Tag Archives: buried alive

Saved by the Clock: 1901

floral clock with swags 1914

1901 funeral flowers in the form of a clock. The hands point to the time of death.


Girl Was Apparently Dead, but Timepiece Aroused Doubt.


Sister Refused to Permit Burial While the Clock Ticked.

Supposed Corpse Was in a Trance and Awoke on the Fifth Day of Her Sleep.

“I am not superstitious,” said the landlady, “but there was something happened at my house about two years ago that made my flesh creep for a while, in spit of my skepticism.

“Among my boarders at that time were a widow named Mrs. Dodson, her sister, Miss Ashby, and a young man whose name was Mr. Duby. Mr. Duby was a dealer in curios. He had in his collection a number of clocks and watches, and on Miss Ashby’s birthday he made her a present of a eight-day clock. This time piece was very fine. It was about two feet high, was made of scented woods inlaid with gold, and the face, with the exception of the slits for the pendulum and the keyholes, appeared to be hermetically sealed.

“Shortly after presenting this gift to Miss Ashby Mr. Dunby left for a trip in Mexico. About 11 o’clock on the Monday after his departure I was getting ready for bed, when Mrs. Dodson tapped on the door and called to me softly through the keyhole.

“’O, Mrs. Clark,’ she said, ‘won’t you come upstairs a moment, please? Alice has been taken ill very suddenly, and I don’t know what to do for her.’

“I threw on my clothes and hurried up to Miss Ashby’s room, but, quick as I had been, it was plain that she was breathing her last. I dispatched my husband posthaste for the doctor around the corner, but before he returned the girl was gone. Mrs. Dodson and another boarder and myself were alone with her when the end came, and the minute we were assured that all was over Mrs. Dodson looked up at the clock on the mantel and said:

“’Ten minutes past eleven. I must stop the clock.’

Could Not Stop the Clock.

“She walked over and opened the painted glass door and put her hand on the pendulum, but the minute she let go it commenced ticking as loudly and regularly as before. Mrs. Dodson looked round at us in surprise.

“’Why, how strange!’ she cried. ‘It won’t stop.’

“She caught the pendulum again. Even as she held it a faint whirring noise was heard inside the clock, as if it rebelled against this restriction of movement, and no sooner was the pendulum released than it went on with its monotonous vibrations. By the time my husband came with the doctor, Mrs. Dodson had worked herself up into a fever of grief and superstitious fear.

“’It won’t stop,’ she said over and over again.

“My husband tried to comfort her. ‘If you want a clock stopped at the hour of death,’ he said, ‘we will have to get another.

“But Mrs. Dodson would not listen to that suggestion. “I must stop this one,’ she said, ‘or none at all. It has been the custom in our family for generations to stop the clock in the death chamber the minute one of us dies, and Alice would never forgive me if I should fail to do the same thing for her.’

“Seeing that her distress was genuine, my husband took the clock downstairs, and began to tinker with it himself. He turned it sideways and upside down—did everything to it, in fact, except to break it into smithereens—but, no matter how he treated it, it kept on running.

“Mrs. Dodson wept unrestrainedly. ‘It is very strange,’ she said. ‘This is the first clock I ever saw that wouldn’t stop when you wanted it to. Most of them take spells and refuse to run, but this one won’t stop running. The phenomenon is something more than mere chance. It is meant as a warning, and I am going to heed it. I am not going to bury Alice till the clock stops.’

Averted a Premature Burial.

“In vain did we argue with her. Doctors and undertakers pronounced Miss Ashby dead, but, although her body was robed for burial, Mrs. Dodson would not consent to embalming or sepulture. For four days the girl lay in her room upstairs, watched constantly by Mrs. Dodson or a trained nurse, and for four days that clock kept up its everlasting tick-tock. On the morning of the fifth day after Miss Ashby’s death Mrs. Dodson looked out as I was passing through the second floor hall and called to me excitedly.

“’I think Alice is coming to,’ she said. ‘Send for the doctor.’

“I was ready to drop with nervousness, but I managed to gather strength enough to summon the doctor, and then we set to work on the girl. It sounds impossible, but she really did revive, and, although very weak and naturally slow of recovery, she finally regained perfect health. For a long time that clock was an object of superstitious veneration, even to the strongest-minded person about the house, and not till Mr. Duby came home from Mexico did our faith in the supernatural give way to practical common sense.

“’That clock,’ said Mr. Duby, ‘Is the product of my own inventiveness. I tinkered away on it for months and finally got the works in such condition that nothing short of absolute destruction could prevent its going for eight days after it was once wound. I used to think I was fooling way my time when I pottered around with those old springs for hours at a stretch, but it proved to be the best work of my life. If it hadn’t been for that clock—’

“And we all shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if it hadn’t been for the clock. Oh, no; there was really nothing unearthly about the affair, but since then I have been a good deal more charitable with persons who are naturally superstitious than I was before.”

The Inter Ocean [Chicago IL] 5 May 1901: p. 33

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was a wide-spread custom to stop the clocks in a house at the time of death, perhaps symbolising that time was over for the deceased. One stopped the clock to avert bad luck or perhaps to ward off another death in the house. A 1909 compendium of “popular superstitions” recorded: “When anyone has died in a home, the clock must be stopped at once, and all the pictures turned toward the wall, or more of the family will die soon.”

There were various, and sometimes conflicting, beliefs about clocks and death. A sampling:

If a clock, long motionless, suddenly begins to tick or strike, it is a sign of approaching death or misfortune.

Van Smith died Saturday night of pneumonia and typhoid fever. He was a noble youth, just budding into manhood. In the room in which he was sick is an old family clock that has not run for a great many years. Several years ago while old uncle Johnnie Smith, the grandfather of the deceased, was lying sick in the same room, a few hours before his death the clock struck several times. A few years afterward Mr. Wm. Smith, father of the deceased, died in the room, and a short while before his death the clock again struck. On Friday night it struck again and Van died on Saturday night following. It was not running, had not been wound up, and was not touched by any one. This is indeed wonderful, but it is true, and can be verified by a score of witnesses.  The Pulaski [TN] Citizen 12 February 1880: p. 3



We have recently been informed of a truly wonderful clock, which is said to belong to a family in Newport. The clock is of simple construction, and belongs to the family of Mr. L—y; but all the efforts of clockmakers have not been able to make it keep time—consequently, it has been permitted to rest in silence. A few hours before the death of Mr. L—y’s sister, some short time since, the clock suddenly struck one, after a silence of many months. It thus continued to maintain its silence until another member of the family was prostrated with a fatal malady, when it again struck one, and on the following day the child was buried. A year elapsed, when a second child sickened and died. The clock was punctual in sounding one a few hours previous to its death. A third child, a little boy fifteen months old, was afflicted with scrofula, which baffled the skill of his physician, and died. The clock gave the usual warning, and struck one. It has never failed in sounding a death knell when any of the family in whose possession it now is were about to die. “There are stranger things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”—Cincinnati paper. Ballou Dollar Monthly Magazine Vol. 16, 1862: p. 414

Clocks were also said to stop or “die” at the same moment as their owner, in the manner of the old song “My Grandfather’s Clock,”  which contains the refrain: “But it stopped short, never to go again/ When the old man died”] Perhaps this is why Miss Ashby’s clock stubbornly refused to be stopped.

