graphic pics, text and/or videos. This site is NOT for the squeamish or Faint of Heart! You have been warned.

Strange as their stories may be, they were flesh and blood once, and were loved by people who knew them. Let's respect the deaths of those who have been mentioned....

Monday, November 26, 2012


***A "TMFD" Special***

Thanatomimesis, n: the state of apparent death; the resemblance of death while still alive. From the Greek thanatos, death, and mimesis, to imitate.

It has been said one of human being's most primal fear is the fear of being buried alive, (which by-the-way, is called Taphophobiaderived from the Greek taphos meaning “grave”), so much so than that of death itself.  
The recovery of supposedly dead victims of cholera,
as depicted in The Premature Burial by Antoine Wiertz,
fuelled the demand for safety coffins.

We human beings are justified in feeling this way given the history of people being buried alive - whether intentionally, such as a form of torture, murder, execution or even as a stunt or a form of suicide. Or accidentally, such as in the case of being buried in rubble due to a disaster - natural or otherwise, or worse yet, mistakenly, when we caringly bury a living person whom we thought to have been dead.

When George Washington died at 10 pm on December 14, 1799, his final words to Tobias Lear, his secretary, were, “I am just going. Have me decently buried and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead. Do you understand? ‘Tis well.” America’s first president and the Father of His Country was buried according to his instructions.

During this period, well-informed individuals in Europe and America, such as Washington, were well aware of the possibility of being buried before being completely dead. Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) expressed this widespread anxiety when in 1769 he wrote to his daughter-in-law, “All I desire for my own burial is not to be buried alive.” The final words of Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), succumbing to tuberculosis, were also typical: “The earth is suffocating. … Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.”

Records go back as far as history, (one of the most famous concerned Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus (1266-1308). He lapsed into a coma and apparently died—the condition called thanatomimesis. When he was eventually exhumed, as saintly individuals often were, he was reportedly found outside his coffin with torn and bloody hands, having failed to escape his grave), but the fear of being buried alive reached its peak around the 18th and 19th century.  Before the advent of modern medicine, the fear was not entirely irrational. Throughout history, there have been numerous cases of people being buried alive by accident. 

During this period, there were no electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms, or brain scans to determine whether death had occurred. The pronouncement of death often depended largely on whether the individual looked dead. But looks were often deceiving. A feeble, undetectable pulse or shallow, invisible respirations might return after a person was pronounced dead. Mistakes were made, and they horrified people.

Although there is an unbroken chain of these accounts across two millennia, most of those on record date to the last three centuries. In 1856, knocking sounds were heard from the grave of a man, but it took the priest and police so long to grant permission to disinter the individual that he was dead by the time his coffin was opened. The wounds he inflicted on himself—bites on his shoulders and arms—were proof he had been buried alive.  Noises from the grave were also heard in an 1893 case of a woman who died late in pregnancy. By the time she could be dug up, her body was torn and bleeding from her struggle to free herself, and from the birth of her baby. Both mother and infant had died from suffocation.

In 1896, an American funeral director, T.M. Montgomery, reported that "nearly 2% of those exhumed were no doubt victims of suspended animation," although folklorist Paul Barber has argued that the incidence of burial alive has been overestimated, and that the normal effects of decomposition are mistaken for signs of life.

In 1905, the English reformer William Tebb collected accounts of premature burial. He found 219 cases of near live burial, 149 actual live burials, 10 cases of live dissection and 2 cases of awakening while being embalmed.

According to Jan Bondeson, author of Buried Alive (Norton, 2001), around the 18th and 19th century, cholera was killing millions around the world, and quick burials were necessary to prevent its spread. (James Polk, the 11th president of the United States, died of it in 1849, the Russian composer Tchaikovsky in 1893.) Accounts were also rife of people who had died of diphtheria and were buried hurriedly, but whose bodies were outside the casket when their tombs were later opened. 

There have been many urban legends of people being accidentally buried alive. Legends included elements such as someone entering into the state of sopor or coma, only to wake up years later and die a horrible death. Other legends tell of coffins opened to find a corpse with a long beard or corpses with the hands raised and palms turned upward. 

Fear of being buried alive was elaborated to the extent that those who could afford it would make all sorts of arrangements for the construction of a safety coffin to ensure this would be avoided (e.g., glass lids for observation, ropes to bells for signaling, and breathing pipes for survival until rescued).

