Mudcat Café message #1974707 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #99243   Message #1974707
Posted By: Muttley
21-Feb-07 - 07:01 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Buried alive - is this story true?
Subject: RE: Origins: Buried alive - is this story true?
While i've not heard of Florence Wyndham before today; there is another tale that parallels hers and can be verified. it is best related with thethe subjects un-named at first to add to the finale.

In very similar circumstances to that of Florence, this tale hails from Scotland and comes a couple of hundred years later (1770/71, to be exact.

In about mid Bovember of 1770, the beloved wife of a wealthy and influential Edinburgh solicitor took ill and slipped into a coma. Having money for the best of treatments, no expense was spared to save the woman's life. However, she slipped further into coma and apparently passed away in her bed.

A lavish funeral was held and the body conveyed to a mausoleum in St. Cuthbert's Burial Ground - though some stories place it in Greyfriars Kirkyard; there was no mention of this particular family's interments there in the tour I took 18 months ago.

That night her mausoleum was broken into and the thieves began divesting her of jewellery and rings buried with her and according to some reports she sat up while one was tugging rings from her fingers, other tales say she awoke and screamed when a finger was cut.
(Though this was some 50 years before the notorious pairing of William Burke and William Hare - the 'profession' of "body snatching" and robbing the wealthy dead was well-established and can still be evidenced by the parapeted watchtowers or guardposts sited around the walls of St.Cuthbert's and manned for a term after each burial.)

As per the normal run of this tale; she awoke fully and taking the lantern walked home. As it turned out the reason for the Lady's illness was (diagnosed in retrospect as) a form of Early Pregnancy Hypotension. The lady in question duly improved in health after her 'resurrection' and in due course went into labour in August of the following year. After many hours of labour she at last gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Walter.

The boy grew up and financed by his wealthy father attended the best schools and ultimately Edinburgh University where he (unsurprisingly) studied Law. However, it is for his writing rather than his legalistic skills his life and unconventional birth are remembered and we can thank those two grave robbers for the likes of:
Rob Roy,
The Lady of the Lake,
Waverley and
The Heart of Midlothian.

The child who "sprang from the womb of a dead mother" was none other than the famous Scots writer Sir Walter Scott.

However, it is unsurprising that so many tales of this sort tend to float around as it was actually not very uncommon for the comatose or cataleptic to be prematurely interred even as late as the 19th Century. In fact many modern terms we use spring from this very situation.

You see ale and spirits were most frequently imbibed from pewter jacks and cups. The problem is that alcohol leeched lead salts from pewter - modern pewter is safe due to a stabilising chemical; but pewter from the 19th century and older leeched freely and the stronger the alcohol the more the leeching occurred.

This led to mild to severe Lead Poisoning and a 'binge' might lead to a drinker becoming "DEAD DRUNK" - in other words, so drunk he could not be woken and presumed dead. His friends would cart him home where the relatives would wash the body and dress it in its best clothes. Knowing that some folks who "died" would rouse (and also keeping in mind the 3 days in which the Lord was buried) the body would be "laid out" on the table and the family would eat their meals around it for that time waiting for him to "WAKE" up - hence the 'wake' held after a modern funeral.

If the unfortunate didn't wake up they would, after 3 days, be buried.

However, especially in small towns and villages, burial plots were at a premium; they could not afford to expand burial grounds into crop and stock grazing lands. Thus every 10 years or so, the older burials were disinterred, the remains carefully placed in an urn or wooden chest in an 'ossarium'in the church crypts and the plot re-used. However, about every 20 or so coffins raised were found to have scratch marks under the lids indicating a 'corpse' had awoken underground and then died anyway.
So, to avoid these mishaps, at the interment, a cord was placed around the wrist or hand and threaded through a pipe to the surface and attached to a bell mounted on a stand. If the 'deceased' woke up 'under the sod' they could tug the rope and alert the Vicar or Verger or whatever - there was always SOMEone within earshot of the churchyard during the day.
At night, however, there was no-one about and so a couple of trustworthy men would be hired to stand guard in the churchyard for up to 14 nights to listen for the bell between 'Vespers and Matins' as well as guard against body snatchers.

Now to those modern terms I mentioned earlier:

If a deceased rang the alarm and was disinterred alive, that person was forever known as a "DEAD RINGER" of himself and to have been "SAVED BY THE BELL".
The gents standing watch to listen for the bell and secondly, prevent body snatchers, were watching all night and said to be working the "GRAVEYARD SHIFT".

Interesting stuff, history - ain't it>Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley and The Heart of Midlothian.