They have a genuine grandfather’s clock in Maryland, at the residence of the late Thos. M. Clavert, in Cecil county. The clock had been running for twenty-one years without repairs. When Mr. Calvert died, the folks looked at the clock to note the moment of his death. The clock had stopped, and they can’t make it run again. The Atchison [KS] Daily Champion 31 January 1880:p. 2


Stopped Short at Moment of Death of Two Members of the Family.

Omaha, Apri. 2. Doctor John F. Hertzman, a physician who has lived in this city for twenty-five years and has held several minor public offices, died this morning at 5:20 o’clock after an extended illness.

Watchers beside his bedside declare that, at the moment he was declared dead by the attending physician, the clock in the bed chamber ceased to tick. The fact has become known and many curious neighbors have called to see the phenomenon. The clock has been permitted to stand at 5:20.

The curious incident is further emphasized by the fact that three years  ago the same clock also stopped at the exact moment of the daughter’s death.

Another curious fact in connection with Doctor Hertzman’s death is told. His age, according to Omaha time, was 48 years, 6 hours and five minutes.

As Doctor Hertzman was born in France, it is figured by the relatives that he died almost at the moment, if not at the exact moment, of the close of his forty-seventh year, when the difference in time between the two points is considered. Tucson [AZ] Daily Citizen 2 April 1902: p. 8


To be Relentlessly Informative, there has been a lot of loose talk about the term “saved by the bell,” as a reference to bells rigged to ring when a prematurely buried person revived. While such devices did exist, they did not inspire the idiom. The phrase had its origins in the boxing ring.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The French Doctor’s Bride: 1830s

lighter shrouded corpse Rowlandson 1775

Grave-robbers interrupted by Death, Thomas Rowlandson, 1775 https://wellcomecollection.org/works/j7twdvrd



Twenty-five years ago I entered the medical college at F__ as a student. I was then quite young, inexperienced, and inclined to be timid and sentimental; and well do I remember the horror I experienced, when one of the senior students, under pretence of showing me the beauties of the institution, suddenly thrust me into the dissecting room, among several dead bodies, and closed the door upon me; nor do I forget how my screeches of terror, and prayers for release from that awful place, made me the laughing-stock of my older companions.

Ridicule is a hard thing to bear: the coward becomes brave to escape it, and the brave man fears it more than he would a belching cannon. I suffered from it till I could stand no more; and wrought up to a pitch of desperation, I demanded to know what I might do to redeem my character, and gain an honourable footing among my fellowstudents.

“I will tell you,” said one, his eyes sparkling with mischief; “if you will go, at the midnight hour, and dig up a subject, and take it to your room, and remain alone with it till morning, we will let you off, and never say another word about your womanly fright.”

I shuddered. It was a fearful alternative; but it seemed less terrible to suffer all the horrors that might be concentrated into a single night, than to bear, day after day, the jeers of my companions.

“Where shall I go and when?” was my timid inquiry; and the very thought of such an adventure made my blood run cold.

“To the Eastern Cemetery, to night, at twelve o’clock,” replied my tormentor, fixing his keen, black eyes upon me, and allowing his thin lips to curl with a smile of contempt. “But what is the use of asking such a coward as you to perform such a manly feat?” he added, deridingly

His words stung me to the quick; and without further reflection, and scarcely aware of what I was saying, I rejoined, boldly, “I am no coward, sir, as I will prove to you, by performing what you call a manly feat.”

“You will go?'” he asked quickly.

“I will,” was my response.

“Bravely said, my lad!” he rejoined, in a tone of approval, and exchanging his expression of contempt for one of surprise and admiration. “Do this, Morel, and the first man that insults you afterwards makes an enemy of me.”

Again I felt a cold shudder pass through my frame, at the thought of what was before me; but I had accepted his challenge in the presence of many witnesses—for this conversation occurred as we were leaving the hall, after listening to an evening lecture—and I was resolved to make my word good, should it even cost me my life: in fact, I knew I could not do otherwise now, without the risk of being driven in disgrace from the college.

I should here observe, that in those days there were few professional resurrectionists; and as it was absolutely necessary to have subjects for dissection, the unpleasant business of procuring them devolved upon the students, who, in consequence, watched every funeral eagerly, and calculated the chances of cheating the sexton of his charge, and the grave of its victim.

There had been a funeral, that day, of a poor orphan girl, who had been followed to the grave by very few friends; and this was considered a favorable chance for the party whose turn it was to procure the next subject, as the graves of the poor and friendless were never watched with the same keen vigilance as those of the rich and influential. Still, it was no trifling risk to attempt to exhume the bodies of the poorest and humblest—for not unfrequently persons were found on the watch even over these; and only the year before, one student, while at his midnight work, had been mortally wounded by a rifle-ball; and another, a month or two subsequently, had been rendered a cripple for life by the same means.

All this was explained to me by a party of six or eight, who accompanied me to my room—which was in a building belonging to the college, and let out in apartments to some of the students; and they took care to add several terrifying stories of ghosts and hobgoblins, by way of calming my excited nerves, just as I have before now observed old women stand around a weak, feverish patient, and croak out their experience in seeing awful sufferings and fatal terminations of just such maladies as the one with which their helpless victim was then afflicted.

“Is it expected that I shall go alone?” I inquired, in a tone that trembled in spite of me, while my knees almost knocked together, and I felt as if my very lips were white.

“Well, no,” replied Belmont, my most dreaded tormentor; “it would be hardly fair to send you alone, for one individual could not succeed in getting the body from the grave quick enough; and you, a mere youth, without experience, would be sure to fail altogether. No, we will go with you, some three or four of us, and help to dig up the corpse; but then you must take it on your back, bring it up to your room here, and spend the night alone with it!”

It was some relief to me to find I was to have company during the first part of my awful undertaking; but still I felt far from agreeable, I assure you; and chancing to look into a mirror, as the time drew near for setting out, I fairly started at beholding the ghastly object I saw reflected therein.

“Come, boys,” said Belmont, who was always, by general consent, the leader of whatever frolic, expedition, or undertaking, he was to have a hand in; “Come, boys! it is time to be on the move. A glorious night for us!” he added, throwing up the window, and letting in a fierce gust of wind and rain: “the very d__l himself would hardly venture out in such a storm!’” He lit a dark-lantern, threw on his long, heavy cloak, took up a spade, and led the way down stairs; and the rest of us, three besides my timid self, threw on our cloaks also, took each a spade, and followed him.

We took a roundabout course, to avoid being seen by any citizen that might by chance to be stirring; and in something less than half-an-hour we reached the cemetery, scaled the wall without difficulty, and stealthily searched for the grave, till we found it, in the pitchy darkness—the wind and rain sweeping past us with dismal howls and moans, that to me, trembling with terror, seemed to be the unearthly wailings of the spirits of the damned.

“Here we are,” whispered Belmont to me, as we at length stopped at a mound of fresh earth, over which one of our party had stumbled. “Come, feel round, Morel, and strike in your spade; and let us see if you will make as good a hand at exhuming a dead body as you will some day at killing a living one with physic.”

I did as directed, trembling in every limb; but the first spade-full I threw up, I started back with a yell of horror, that, on any other but a howling, stormy night, would have betrayed us. It appeared to me as if I had thrust my spade into a buried lake of fire—for the soft dirt was all aglow like living coals; and as I had fancied the moanings of the storm the wailings of tormented spirits, I now fancied I had uncovered a small portion of the Bottomless Pit itself.

“Fool!” hissed Belmont, grasping my arm with the gripe of a vice, as I stood leaning on my spade for support, my very teeth chattering with terror; “another yell like that, and I’ll make a subject of you! Are you not ashamed of yourself to be scared out of your wits, if you ever had any, by a little phosphorescent earth? Don’t you know it is often found in graveyards?”

