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History Shows Fear Of Being Buried Alive

October 12, 2017

President George Washington made it clear he wanted many days to pass before being buried.  The reason was due to stories, and the fears that grew from them, about being buried before being dead. 

Fearing a premature burial, Hannah Beswick, an 18th-century English woman, left her entire estate to her doctor, Charles White, with just one stipulation: her body could never be buried. Never. Instead, Dr. White was required to check on her corpse every day until he could be sure, really sure, that she was dead. This was a lot to ask, and at some point, White embalmed her body. He kept her mummified remains in his collection of anatomical specimens, and every day, for several years, the good doctor and two witnesses unveiled Beswick and made sure she was still dead. He later moved her body into an old clock case, and as Jan Bondeson writes in his book A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, the doctor opened the case “once a year to see how his favorite patient was doing.”

U.S. patent number 81,437 was issued in 1868. This particular invention was for a security coffin, which came with all the bells and whistles the not-quite-dead-yet could ever need. The design includes a rope, ladder, and bell. Wake up in the coffin? Ring the bell which has helpfully been attached to the rope you’re holding. Nobody around to hear that bell? Try the ladder, which inventor Franz Vester imagined would allow a person to “ascend from the grave.

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