A several-day waiting period prior to interment was the most common precaution against premature burial. The deceased could be left lying in the caskets for days or weeks, just to make sure they were dead. When the Duke of Wellington died in 1858, burial postponement reached a macabre extreme; he was not buried until two months after he expired.

When extended deferment of burial was not practical, individuals would sometimes be buried with accessories that might come in handy—crowbars and shovels that could be used to dig one’s way out in case one revived. Or vertical pipes might be installed through the ground into the casket, for communication with the outside world. Wealthy families often hired servants to wait by the pipes the first few days, just in case the “deceased” called for help. Those whose fear of premature burial was extreme might specify in their wills that they wanted their heart punctured prior to interment. Families who could afford fancier measures sometimes had coffins fitted with special nails that, when driven, punctured vials that liberated poison gas.

The first recorded safety coffin was constructed on the orders of Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick before his death in 1792. He had a window installed to allow light in, an air tube to provide a supply of fresh air, and instead of having the lid nailed down he had a lock fitted. In a special pocket of his shroud he had two keys, one for the coffin lid and a second for the tomb door.

So How Long Would It Take For Someone to Die If Buried Alive?

Premature burial leads to death through one or more of the following: asphyxiation, dehydration, starvation, or (in cold climates) hypothermia. 

Although human survival may be briefly extended in some environments as body metabolism slows, in the absence of oxygen, which is likely to be within 1-2 hours from burial time based on the consumption level, loss of consciousness will take place within 2 to 4 minutes and death by asphyxia within 5 to 15 minutes.

Permanent brain damage through oxygen starvation is likely after a few minutes, even if the person is rescued before death.   If fresh air is accessible in some way, survival is more likely to be in the order of days in the absence of serious injury.

Voluntary Burials

On rare occasions, people have willingly arranged to be buried alive, reportedly as a demonstration of their controversial ability to survive such an event. In one story taking place around 1840, Sadhu Haridas, an Indian fakir, is said to have been buried in the presence of a British military officer and under the supervision of the local maharajah, by being placed in a sealed bag in a wooden box in a vault. The vault was then interred, earth was flattened over the site, and crops were sown over the place for a very long time. The whole location was guarded day and night to prevent fraud, and the site was dug up twice in a ten-month period to verify the burial, before the fakir was finally dug out and slowly revived in the presence of another officer. The fakir said that his only fear during his "wonderful sleep" was to be eaten by underground worms. According to current medical science, it is not possible for a human to survive for a period of ten months without food, water, and air. According to other sources the entire burial was 40 days long. The Indian government has since made the act of voluntary premature burial illegal, because of the unintended deaths of individuals attempting to recreate this feat.

During his career, Hungarian-American magician and escapologist Harry Houdini performed two variations on a "Buried Alive" stunt/escape. The first was near Santa Ana, California in 1917, and it almost cost Houdini his life. Houdini was buried, without a casket, in a pit of earth six feet deep. He became exhausted and panicky trying to dig his way to the surface and called for help. When his hand finally broke the surface, he fell unconscious and had to be pulled from the grave by his assistants. Houdini wrote in his diary that the escape was "very dangerous" and that "the weight of the earth is killing."

Houdini's second variation on Buried Alive was an endurance test designed to expose a mystical Egyptian performer who claimed to use supernatural powers to remain in a sealed casket for an hour. Houdini bettered that claim on August 5, 1926, by remaining in a sealed casket submerged in the swimming pool of New York's Hotel Shelton for an hour and a half. Houdini claimed he did not use any trickery or supernatural powers to accomplish this feat, just controlled breathing.

The practice of being buried alive is not uncommon in Russia; in 2010 a man died after being buried alive to try and overcome his fear of death when he was crushed to death by the earth on top of him. The following year, another Russian died after being buried overnight in a makeshift coffin "for good luck".

Some of the more 'fortunates' who were buried alive and lived to tell about it...

