The Immature Burial.

Chances are you’ve seen the viral video of a guy who had a surprising final messages for the mourners gathered at his funeral. If you haven’t take a minute to watch it. I’ll wait. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

The guy is, or rather was, brilliant. Or maybe it’s just me, and most of the people at his funeral. There’s nothing funnier than playing on our worst fears, although modern embalming techniques greatly reduce the odds of being buried alive, and cremation reduces the odds even further.

Premature burial was, however, a great concern at one time, especially in the 19th century. This may be because booming populations forced the moving of a lot of cemeteries and the disinterment of their occupants because if you’ve seen the film Poltergeist you know that building a home over a cemetery is a terrible idea, but that’s another story. The belief in premature burials was so pervasive that in 1828 the city of Frankfurt in Germany required that all mortuaries be under the charge of a medically trained cemetery inspector, and all bodies were watch continuously for three days before burial. Exceptions were only made if there was obvious decomposition.

Some of this fear was probably unnecessary. Although there were cases of people in deep comas reviving and conditions like catalepsy that could cause the appearance of death another source of the belief in premature burial was claw marks on the insides of coffins, as though the interred were trying to get out. As Vampires, Burial, and Death by Paul Barber points out, it’s unlikely that a living person sealed in a casket would wake up—the buildup of carbon dioxide would keep them unconscious—and corpses tend to move around a lot as they decompose. You may have heard that your hair and fingernails keep growing after death. They don’t. The skin around them contracts as the body loses water so it just looks like they’re growing. As corpses break down they may claw the insides of their coffins. Corpses also make noises as they decompose, giving rise to the belief that vampires can be heard chewing their shrouds.

And then there’s Poe’s The Premature Burial, probably the most famous story of someone who’s not ready to go just yet. Premature burial features pretty frequently in Poe’s stories: Ligeia, Berenice, and The Fall Of The House Of Usher all involve early internments, and in The Cask Of Amontillado the not so lucky Fortunato is deliberately buried alive. But The Premature Burial is the one that gives away almost everything with the title, and starts with a warning that there are “certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction” then proceeds to talk about those themes. Poe draws on a wide range of gothic sources, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the less well-known Vathek, and offers a lengthy account of people who weren’t quite dead yet. In fact the story seems to go on a little too long because, you know, the dead can get pretty chatty.

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Arionis

    That was classic! I have to think of something good for mine.
    Arionis recently posted…The Amazing Big SurvivorMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Here’s hoping you have plenty of time to plan for it, but definitely the way to go is to leave people laughing.

      Reply
  2. The Huntress915

    I think this is brilliant, for instead of crying and mourning he left them laughing and remembering his great sense of humor. Cheers to the dearly departed, may he rest in peace!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      As the song says, you’ll see it’s all a show, leave ’em laughing as you go, just remember that the last laugh is on you. I’m just glad he went to his final rest on a happy note. I think that is the key to a peaceful rest.

      Reply
  3. Tom

    I remember a modern “twilight zone” show where a gal in prison made a deal with the prison undertaker. He gave her access to the next coffin brought out of the prison, with a promise to unbury her when she was “free.” You can guess the ending. She pulled out her lighter to see the face of the “poor stiff” in the box and it was the undertaker. Cue screams.

    By the way, one of my favorite memes of all time is one that announces that so many bad things happen to America one has to wonder if the entire country wasn’t built on an Indian burial ground.

    Let that one sink in.

    Good show, sir!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Somehow I missed that modern Twilight Zone episode, although the series is never quite the same for me without Rod Serling.
      And I prefer not to think about the possibility of America being cursed because it’s a Native American burial ground. Tennessee, where I am, has an especially bloody history in that regard.

      Reply
  4. theorangutanlibrarian

    Oh my goodness- the guy that did that is a legend!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s such a brilliant joke I think it’s a shame he couldn’t be there to see the effect.

      Reply
  5. Ann Koplow

    This post made me sit up, Chris. Thanks for the laughs.
    Ann Koplow recently posted…Day 2526: More self-care bingoMy Profile

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hope you’ve been able to relax since reading about burials.

      Reply

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