His explanation re-assured me; though I was now too weak, from my late fright, to be of any assistance to the party; who all fell too with a will, secretly laughing at me, and soon reached the coffin. Splitting the lid with a hatchet, which had been brought for the purpose, they quickly lifted out the corpse; and then Belmont and another of the party taking hold of it, one at the head and the other at the feet, they hurried it away, bidding me follow, and leaving the others to fill up the grave, that it might not be suspected the body had been exhumed.

Having got the corpse safely over the wall of the cemetery, Belmont now called upon me to perform my part of the horrible business. “Here, you quaking simpleton,” he said, “I want you to take this on your back, and make the best of your way to your room, and remain alone with it all night. If you do this bravely, we will claim you as one of us to-morrow, and the first man that dares to say a word against your courage after that, shall.find a foe in me. But hark you! if you make any blunder on the way, and lose our prize, it will be better for you to quit this town before I set eyes on you again! Do you understand me?”

“Y—ye-ye—yes!” I stammered, with chattering teeth.

“Are you ready?” Y-ye-ye—yes,” I gasped.

“Well, come here! where are you?” All this time it was so dark that I could see nothing but a faint line of white, which I knew to be the shroud of the corpse; but I felt carefully round till I got hold of Belmont, who told me to take off my cloak; and then rearing the cold dead body up against my back, he began fixing its cold arms about my neck-bidding me take hold of them, and draw them well over, and keep them concealed, and be sure and not let go of them, on any consideration whatsoever, as I valued my life. Oh! the torturing horror I experienced, as I mechanically followed his directions! Tongue could not describe it!

At length, having adjusted the corpse so that I might bear it off with comparative ease, he threw my long black cloak over it, and over my arms, and fastened it with a cord about my neck, and then inquired, “Now, Morel, do you think you can find the way to your room?”

“I—I—do-do—don’t know,” I gasped, feeling as if I should sink to the earth at the first step.

“Well, you cannot lose your way if you go straight ahead,” he replied. “Keep in the middle of this street or road, and it will take you to College Green, and then you are all right. Come, push on, before your burden grows too heavy; the distance is only a good half-mile!”

I set forward with trembling nerves, expecting to sink to the ground at every step; but gradually my terror, instead of weakening, gave me strength; and I was soon on the run—splashing through mud and water—with the storm howling about me in fury, and the cold corpse, as I fancied, clinging to me like a hideous vampire.

How I reached my room, I do not know—but probably by a sort of instinct; for I only remember of my brain being in a wild, feverish whirl, with ghostly phantoms all about me, as one sometimes sees them in a dyspeptic dream. But reach my room I did, with my dead burden on my back; and I was afterwards told that I made wonderful time; for Belmont and his fellow student, fearing the loss of their subject—which, on account of the difficulty of getting bodies, was very valuable— followed close behind me, and were obliged to run at the top of their speed to keep me within hailing distance.

The first I remember distinctly, after getting to my room, was the finding myself awake in bed, with a dim consciousness of something horrible having happened—although what, for some minutes, I could not for the life of me recollect. Gradually, however, the truth dawned upon me; and then I felt a cold perspiration start from every pore, at the thought that perhaps I was occupying a room alone with a corpse. The room was not dark; there were a few embers in the grate, which threw out a ruddy light; and fearfully raising my head, I glanced quickly and timidly around.

And there—there, on the floor, against the right hand wall, but a few feet from me—there, sure enough, lay the cold, still corpse, robed in its white shroud, with a gleam of firelight resting upon its ghastly face, which to my excited fancy seemed to move. Did it move? I was gazing upon it, thrilled and fascinated with an indescribable terror, when, as sure as I see you now, I saw the lids of its eyes unclose, and saw its breast heave, and heard a low, stifled moan.

“Great God!” I shrieked, and fell back in a swoon.

How long I lay unconscious I do not know; but when I came to myself again, it is a marvel to me, that, in my excited state, I did not lose my senses altogether, and become the tenant of a madhouse ; for there—right before me-standing up in its white shroud—with its eyes wide open and staring upon me, and its features thin, hollow and death-hued—was the corpse I had brought from the cemetery.

“In God’s name, avaunt! ” I gasped. “Go back to your grave, and rest in peace! I will never disturb you again!”

The large hollow eyes looked more wildly upon me—the head moved, the lips parted, and a voice, in a somewhat sepulchral tone, said, “Where am I? where am I? Who are you? Which world am I in? Am I living or dead?”

“You are dead,” I gasped, sitting up in bed, and feeling as if my brain would burst with a pressure of unspeakable horror; “you were dead and buried, and I was one of the guilty wretches who this night disturbed your peaceful rest. But go back, poor ghost, in heaven’s name! and no mortal power shall ever induce me to come nigh you again!”

“Oh! I feel faint!” said the corpse, gradually sinking down upon the floor, with a groan. “Where am I? Oh! where am I?”

“Great God!” I shouted, as the startling truth suddenly flashed upon me; “perhaps this poor girl was buried alive, and is now living!”

I bounded from the bed, and grasped a hand of the prostrate body. It was not warm—but it was not cold. I put my trembling fingers upon the pulse. Did it beat? or, was it the pulse in my fingers? I thrust my hand upon the heart. It was warm—there was life there. The breast heaved—she breathed—but the eyes were now closed, and the features had the look of death. Still it was a living body—or else I myself was insane. I sprung to the door, tore it open, and shouted for help. “Quick! quick!” cried I. “the dead is alive! The dead is alive!

Several of the students sleeping in adjoining rooms came hurrying to mine, thinking I had gone mad with terror, as some of them had heard my voice before, and all knew to what a fearful ordeal I had been subjected.

“Poor fellow!” exclaimed one, in a tone of sympathy; “I predicted this!”

“It is too bad,” said another; “it was too much for his nervous system!”

“I am not mad,” returned I—comprehending their suspicions; “but the corpse is alive!—hasten and see!”

Hey hurried into the room, one after another; and the foremost, stopping down to what he suppposed. was a corpse, put his hand upon it, and instantly exclaimed, “Quick a light and some brandy! She lives! she lives!”
All now was bustle, confusion, and excitement, one proposing one thing, and another something else, and all speaking together. They placed her on the bed, and gave her some brandy, when she again revived. I ran for a physician (one of the faculty), who came and tended upon her through the night; and by sunrise the next morning she was reported to be in a fair way of recovery.

And recover she did; and turned out to be a most beautiful creature, and only sweet seventeen. But that is not all: for she turned out an heiress, and married me!

Yes: that night of horror only preceded the dawn of my happiness; for that girl—sweet,
lovely Helene Leroy—in time became my wife, and the mother of my two boys.
She sleeps now in death, beneath the cold, cold sod, and no human resurrectionist shall ever raise her to life again!
 Frank Leslie’s New York Journal, 1857: p. 85-6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A most grim and grewsome tale, in the florid French vein of the Gallic tabloids, but Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending, even one that sums up an entire lifetime of important events in a paragraph or two.

Mrs Daffodil will not quibble over how a friendless orphan girl was transmuted into a beautiful heiress, but perhaps on the dark and stormy night, the medical students mistook the grave.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

The Resurrection of Willie Todd: 1897



By Arthur Thompson Garrett

“WHAT! marry that insignificant nonentity? Never! Understand me, never!” and the Honorable Gregory Bismuth glared at his pretty daughter, his scant supply of gray hair standing fairly erect with indignation.