  • The Reverend Schwartz, an early missionary to India, was roused by his favorite hymn as it was being sung at his funeral in Delhi. The gathered mourners became aware of the error when they heard a voice from the coffin joining in the chorus.
  • In England near the close of the 16th Century, one of the pallbearers carrying the body of Matthew Wall to his grave tripped. As a result, the other pallbearers dropped the coffin. Matthew Wall revived and went on to live for several more years!
  • Nicephorus Glycas, the Greek Orthodox bishop of Lesbos in the late 1800s, lay in state for two days, decked out in his vestments in the church at Methymni, when he suddenly sat bolt upright, glared at the passing mourners, and demanded to know what they were staring at.
  • In the 17th Century, a Scottish lady, Marjorie Elphistone, died and was buried. When grave robbers dug up her body in order to steal her jewelry, Marjorie groaned. The startled thieves ran for their lives. Marjorie awakened, walked home and outlived her husband by six years!
  • A similar incident happened in 1674 to another Marjorie (Halcrow) who was buried in a shallow grave by a sexton who intended to return shortly to take her jewelry. While attempting to cut a ring off her finger, Marjorie awoke. She went on to give birth and raise two sons. 
  • In the early 1800s, M. Chevalier, a Paris surgeon, contracted a sleeping sickness, lapsed into coma, and was apparently dead. Those in charge moved and shook him violently, with no success. They shouted his name in a loud voice, again to no avail. Then someone who knew him remembered that he was an enthusiastic player of piquet, a popular card game. So he shouted the words quint, 14, point!—whereupon the man suddenly awakened from his lethargy. 
One of the most famous examples of thanatomimesis, according to Dr. Larry Dossey, the executive editor of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healinginvolved Dr. Thomas Willis (1621-1675), the legendary physician and anatomist who described a number of diseases and the intracranial arteries at the base of the brain that came to be known as the Circle of Willis. Anne Green, a 22-year-old single woman employed as a housemaid by Sir Thomas Read in Oxfordshire, became pregnant and gave birth to a premature infant. The baby died and Green concealed the body. When the corpse was found, she was accused of murdering her own child and was sentenced to hang.
    The execution took place on December 14, 1650. After Green climbed the ladder up to the gallows, a rope was placed around her neck and she was pushed off. As her body was hanging, people came forward to pinch her breasts or to amuse themselves by hanging onto her legs. This was the custom of the day and was tolerated because it was believed that tugging on the condemned hastened his or her death. Fearing the rope would break, the attendant urged spectators to leave the body alone. After 30 minutes, Anne Green was presumed dead.

    Thomas Willis
    (27 January 1621 – 11 November 1675)
    Her body was placed in a coffin and taken to the home of Dr William Petty, a university lecturer in anatomy, as corpses for dissection were difficult to come by. When the physicians, among whom was Dr Thomas Willis, opened the coffin, the “corpse” visibly inhaled and a rattling was heard in the throat. Resuscitation was begun immediately, including keeping the body in an upright posture, tickling the neck to induce coughing, pouring hot drinks down her, and rubbing the hands and feet. When, after 15 minutes, they again tickled Anne Green’s throat with a feather, she opened her eyes for a moment. Other measures were instituted, including bloodletting. Eventually she was put to bed beside a woman for the purpose of keeping her warm. Green recovered dramatically. Within 12 hours she could vocalize, and two days later was sent home. After four days she was able to eat solid food. A month later she was back to normal except for amnesia for the execution and resuscitation.

    The authorities reprieved Anne Green. She moved to the countryside with friends, bringing along with her the coffin in which she had been laid as a corpse. She married, had three children, and lived another 15 years after her failed execution. This apparent resurrection helped make Dr Thomas Willis famous and became a source of envy to his physician colleagues. His contributions to medicine were so numerous and his fame so great, he was buried with honor in Westminster Abbey.

    Those who authorized a premature burial were sometimes punished for doing do. In a case reported in the British Medical Journal in 1877, the grave of a woman, buried some days earlier, was opened for the reception of another body. “It was found that the clothes which covered the unfortunate woman were torn to pieces, and that she had even broken her limbs in attempting to extricate herself from the living tomb.” A court sentenced the doctor who had signed the death certificate, along with the person authorizing the interment, to three months imprisonment for involuntary manslaughter.

    Those who survive premature burial are not always welcomed back. In 1993, Sipho William Mdletshe, 24, was pronounced dead following a traffic accident in Johannesburg, South Africa. After spending two days in a metal box in a mortuary, workers heard his cries and rescued him. His joy turned to sorrow, however, when his fiancée, who was also injured in the crash, refused to believe his story. She was certain he was a zombie who had come back to haunt her, and she refused to see him.

