I have a lot of fears, guys. Lots of them. Heights, closed spaces, dense crowds, mob mentality, dentists scraping my teeth with those metal tools, the entire bottom of the airplane somehow falling off at 30,000 feet, the fact that every day my children are growing closer and closer to adulthood and I’m doing a terrible job at preparing them …
Some of those fears are more rational than others.
But one fear I think we’ve ALL had at one time or another is the fear of being buried alive.
What do you mean I’ve never had that fear? Seriously? Hmm. So that one’s just me, too? Wow.
Well at one time there were loads of people worried about being buried alive. There are stories of “premature burial” dating back as far back as forever, but the public panic over it really spiked during the cholera epidemics of the 18th and 19th centuries. When the tomb of one man, John Duns Scotus, was opened, it was reported that the body was found outside of the casket and his hands were bloodied and torn from trying to escape his tomb. The media fueled these kind of stories by reporting all kinds of similar cases. Edgar Allen Poe wrote about the subject in The Fall of the House of Usher, and then in 1844 published The Premature Burial, which contained supposed actual accounts of some of those buried alive. Well, the public sort of had a field day with the whole thing. Because even one oops-burial is too many, amirite?
Inventors got to work.
People churned out all kinds of plans for “safety coffins”. It’s reported that the first one ever used was for Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick in 1792. By his orders, his coffin was fitted with an air tube for fresh air, a window for light, and instead of having his coffin nailed shut, it was fitted with an inside lock, to which there was a key left in his robe. Most safety coffins employ some sort of communication with the outside word. Many specs showed strings or ropes that ran from the inside of the coffin up through tubes which were then attached to bells aboveground. So if one were to suddenly awaken from their dirt nap underground, feeling refreshed after their bout of cholera, one would need only to pull on the strings to ring that bell. It’s much like calling a butler, really. Except the butler was a cemetery nightwatchman, who would shovel you out instead of bringing you tea. Although bells were kind of the standard on safety coffins, some plans featured flags or pyrotechnics.
It’s probably important to note that there have been no actual cases found of a safety coffin saving anyone.
There are still plans for safety coffins made today. If you are incredibly rich and your fear is real enough (and if, for whatever reason, your family decides not to have you embalmed… because embalming WILL finish you off) you can purchase coffins with food and water and air filters and an entertainment system you won’t die of boredom while you wait for rescue.
See what I did there?