“But, papa,” answered Arabella Bismuth, the great lawyer’s only child, “Willie is a good young man; what have you against him?”

“I’ll have my foot against him the next time he comes here,” snorted the irascible father. “The idea of Arabella Bismuth, daughter of Gregory Bismuth, granddaughter of Anthony James Bismuth, great-grand—”

“Papa, papa, there is no need of you going over your ancestral tree in anti-chronological order. The question is, What is your objection to my marrying Willie Todd?”

“Objection! objection! you impudent young chit, just like your mother, though my objection is that he isn’t a man. He’s nothing but a plagiarism. I had hoped that my daughter would show more sense than to express a desire to wed a remote circumstance like William Todd;” and the lawyer departed for his office, leaving his daughter in tears.

Arabella Bismuth was a pretty girl and an heiress, two qualifications that were sufficient to make her quite a figure in the matrimonial market. She shunned, however, many seemingly advantageous opportunities to wed, and singled out young Todd as her future husband. This selection irritated her stately father exceedingly, as he was aware that Willie Todd would never set the world afire with his brilliant achievements. He had allowed the young man to come to the house, as he considered him a harmless, inoffensive dude, and had no fear of his fascinating the handsome daughter. Great was his surprise when Arabella informed him that she and Willie desired to marry (Willie could never have managed to screw his courage up to that point).

After the Hon. Gregory Bismuth’s majestic form had disappeared down the street, the object of his wrath, the effeminate Todd, emerged from a house across the way and, walking over, ascended the steps of the Bismuth mansion.

“How did he take it, Bell?” inquired the lover.

“Take it!” ejaculated Arabella. “It’s lucky for you, Willie, that you didn’t break the news, or I would probably have been a widow before being married.”

Willie shivered. “Heavens, what a narrow escape. Why, do you know, I came near bracing him yesterday!”

“It’s lucky that you didn’t, for— hide, Willie, hide; here comes papa. He has either forgotten something or seen you come in.”

“Great Scott. I hope not. Where can I hide?”

“Here, get behind this screen; I think I can keep him away from there.”

“Say, Arabella,” said Willie, as he concealed himself, “spring the subject on him again and let me see how he acts; perhaps he is only bluffing.”

“All right, but keep still; here he is.”

“With whom were you talking?” asked Mr. Bismuth as he entered the room.

“I was just talking to myself,” answered Arabella.

“Well, quit it; it’s a bad habit. Have you seen anything of my glasses?”

“No; did you forget them?”

“Oh, no, of course not,” answered her father, sarcastically. “I just simply walked back six blocks to casually inquire if you had seen them.”

“Well, I haven’t.”

“Don’t get saucy, you young minx, but help me find those confounded glasses;” and he commenced such a thorough and systematic search that Willie was sure he would be discovered. “I must have left them behind this screen, where I was reading;” and he walked over, but was stopped by Arabella, much to Willie’s relief.

“No, no, papa, they are not there, I’m sure. Look through your pockets again.”

Mr. Bismuth mechanically did as he was told, and after two or three frantic dives in different pockets he at last brought forth the missing glasses.

“Ha! ha! ha! and you had them all the time. Ha! ha! ha!” and Arabella laughed hysterically.

Her father looked at her in a puzzled way and said, “Yes, it’s very funny, but I guess I’d better send Dr. Hamline around to see you. You’re sick. Your face is flushed, and you laugh like a maniac.”

“No, I’m all right, papa, but before you go I wish you’d consent to my marrying Willie; won’t you?”

At this Mr. Bismuth boiled again. “Never, never, and when a Bismuth says never he means it. That scamp is a worthless loafer and I would take delight in paying his funeral expenses.”

“Papa, papa, do you know what you are saying?”

“Certainly I do—a Bismuth always knows what he is saying. He simply wants you for the money you will inherit, and I say he shall never have it, and a Bismuth never told a lie. I remarked a moment ago that I would delight in paying his funeral expenses, and to be true to not only the reputation of myself, but my ancestors, I will keep my word. That is all the money he will ever wring from the coffers of the house of Bismuth;” and the great attorney started for his office, after again assuring himself that his glasses were safely in his pocket.

“Whew,” remarked Willie, as he emerged from his hiding-place, “he seems to have it in for me in earnest, doesn’t he, Bell?”

“Yes, Willie, I am afraid we can never win him over.”

“Well, let’s elope.”


“Yes, certainly. Ain’t that what all lovers do? Let’s go away and get married, and then when it all blows over we can come back. Your father will cool down by that time and be ready to fall on my neck with tears of forgiveness.”

“Yes, Willie, he would fall on your neck quickly enough, but don’t put too much faith in the tears of forgiveness. That isn’t what he would fall with. Besides, Willie Todd, how much money have you right now?”

Willie began a diligent search and managed to show up thirty-seven cents and a pawn ticket for his overcoat.

“That looks like eloping, doesn’t it? Papa never allows me any money, and I wouldn’t part with my jewelry. No, Willie, we can’t elope on credit.”

But Willie did not answer for a few minutes; he was lost in thought. “Say, Bell,” he said, finally, “if I’ll raise money enough to pay the expenses of a first-class elopement, will you go, and take the chances of ultimate forgiveness?”

After a moment’s deliberation Arabella said, “I will.”

“All right, then, your father shall bear the expense.”

“My father? You must be crazy, Willie.”

“No, I’m not. He never breaks his word, does he?”


“He said he’d pay my funeral expenses, didn’t he?”


“Well, I’m going to die.”


“That’s what I said, and my lifeless body shall be placed in the cold and silent tomb, at the expense of your father, and I rely on you to make him come down handsomely.”

“Well, I must say that I cannot see through this; I’m not going to marry a corpse .”

“Oh, I don’t mean to really die. I’ve a friend that is a mesmerist, and I’ll have him put me in a trance. My cousin will be the undertaker. After the funeral they will dig me up, and then we can go on our wedding-tour with the funeral money. Great scheme, isn’t it?”

“That doesn’t sound very reasonable, Willie. Suppose something should happen to this mesmerist while you are in the ground, or that papa should hire another undertaker, or that the cemetery authorities should keep too close a watch, and prevent them from digging you up?”

“Oh, well, we’ve got to take some risks, but there isn’t much danger. I could live a month in that state. The only hitch is that you could not act the mourner in a natural way.”

“Yes, I can. I’ll put an onion in my handkerchief. I can be mournful enough then, for I abhor onions.”

“Well, good-by, then, for the present. I guess I’ll die to-night; there’s no time like the present, and, say, don’t forget to remind your father that I must have a handsome funeral. Broadcloth suit, very expensive coffin, and get a diamond ring, if you can;” and the blithe young man, so soon to be laid to rest, departed to find his friend the mesmerist.

That same evening, true to his word, Willie Todd, by the aid of Professor Drummond, lay on his bed, to all appearances a corpse. His cousin, the undertaker, having been engaged in the afternoon, soon made his appearance. He was to furnish all the requisites of a first-class funeral, the same to be returned to him in good order.

Arabella and her father were reading when the messenger arrived with the sad tidings. The lawyer was afflicted with catarrh, or he certainly would have detected the odor of onion in the room. When the news was gently broken, Arabella’s handkerchief flew to her face to produce the necessary tears.

“Well,” remarked the lawyer, “so he’s dead, is he? Most sensible thing he’s ever done;” and he resumed his reading.

