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Alive at your own funeral

A spine-chilling tale from the new series where genealogist Rivka Goldblatt delves into the more interesting corners of the JC Archive

    It’s a nightmare that we all can relate to: being buried alive.

    But does it really happen?

    The Jewish Chronicle in January 6th 1871 says the evidence shows it used to. Quoting from the Manchester Examiner, it tells the story:

    NARROW ESCAPE FROM PREMATURE INTERMENT

    A circumstance showing the danger of hasty interment occured at Salford Cemetery, Eccles New-road, on Saturday afternoon.

    A few days ago a man died at Ashton under-Lyne, and on Saturday-morning his child, an infant said to be about six weeks old, was seized with a fit of convulsions, and apparently expired.

    A medical certificate of death was procured, and the body of the child having been placed in the same coffin with that of its father, was brought to the Salford Cemetery for interment in the Roman Catholic portion of the ground.

    On reaching the cemetery, to the astonishment of all, a faint cry was heard to proceed from the coffin, which was opened, and the child found to be alive.

    A messenger was sent to the house of the Rev. Mr. Walker, at the cemetery gate, for brandy, but Mrs. Walker, fearing that spirits would choke the child, caused it to be brought to the house.

    She then promptly applied restoratory measures, and the child recovered. It was afterwards taken to Salford Dispensary, and, we regret to add, died on Sunday night.

    In December 1987, a number of years later, there is an update, as well as some shocking statistics from ‘a French author’. 

     
    …quotes a French author to the effect that there is not a day, even in France, on which a person is not buried alive, a frightful revelation, if it be true…

    But even if it isn’t completely true, the article suggests that people who are burying relatives may want to invest in a new invention, instead of buying flowers, which are ‘absolutely useless, though graceful’:

    [excerpt from The Jewish Chronicle, 20th December 1872]

    Count Michel de Karnice Karnicki, Chamberlain to the Emperor of Russia, has now invented a safety apparatus destined to prevent premature burial, of which a full description has been forwarded to us.

    In the coffin, over the chest, there is an opening of several inches. To that opening, a little apparatus is adapted, consisting of a tube with a spring lid.

    That is the only part of the apparatus which is irremovable The second part of the system is a machine which every cemetery might let out on hire for a fortnight.

    Just over the chest is a ball of several inches in diameter. The buried person if he awakes must forcibly touch it; even without knowing it, he will push or pull it. The apparatus then flies open, gives air and light, at night as well as during the day, sets a bell ringing and raises a flag.

    That invention never really took off, seeing as though the majority of people had no need for it, being fully dead when they were buried, and if they weren’t most of the time no-one would ever find out. Medicine advanced, and today we know whether a person is dead before burial – most of the time.

    So was your ancestor still alive at his funeral? Perhaps.

     

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