    Did You Know?
    • In Germany, Leichenhauser, 'corpse house', which were filled with fragrant plants to try to mask the smell, became widespread and were still in use in the 1950s. These heated mortuaries were designed to hold corpses until it was obvious they had started to rot. All were staffed with watchmen who had to supervise the bodies for signs of life.
    • An urban legend states that the sayings "Saved by the bell" and "Dead ringer" are both derived from the notion of having a rope attached to a bell outside the coffin that could alert people that the recently buried person is not yet deceased; these theories have been proven a hoax.
    • During World War II and the Vietnam War, Rodney Davies, author of The Lazarus Syndrome: Burial Alive and Other Horrors of the Undead, reported that premature burials were estimated to be as high as 4%.
    • Between 1868 and 1925, Americans applied for 22 patents for “life-signaling” coffins.
    • Dr. Adolf Gutsmuth was buried alive several times to demonstrate a safety coffin of his own design, and in 1822 he stayed underground for several hours and even ate a meal of soup, sausages and beer delivered to him through the coffin's feeding tube.
    • In his enchanting book The Romeo Error, biologist Lyall Watson describes how the 18th and 19th centuries were peppered with gruesome instances of premature burials that fed the fears of everyone. Watson calls the diagnosis of premature death the Romeo Error, after the mistaken assumption by Shakespeare’s impetuous character that his beloved Juliet was dead, when she was only in a deep, temporary sleep resulting from the potion given her.

    The Romeo Error continues to be made today, in spite of our more precise ways of diagnosing death. In December 1963, 35-year-old Elsie Waring was certified dead by three physicians at Willesden General Hospital in London. As she was being lifted into her coffin 10 hours later at Kilburn Public mortuary, she began to breathe again.

    As a pathologist was making the first incision at autopsy in New York in 1964, the “corpse” suddenly leaped up and seized the poor man by the throat. The corpse lived, but the pathologist suffered a cardiac arrest and died on the spot.

    A recent case resembles that of Shakespeare’s Juliet. In 2001, the Boston Globe reported the case of a woman found apparently lifeless in her bathtub, with a suicide note and evidence of a drug overdose nearby. The emergency medical technicians and the police could detect no vital signs or any evidence of neurological responsiveness, so she was taken to a nearby mortuary. On his way out, the funeral director heard the faint sound of someone breathing, unzipped her body bag, held open her mouth to assist her breathing, and had her removed to a hospital. Like Juliet, she had awakened when her “potion” wore off.

    • In 1995 a modern safety coffin was patented by Fabrizio Caselli. His design included an emergency alarm, intercom system, a torch (flashlight), breathing apparatus, and both a heart monitor and stimulator.
    • As recently as 2010, a 76-year-old Polish beekeeper named Josef Guzy  -  certified dead after a heart attack  -  narrowly escaped being buried alive when an undertaker noticed a faint pulse as he prepared to seal his coffin. Just weeks later, Mr Guzy was back tending his bees. 

    In today's modern society and technology, one can only hope they won't have to succumb to such terrible fate.

    Dossey also states that, in her review of premature burial, Barbara Mickelson, says “These days, getting accidentally buried alive in the United States or Canada borders on the impossible. Embalming procedures will finish off anyone not quite all the way through the Pearly Gates, and the families of deceased citizens of both those countries overwhelmingly opt to have their loved ones embalmed.” These assurances may be excessive, because there are many instances in which the problem of premature burial is replaced by premature embalming.

    In 1830 in Rome, Cardinal Somaglia became ill, passed out, and was believed dead. Preparations for this high official began abruptly. When the embalmer cut into his chest to instill embalming fluid, he could see the cardinal’s heart still beating. At this point the cardinal awoke and pushed the scalpel away from his chest, only to die from the chest incision.

    Well, there you have it.  Either way we lose.  Personally, I say let's forget about the embalming and the 'six feet under' tradition and do as some tribes around the world do and just place the body in a cave or leave it on an exposed rock ledge.  This way, just in case somebody screwed up, we don't have to wake up on an embalming table or fight through six feet of earth to live to tell about it...

    Source(s):  Via Via | Via | Via | Via | Via
    Pic source(s): wikipedia | Flickr waltjabsco | Flickr uncleboatshoes | wikipedia


    1. Frightening and interesting. Personally I would go with cremation as means of "disposal". After a stab in the heart.

    2. Cremation, yes. If they are absolutely sure you are dead! Lol.

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