“Papa, p-p-papa,” sobbed Arabella, “have you no feelings at all?” and the tears rolled down her cheeks. The onion was doing its work grandly.

“Certainly I have feelings; a Bismuth always has feeling, but I see no reason why I should be bowed down with grief. I’ll give him a grand funeral. A Bismuth never broke his word.”

“Will you b-b-buy him a new s-s-suit of broadcloth to be b-b-buried in?”


“And a three-hundred-dollar coffin?”


“And a diamond ring?”

Mr. Bismuth straightened up. “A diamond ring! What in Heaven’s name does a dead man want with a diamond ring? There are no pawn-shops in the other world.”

“Willie al-al-always admired diamonds s-s-so,” sobbed Arabella, “and you said you’d spare no expense.”

“All right; I’m getting out of it cheaply, anyway.”

Mr. Bismuth was truly liberal with that funeral. The cousin stayed with the body until Arabella and her father arrived, fearing another undertaker might be engaged. The doctor who examined the body gave a certificate of death from heart disease, a handy way of saying he didn’t know what was the matter. He mentioned a post-mortem examination, but the mesmerist, Arabella, and the undertaker strenuously objected. It might prove embarrassing, they thought, for Willie to come out of his trance with his internal mechanism disarranged, so the doctor was dissuaded and the heart-disease certificate was granted.

Willie’s cousin, the undertaker , said he had often heard the young man express a desire to be buried beneath a certain willow-tree that shaded a sparkling brook. Mr. Bismuth assented to this, although he remarked that he didn’t believe the deceased could now distinguish a sparkling brook from one of the common kind, but that it was Willie’s funeral and to carry it out any way to suit him. Clothed in his new broadcloth, his diamond ring sparkling in the light, the young man was placed in the most expensive coffin his cousin’s establishment afforded, and the funeral party set out for the weeping willow by the sparkling brook. At the grave the undertaker made a serious blunder when his assistant accidentally let his end of the box that held the coffin fall to the ground.

“Confound you, Bill, be careful; that coffin is worth $300 in cold cash, and I don’t want it scarred.”

“What if you don’t?” roared Bismuth in a tone of voice not usually heard at a funeral. “Whose coffin is that? I’m paying for that coffin, and it don’t make a cent’s difference to you whether it’s scarred or not.”

The undertaker stammered some un-intelligible reply, Arabella turned her face away, and the mesmerist grated his teeth. The interment was soon over, and Mr. Bismuth with his daughter started for home, after giving the undertaker a check for $500.

That night, after Arabella had retired, she thought she would see if her father’s heart had been softened any; so she arose, and went down-stairs, where he was reading.

“Papa,” she said, “I had a dream.”

“Too much supper,” commented her father, without looking up.

“No, papa, I dreamed that Willie came back from the grave; that he had been buried alive and was rescued.”

The old man glanced up from his book, and looked at his daughter sternly. “If he does an ungrateful trick like that after the expense he’s been to me, I’ll send him to the penitentiary for obtaining his coffin by false pretence. You’d better go back to bed and dream again;” and he resumed his book.

Arabella sighed and returned to her room. She was about to retire again, when she heard the signal agreed upon for their elopement. Hastily dressing, and picking up a few articles she wished to take, she noiselessly emerged from the house, unobserved by her father.

“Willie, you didn’t intend for us to leave to-night, did you?”

“Yes, the sooner the better. You see, everybody in this neighborhood thinks I’m dead, and I don’t want to be seen. I’ve got over four hundred dollars, and we can have a grand wedding-trip before we come home to be forgiven.”

“I don’t know about that,” rejoined Arabella, dubiously. “Papa didn’t seem a bit softened by your untimely death.”

“Oh, he’ll come around all right; they all do. We’ll write him an explanatory letter after we are safely married, and he won’t be long in extending his blessing. Come, now, and we can catch a train in a few minutes.”

The lovers stealthily made their way from the Bismuth grounds and were soon at the depot, where Willie purchased two tickets to a neighboring city. The next morning they were married, and started on a wedding-tour that made the $400 dwindle rapidly. The diamond ring was sacrificed, and then Arabella thought it was about time to write to papa.

“You write to him, Willie.”

“No, Arabella, my dear, it is your place to write. You know him better than I, and you can explain things in a more satisfactory way.”

So Arabella penned the following:


Doubtless you were surprised at my disappearing, but I know you will forgive your little daughter. Willie was not dead; it was a case of suspended animation. He was rescued, and signalled me to come down into the yard. I was terribly frightened, but he explained, and persuaded me to elope. We are nearly out of money, papa, and want you to forgive us. Write soon, and send us a check—that’s a dear —and we will soon be with you.

Your loving daughter, ARABELLA TODD.

They anxiously awaited a reply. At every whistle of the postman Willie would turn pale, and Arabella would get nervous. At last the expected missive arrived, and, eagerly tearing open the envelope, Arabella unfolded the sheet of paper and read:


Yours of recent date at hand, and in reply will say that I absolutely and unequivocally refuse to have any dealings with a dead person. Mr. William Todd is dead. I saw him in his coffin, and, what is more convincing still, I have a receipt in full for his funeral expenses. Any female marrying into a foreign country, according to recognized international law, becomes a citizen of that country. If you have married the said deceased William Todd, then you are also dead. No Bismuth, ever, as near as I can learn, had any dealings with ghosts, and I trust that you and your husband, the late William Todd, will trouble me no more.

Your bereaved father, GREGORY BISMUTH.

Handing the letter to her husband, Arabella said, “I thought so. Read it.”

Willie perused the epistle, and it dropped from his nerveless fingers and floated to the floor. They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then Arabella remarked:

“It’s no use, Willie; you’ll have to go to work.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] May 1897

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  The memorably-named Arabella Bismuth seems to have seriously over-estimated her Papa’s capacity for extending the parental blessing.  Willie Todd should have considered himself fortunate that the Hon. Gregory Bismuth did not bribe the undertaker to keep him underground until really and truly deceased.  For such a harmless, inoffensive dude there seems only one course of action: he must go on the road with Professor Drummond the mesmerist, doing the “buried alive” stunt, so popular with pseudo-Indian fakirs, who went about the United States, mesmerising attractive young ladies and “professional corpses.” One suspects that Willie Todd would be the ideal professional corpse.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

“They are Burying Me!”: 1815

minaiture coffin


Two clergymen at Oxford, in the early part of the present century, had agreed in writing that whichever died first should visit his friend (if such were permitted), in order to confirm his belief in the Unseen World. They were both devout believers in the intervention of angelic beings in the concerns of the present life; and had largely studied the literature of the Supernatural.

One of them, Dr W., was a fellow of his college; the other, Mr P., a bachelor, had taken a living about eighteen miles from Oxford, where he resided.

In the month of November 1815 or 1816 (for the exact date seems uncertain, owing to the deaths of those who themselves knew the circumstances), Dr W. twice dreamt of his friend P., who appeared to him in his dream, as pale and suffering great pain; and on the second appearance exclaimed, “W., they are burying me!” So vivid an impression did this dream make that he had almost resolved to ride over to the house of his friend on the morrow. However, some pressing work in college demanded his time and attention; so putting aside his half-formed resolution, he did not go, and the day passed.

In due course he retired to bed, had no dreams, and rose as usual the next morning.

He had breakfasted and was sitting near the fire reading a book, when he heard an ordinary knock at the door, such as his servant the scout usually gave, and at once, without looking round, mechanically responded “Come in.”

