Premature Burial- 31 Days of Halloween
Just before he died, Frederic Chopin supposedly wrote a note saying: “The earth is suffocating. Swear to make them cut me open, so I won’t be buried alive.”
Although it seems like the stuff of horror fiction today, people in previous centuries were very concerned about the possibility of ending up in a living tomb. The Victorian novelist and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton asked for his heart to be punctured before he was buried, to make sure he was truly dead. George Washington requested that his body be watched for two days after his apparent demise. The Danish author and poet Hans Christian Andersen was so frightened of premature burial that he often slept with a sign on him that read: “I am not really dead.”
Most of us who have never witnessed death assume it happens quickly and clearly; one minute someone is awake and breathing, the next they are a still, silent corpse. But death is a biological process that moves throughout the body, and signs of life can remain long after the apparent end. We die in stages. Even after a beheading, the eyes sometimes still flicker. (Before his turn at the guillotine during the French Revolution, chemist Antoine Lavoisier asked his friends to watch his eyelids. They blinked for fifteen seconds after his death.) Worse, there are plenty of conditions that mimic death, at least to the untrained eye. Comas and trances diminish vital signs. The victims of plagues suffer and swoon, grow cold, and their heartbeats turn faint to the point of undetectable.
For so much more—including life preserving coffins!—keep reading Atlas Obscura’s 31 Days of Halloween: Day 11 - Premature Burial…