It is your worst nightmare.
The terrifying idea of being buried alive strikes fear into those who even consider the scenario. But for some that nightmare became a reality.
The book Premature Burial and How it May be Prevented is filled with stories of people buried alive, stories more frightening than any horror movie.
Premature burials were so common throughout history that a number of safety coffins were designed during the 18th and 19th centuries, fitted with a mechanism to allow the occupant to signal that he or she was still alive.
Warning to the squeamish: stop reading now!
Among the terrifying tales of internment is the story of Madam Bluden, who when she 'died' in 1896 was buried in her family vault at the Holy Ghost Chapel in Basingstoke, England. Luckily it was directly below a boys' boarding school and the day after the funeral the children heard a strange noise and immediately alerted their teacher.
The vault and the coffin were opened just in time to witness her final breath, and the horrified students saw that in her agony Bluden had torn frantically at her face and had bitten the nails off her fingers.
Mary Best was just 17 when she fell victim to cholera in 1871 and following an agonizing battle with the disease, doctors pronounced the Indian teen dead and she was quickly buried in a vault in Calcutta's French cemetery to curb the spread of disease.
It was 10 years before the mistake was revealed when the vault was opened to add the body of Mary's newly deceased uncle, and the undertaker was greeted with a gruesome sight. The lid of Mary’s coffin, which had been nailed down, was on the floor, her skeleton was half in, half out of the coffin, and the right side of her skull bore a large, ugly fracture.
Meanwhile, the fingers of her right hand were bent as if clutching at something, perhaps her throat, and her clothes were torn. Rather than dying, Mary had fallen into a coma that was common among cholera victims, and struggled with all her might to break free from her confines.
Investigators determined that after bursting open her casket she fainted from the strain, then fell forward over the edge of her coffin and fatally struck her head against a stone shelf.
In 1851, Virginia Macdonald's mother was adamant that her daughter wasn't dead but family members dismissed her as hysterical and the living corpse was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Eventually her pleas were heard and Virginia's grave was opened, revealing the body lying on the side, the hands badly bitten – proving that mom was right after all.
A complication in pregnancy called eclampsia causes seizures and ultimately can cause a person to fall into a coma. That condition recently took the life of Downton Abbey character, Lady Sybil Branson. However, Lavrinia Merli of Mantua in Italy had not actually succumbed to the condition when she was buried in a vault in July 1890.
For reasons that have been lost over the years, the grave was then opened two days later and it was discovered that the girl had regained consciousness, turned over in the coffin and given birth to a child, but tragically both were dead.
A young British mother had a luckier escape after giving birth while stationed in the tropics with her army medical officer husband. The new mom suffered such great pain that doctors presumed she was dead and prepared her for burial but the attendants were unable to close her eyelids, so her eyes were open as her children came to pay their last respects.
After they left, the woman’s nurse began stroking the face of her dead mistress and was amazed to hear the sound of breathing and alerted doctors, who held a mirror to her mouth but found no vapor.
The loyal nurse persisted, applying mustard to her mistress’s feet and waving burnt feathers under her nose, which finally awoke the mistress from her corpse-like paralytic trance. Following her rescue, the woman revealed that she had been aware that her children had been saying their goodbyes and knew that she was in a coffin, but had been unable to speak.
For more spine-tingling stories of living burials and narrow escapes from the grips of death, Premature Burial and How it May be Prevented by Walter Hadwen, William Tebb and Edward Vollum is now available on Amazon.com. The books was written by British authors Walter Hadwen, William Tebb and Edward Vollum in 1905 and was recently revived.