Suddenly he seemed to hear a distinct and hollow whisper, in his friend P.’s voice,

“W., they are burying me!”

Starting up somewhat alarmed, he found no one in the room, and no one in his adjoining chambers. The servant, on inquiry, had not been in; and no one had entered the apartment.

Coupling this occurrence with his previous dreams, he resolved to go and see his friend at once, and immediately ordered his horse. After a hard ride he came up to the clergyman’s house, where to his intense amazement he found the blinds of the windows down, and saw a plumed hearse and pair of horses waiting at the front door.

On inquiry he found that his friend had died very suddenly; that the coffin was being actually screwed down, that the mourners were in the house, and that the funeral was to take place at three in the afternoon.

Having earnestly appealed for one more sight of the features of his friend, the relatives consented to have the lid of the coffin unscrewed, when Dr W., stooping down to kiss the forehead, fancied that there were signs of life. Putting his ear to the breast and face, he cried out, “P., do you hear me? This is a trance! Surely he breathes! This is not death! He is not dead!”

A slight motion of the muscles at the corner of the mouth was the immediate response.

The body as a consequence was lifted out of the coffin and placed again in bed. Warm applications were made use of; the hands and feet were rubbed; and, though he still lay in a trance, the signs of life were unmistakable.

Three days afterwards Mr P. regained consciousness. In the earlier part of his illness (when the trance was upon him), as he asserted, he could hear the remarks of the attendants, but was wholly unable to stir. Subsequently he lost all consciousness; and by no mental effort could he remember anything.

He recovered his strength so far, as that he was able to get about again, but in enfeebled health; and resigning the active duties of his office, he lived until the spring of 1825 at Bath, where he then died. He was always extremely reticent as to the incident recorded. To a friend these were his words: “The voice of entreaty heard at Oxford may have been my spiritual voice. Of that I can say nothing, for I know nothing, . . . or it may have been the voice of my guardian angel—if so, Laus Deo!”

Glimpses in the Twilight, Frederick George Lee, 1885

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This story plays on the very real fears of being buried alive, which Mrs Daffodil has previously mentioned in this story of a young person who revived on the dissection table and this tale from a conscience-stricken undertaker. That subterranean person over at Haunted Ohio has also considered the matter in several horrid posts including “The Druggist and the Dagger” and “The Corpse Wanted Help.”

There is a good fund of college ghost stories arising from the dreaming spires of Oxford and a certain Provost of King’s College, Cambridge. See, for example, this one about a companionable ghost at Cambridge. If one were a cynic, one might suggest that some of the stories arise from scholarly gentlemen who have spent their evenings in the Common Room with a diminishing decanter of port. “Hinc lucem et pocula sacra.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Guardian Angel Watch: 1894


The German family, who declare that this story is true, told it to one, who told it to me, twenty years ago.

The watch was then in their possession, and was a heavy, old-fashioned object, in a curiously engraved, double gold case. It had then recently been brought from Frankfort, and was worn by the oldest son of the gentleman of whom the incidents below are related.

This person, a physician of high standing and benevolent disposition, having discovered, in the poorest quarter of the town, an aged and well-educated old man, suffering from a disease that was inevitably mortal, caused him to be brought to his home, and there had him nursed and cared for as though he had been his own father.

The invalid was very grateful, and before he died, said to the physician: “When I am gone, I want you to keep and wear my watch; it is more valuable than it appears. It will stop with my last breath, and should it begin to tick again, you will know that I have once more begun to breathe. Watch it, therefore, for some space of time, that I may not be interred prematurely.

“When it has been silent for a month, put it into your own pocket. In a few hours it will begin to go again. From that moment no other must wear it. It will be a sort of guardian angel to you. While it ticks regularly, you need fear nothing. When it begins to tick very rapidly, danger threatens you. If you are about to take a journey, and are thus warned, remain at home; if while you are in the street, remain where you are until the sound is normal, or return home. Never take it to a watch-maker; it needs no regulation. It will not stop until your breath does.

“I cannot tell you why, but it has been so, and it will be so, and you will soon believe it.”

The physician naturally believed that there was nothing in all this. The superstition that a man’s watch often stops when he dies, without any perceptible reason, was familiar to him; but he listened gravely, promised to do as the invalid asked, and thanked him for the bequest.

However, the man lived many months longer, and died very quietly at last. He was found lying as though asleep, and the watch in the pocket of his night-robe had certainly stopped, though it had not run down.

The physician was, at least, sufficiently startled to respect the old gentleman’s wishes in regard to the watch; but it remained silent, and at the end of the month he placed it in his own pocket. Exactly as the donor had said, he had not worn it twenty-four hours before it began to tick again. From that moment it continued to keep perfect time.

About three years from the day on which he first became its owner, it had given three manifestations of its peculiar power.

I do not know the particulars, save that by stopping in the street while the wild ticking of the watch continued, the doctor was saved from passing an old wall which fell just at the time when he would have been beneath it had he continued his walk; that the same wild ticking caused him to return home in time to save the life of one of his family, who needed instant attention; and that, obeying its warning, he did not enter a railway train, in which, an hour after, many passengers met a fearful fate.

But, by this time, not even the original possessor of the watch felt a greater confidence in it as a sort of mechanical guardian angel. The doctor’s wife also believed in it implicitly, and would not, on any account, have allowed him to leave the house without it, had she been aware of the fact.

One day, however, the hasty change of a waistcoat caused this to happen. The fact was discovered by the lady, and shortly, to her horror, she heard the watch begin to tick madly; then, to stop suddenly, with a sort of crash. The terror that this caused her was so great that she was prepared for anything, and was not astonished when her husband was shortly after brought home unconscious—his horse having taken fright at something and overturned the carriage. He did not rally, and finally the physicians pronounced him dead.

The usual solemn preparations were made ; the funeral took place, and all seemed over, when, in the middle of the night, the seeming widow, who lay awake, with her eyes fixed upon the watch, which she had placed upon her pillow, heard it begin to tick again, and that with astonishing rapidity.

On the instant she felt sure that her husband was not dead, and, rising, summoned those who could aid her, proceeded to the burial place, unlocked the vault, where the coffin lay on a stone slab, and had the lid lifted.

The first glance showed a gleam of color in the doctor’s face.

Wrapped in blankets, which his wife had provided, he was borne home and laid upon his bed. There he was restored to full consciousness, regained his health and lived to extreme old age.

Certainly, if this was a coincidence—as is, of course, possible—it was a most fortunate one, and no one could blame those who saw all this happen for regarding the watch with reverence and affection, and believing all that its original possessor had told them to be solemnly true, forever afterward.

The Freed Spirit: or Glimpses Beyond the Border, Mary Kyle Dallas, 1894

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: There is, of course, much folk-lore about clocks and watches stopping at the death of their owners–hence the old song, “My Grandfather’s Clock,” about the clock stopping short, never to go again, “when the old man died…”  Clocks are also said to start up or chime mysteriously as an omen of death. Unlike such a “death watch,” this watch proves a very helpful life-saver indeed.

Let us give a few more specimens of this sort of horological haunting:


New Castle Town Timepiece Stood Still After Old Attendant Died

New Castle, Del., Sept. 18. The town clock located in the tower of Immanuel P.E. Church has stopped. The man who has been the caretaker of the clock for the past fifteen years, James G. Bridgewater, died on Friday and within a few hours the clock came to a standstill.

An attempt has been made to start it, but it has refused to work. A son of the deceased will now care for it. Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 19 September 1904: p. 1

Her Clock Stopped When She Died.

