Hand rising from grave

A victim? (credit to Dan04)

Since Halloween will soon be upon us and all manner of things will be going bump in the night, we’ve decided to showcase one of our more macabre finds.

Premature Burial and It’s Prevention” is a title that immediately catches the eye. The pamphlet reports the efforts of the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial to make sure that those who are buried are in fact dead. It seems that this happened quite often, or so the stories would have you believe. Even one of the authors is listed as “the late Col. E.P. Vollum”, himself having been mistaken for dead but living to tell the tale!

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century there were many doubts about the competency of doctors who couldn’t tell the difference between death and conditions which just mimicked it. Common cases which were mistaken for death included hysteria, being struck by lightning, sunstroke and cases of hypnotism. The pamphlet then goes on to list several documented cases of people being either buried alive or discovered to be alive on the mortuary slab.

Premature burial was a widespread fear. Special vaults like the one below were designed to allow people to escape should they meet this unfortunate fate:

Premature burial vault

Vault designed to avoid premature burial (source: Wikipedia)

This fear was also featured quite heavily in the popular culture of the time. Edgar Allen Poe was one notable author who featured the theme of being buried alive in some of his plots.

The London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was established in 1896. The main aims of the association included:

the scientific investigation of trance, the diffusion of knowledge regarding the causes and consequences of suspended animation, safeguarding members and associates … against premature burial and the promotion of effective legislation for the compulsory verification of death

(credit: ell brown)

Whether the cases documented actually happened or were urban legends is anyone’s guess. I’m not sure that many people who were buried alive would have managed to escape, so how did these stories get out? There are many tales about people who were buried with bells attached to strings on their toes to alert people if they woke up so just be sure that if you hear a bell this Halloween night that you’re not lurking next to a graveyard…..

Premature Burial and It’s Prevention: 1911.7.432