People Feared Being Buried Alive So Much They Invented Special Safety Coffins – D. Lawrence Tarazano.

For centuries, inventors have been patenting technology to prevent such a nightmare from happening.

History shows that taphophobia, or the fear of being buried alive, has some degree of merit, albeit a small one.

As early as the 14th century, there are accounts of specific people being buried alive. While likely apocryphal, when his tomb was opened, the body of philosopher John Duns Scotus of the High Middle Ages was reportedly found outside of his coffin, his hands torn up in a way that suggests he had once tried to free himself.

In 17th century England, it is documented that a woman by the name of Alice Blunden was buried alive. As the story goes, she was so knocked out after having imbibed a large quantity of poppy tea that a doctor holding a mirror to her nose and mouth pronounced her dead. (Tea made from dried, unwashed seed pods would have contained morphine and codeine, which are sedatives.) Her family quickly made arrangements for her burial, but two days after she was laid in the ground, children playing near her grave heard noises. Their school master went to check the gravesite for himself. He found that Blunden was still alive, but it took another day to exhume her. She was so close to death that she was returned to her grave, where a guard stood by before deserting his post. The next morning, she was found dead, but only after struggling to free herself once more.

In the 19th century, master story teller Edgar Allen Poe exploited human fears in his stories, and the fear of being buried alive was no exception. In “Premature Burial,” a short story first published in 1844, the narrator describes his struggle with things such as “attacks of the singular disorder which physicians have agreed to term catalepsy,” an actual medical condition characterized by a death-like trance and rigidity to the body. The story focuses on the narrator’s fear of being buried alive and the corrective actions he takes to prevent it. He makes friends promise that they will not bury him prematurely, does not stray from his home, and builds a tomb with equipment allowing him to signal for help in case he should be buried alive only to wake from one of his episodes.

“The slightest pressure upon a long lever that extended far into the tomb would cause the iron portal to fly back. There were arrangements also for the free admission of air and light, and convenient receptacles for food and water, within immediate reach of the coffin intended for my reception. This coffin was warmly and softly padded, and was provided with a lid, fashioned upon the principle of the vault-door, with the addition of springs so contrived that the feeblest movement of the body would be sufficient to set it at liberty. Besides all this, there was suspended from the roof of the tomb, a large bell, the rope of which, it was designed, should extend through a hole in the coffin, and so be fastened to one of the hands of the corpse.”

And modern medicine hasn’t totally thwarted tales of being buried alive.

. . . Smithsonian Magazine


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