Miss Emma Hafscher of Corning, N.Y., aged 24, daughter of Frederick Hafscher, died recently from a lingering bronchial trouble. A clock which had been purchased as present by the young man to whom she was engaged to be married was in the room near the bed and had been running regularly until the moment the young lady died, when the clock stopped at the minute she drew her last breath. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 12 October 1895: p. 8

There is a 1906 story in The Ghost Wore Black  about a young lady who apparently died. When her sister went to stop the clock in the death-bed room, as was appropriate in a house of mourning, it would not stop. Nor did the clock, which required to be wound every 24 hours, stop when it should have run down. The young lady’s sister, “half crazy with grief and superstitious fear,” over the clock’s behaviour, refused to have her sister buried. The clock ticked on for three days until the “corpse” revived. When she was out of danger, the clock stopped and never ran again.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Death Bell: 1866

The Munich Leichenhaus or Waiting Mortuary, meant to prevent burial alive.

The Munich Leichenhaus or Waiting Mortuary, meant to prevent burial alive.

In some parts of Germany, such is the general dread of being buried alive that a system of precaution against this premature act is in vogue, by which more than one person has been restored to life and friends after being mourned for dead. The plan is, for the corpse to be placed in a comfortable apartment, with face uncovered, and with a cord or wire attached to the hands in such a manner that the slightest movement will cause the tinkling of a little bell in an adjoining apartment where some one is always on the watch till there are either signs of life or decomposition, to give the assurance of hopeless death. This custom has led to some striking scenes and curious revelations; and one of the most remarkable of these we are now about to put on record, as we received it, not long since, from the lips of the narrator:

“I had two bosom companions, and we three were nearly always together when our circumstances would permit. We were not alike in scarcely any particular, and for this reason, perhaps, we liked each other all the better. We differed on nearly every point in science, art, literature, philosophy, and religion, and argued every point we differed on.

“On one thing, however, we did agree, and that was, the possibility of being buried alive and the unutterable horror which must attend the subsequent consciousness of the fact. So, in health, we solemnly pledged ourselves, that if within reach of one another at the time of the supposed decease of either, the living should faithfully watch by the senseless form till the return of life or the certainty of death.

“My young friend, Adolph Hofer, was the first to go. He was a believer in the immortality of the soul, and the identity of the spirit with that occupying the mortal tenement. Of course we made our arrangements for watching the corpse according to our compact, but without the slightest hope of ever seeing another spark of life in that loved form.

“It was on the second night after the death of Hofer that Carl and I were sitting in an adjoining apartment conversing about the deceased and his religious belief. We had attached a small cord to the fingers of the corpse, and connected it to a little bell close to us, so that we could be warned of any movement, without being obliged to remain beside the body, which, for various reasons, would not have been agreeable to us.

“If Adolphe’s ideas in regard to the future state are correct,’ observed Carl, in the course of his remarks, ‘there is no certainty that he may now be with us, even in this room.’

“Yes,” returned I, “ if they are correct, Which I do not believe. When a man dies, he is dead, at least so far as this world is concerned.”

“That is your opinion, Jules,” said Carl; “but opinions don’t make facts.”

“It may fairly be presumed they are based on facts, when they cannot be reasonably controverted. If man exists after death as a roving spirit, give me some evidence of it, and then ask me to believe.”

“And what about ghosts?” said Carl, who was both skeptical and superstitious—and he glanced furtively and timidly around the room as he spoke, as if he expected to encounter some fearful apparition.

“Bah!” exclaimed I, contemptuously, “you know my opinion of ghosts and hobgoblins— that they have no existence except in the brains of timid fools.”

“At this moment we heard, or rather fancied we heard, a strange noise in the adjoining apartment.

“What is it?” inquired Carl, in a timid whisper.

“Nothing,” replied I, rousing myself, with a full determination to shake off what I conceived to be foolish fancy. “Are we men or children, to get frightened at the noise of a rat?”

“Hush! hark! I hear something still,” whispered Carl, now fairly trembling with fear.

“Then, if there is anything, we must know what it is!” said I, as I rose and took up the light for the purpose of going to look at the corpse. “Will you accompany me, or shall I go alone?”

“Carl Heilsten slowly and silently arose, as one who felt called upon to perform a fearful duty; but scarcely had he got on his feet, when the little bell connected with the dead was rung violently.

“My nervous system never received such a shock before or since. It seemed for the moment as if I was paralyzed. The light dropped from my hand and was extinguished, and great beads of perspiration stood all over me.

“But I remained inactive only for the time it would take one to count ten. Reasoning that my friend had come to life, and needed immediate assistance, I hastily procured another light; and merely glancing at Carl, who had fallen back upon his seat, white and helpless from his sudden fright, I rushed into the apartment of the corpse, expecting to find Andolphe living, if not actually sitting up or standing.

“To my utter astonishment, however, I found only the dead form of my friend— cold, rigid, motionless. There was such an inflexible look of death on his features, that I could not believe there was a single spark of life in the body, and a close examination of lips and heart proved there was none in reality. And yet the hands had been moved, and were drawn to one side, but rather as if jerked there by the bed-cord, which was hanging somewhat loose, than as if stirred by any internal power.

“But what had moved the hands and rung the bell? This was the startling mystery. The room was not large, and contained no great amount of furniture, and was easily searched. I had just passed the light under the bed and around and behind everything, when Carl, appeared at the door, pale, trembling, and covered with a cold, clammy perspiration.

“Is he alive?” he rather gasped than said.

“No,” I replied, “nor has there been any life in him since his breath went out.”

“Merciful God!” he ejaculatd, nervously grasping a chair for support—”what rung the bell, then.”

“That is the mystery I am trying to solve,” said I “It is possible there may be some person concealed here.”

“I cautiously opened the door of a long, deep closet as I spoke, in which hung the clothes of the deceased, and went in and examined it thoroughly. No other human being was there, and nothing had been disturbed. There was no outlet to the room except the door communicating with the apartment in which we had been watching, and two windows looking out upon a lawn, and the sashes were closed and the curtains drawn. showing no signs of recent disturbance. I then re-examined the room, and particularly the bed, but without making any new discovery.

“This is all very strange!” said I, half musingly, and looking inquiringly at Carl— “very strange indeed!”

“It must have been something supernatural!” he replied, in a hollow whisper, and moving over to the chest in the corner, he sank down upon it.

“As he did so, the sharp click of the spring lock caused him to bound up as if shot. For a moment or two he stood trembling, and then said with more nerve:

“I believe I am a cowardly fool, to be scared at everything! I do not fear anything human, though,” he added, “but this unearthly business unmans me.”

“I now re-examined the corpse, to be sure there were no sign of life in it, and found not only death there, but the beginning of decomposition. Perfectly assured of this, we went into the other apartment, and sat down, to watch through the remainder of the night and ponder the mystery. Scarcely were we seated before we fancied we heard dull, muffled sounds in the dead room, followed by something like a smothered human groan. Carl’s teeth now fairly chartered with terror, and I confess I never felt less courageous in my life. These strange noises only continued for a short time, then gradually died away into silence, after which we were disturbed no more.

“In the course of time our friend was buried, and some time after the funeral we proceeded to open his strong box or chest, according to his direction. Then it was that our supernatural mystery had a natural but horrible explanation:

In that chest was the black and decaying corpse of one whom we had known in life !

“The following is our conjecture:

“Cognizant of Adolphe Hofer’s money and jewels, of their place of deposit, and of our mode of watching the dead, he had, on that eventful night, entered the dead-room through a window, at an early hour, and concealed himself in the closet till midnight; and then set about his work of robbery. Some accidental noise having alarmed us, as he could tell from our conversation, he had either in his haste to secrete himself, or intentionally to frighten us still more, rung the bell in the manner stated, and then got into the chest, which had a powerful spring-lock. My friend Carl, by accidentally sitting down on this, had sealed his doom; and his subsequent groans, and terrible efforts to burst from his narrow prison, were the strange noises which had so disturbed us the second time. The man’s death was a fearful retribution, and the discovery of his dead body spoiled an otherwise wonderful ghost story.

The Vincennes [IN] Weekly Western Sun 3 November 1866

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While deploring their corseted officers and their penchant for invading Belgium and France, Mrs Daffodil must express guarded admiration for Germany’s zeal to ensure that no mistakes—such as burial alive—occur to deplete the ranks of the Fatherland’s citizenry. The London-based Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial was equally complimentary, saying that Germany and Austria were the only countries to take the peril of premature interment seriously. In point of fact, there seem to be no records of corpses actually reviving in the so-called “Waiting Mortuaries,” or “Totenhaus,” although the gases of decomposition stirred many a false alarm, but it is the thought that counts.

For more tales of the grim and grewsome, see The Victorian Book of the Dead, available on Amazon and for Kindle. 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



Was He Buried Alive? An Undertaker’s Obsession: 1907

A safety coffin to prevent burial alive.

A safety coffin to prevent burial alive.

Had Grewsome Experience

Stories Lead Undertaker to Believe He Has Buried Men Alive and He Investigates

[Glasgow (Ky.) Cor. Nashville American]

Recently a lady living here died, and the body was prepared for burial. Several hours after the lady moved and otherwise showed signs of life. She rallied and lived several days, but again died and was buried. The occurrence created much comment, and is still the subject of discussion at times, it being the second case of the kind in this county within a few years, the other happening at a village known as Hiseville.

One night recently a crowd of business men were discussing matters in general and the strange death of the woman was commented on. A well-known business man, whom we will call Clark, his real name being withheld, and who had had a considerable experience as an undertaker, related the following incident, he claimed for the benefit of his undertaker friends, there being present several who had been or were interested in such matters:

“While I was in business at M___, a small village in this county, I was called on to make a burial. When I reached the home of the decedent, I found the corpse still warm and the muscles relaxed, though death was supposed to have occurred several hours before. After the burial I returned home and after a few days forgot the incident.

“Some three months after this I happened to pick up a daily paper, and in scanning the headlines I read, ‘Almost Buried Alive.’ Carefully reading the article, I found a parallel case to the one I had three months before, and as I slowly read how the man had gone into a trance and the burial was about to take place, the corpse was found to be not only warm but perspiring freely, the fact dawned upon me that I had actually buried a man alive. Dropping the paper I sprang up and started for a pick and shovel. The impression seemed to linger with me that the man was still alive, and was at that moment crying for aid. After securing the necessary tools, I began to reason with myself that if I had buried the man alive it was purely an accident, and that if such was the case he had long since died from suffocation, lack of food, &c., so I put the tools back in their place and went about my duties. Try as I would I could not throw off the feeling that I had committed an awful crime and one that I would have to answer for at the judgment day. In my mind’s eye I could see his widow and orphans at judgment, as I had seen them hover about the casket just before consigning it to its last resting place, each with an accusing finger pointing at me. At times I would go for several days without the matter giving me much worry, my duties so completely occupying all of my time, until a chance meeting of relatives of the deceased, or some remark by some one would bring the whole panorama before my mind, becoming more vivid each time.

“Several weeks elapsed and matters were in no better shape than at first. I had grown thin, nervous, irritable, and friends remarked on the change and advised me to seek medical advice, which I steadfastly refused to do, knowing that all the drugs in the world would not reach my case.

“What I wanted most was to share the secret with some one, yet I dared not do so, even to my wife, who was much concerned about me.

“One blustery night while I lay tossing on my bed unable to sleep and going over the horrible details for the ten thousandth time and wondering how long the whole thing would last, like a flash it occurred to me that I might forever settle whether the man had really been dead or not by opening the grave. I wondered why I had not thought of this before. The thought made me sit up in bed. It seemed to me the only way I could at last settle the question as to whether I was really a murderer or not.

“Outside the wind was howling with an occasional dash of rain, and an inky darkness prevailed—just the kind of a night for ghosts to be out. The thought set the cold chills chasing down my spine.

“After an hour spent in weighing the matter, I finally yielded to the strange influence which I could not shake off, and arising and dressing, I got a shovel and started for the graveyard, a mile away, determined to settle all doubts. I reasoned that on such a night no one was likely to be out after midnight and as there were no houses close by, I had very little chance of being detected.

“After trudging the distance I reached the graveyard, where a new problem presented itself. How was I to locate the grave without a light? And I dared not produce a light. The work must be done in the dark until the coffin was reached, when I expected to light a candle and view the body.

“For an hour I walked about among the graves, locating a grave and then deciding it was not the right one, realizing that if my plans were carried out. I must find the grave and begin work. I decided to take chances on lighting a candle until I could be certain of the spot I sought. So with the light I went from grave to grave until I came to the one sought, and after I had got “the lay of the land,” so to speak, I began. When I had been working something like half an hour as noiseless as possible, when I heard some one, not very far away, say in a distinct voice, Do you suppose we could have been mistaken about that light?’

“My heart ceased beating, for to be caught in this act not only meant disgrace to me and my family, but a term in the penitentiary. How could I explain my presence there? Who would believe my story? All this flashed through my mind in an instant and I was completely at my wits’ end. To run meant the abandoning of my purpose and to stay meant detection. What must I do? The nights of torture that I had spent arose before me and rather than a repetition I decided the State Prison preferable, so getting down in the place I had dug out, I waited.

“The men who had been attracted to the cemetery by the light flitting from grave to grave, walked past me discussing what might have caused it. When near me they paused and said, ‘Here is where W___ is buried. I don’t suppose any of his family would be out on such a night, do you?’ The answer was lost as they moved on and to my supreme joy departed.

“After a short time I resumed my work, and my efforts were rewarded. After carefully scraping the dirt off the box, with a small bit I bored a hole and with a keyhole saw soon cut a large section of the box ready to move. After this it was only necessary to remove two screws and the object of my search was in view.

“Then the question of how I would find it arose in my mind. Would the features be distorted and fearful as if from intense suffering, a conviction of my error, or would they be as they were when last I gazed on them, calm and serene? For one short moment I faltered, but summoning all my fast shrinking courage I struck a match and attempted to light the candle, but the anxiety and strain which I had undergone, made me extremely nervous and the first attempt was a failure.

“The next effort was more successful and glancing down I experienced the first genuine pleasure I had felt in months. There calm, peacefully and beautifully to me, at least, lay my friend, and no one can imagine the joy and pleasure of the moment unless they have had a similar experience.

“I replaced the covers, climbed out of the grave and soon had it filled and went on my way home. I simply walked on air, all of my imaginary troubles which had come so near wrecking my health had vanished. I reached home at 3 o’clock in the morning, and, throwing myself on the bed, experienced the first refreshing sleep that had visited me in weeks.

“Shortly after opening my place of business the next day two of my closest neighbors came in and after a while one of them said:

“Tom and myself sat up with old Brother C__ last night until 1 o’clock and as we came home we had to cross the graveyard. Just before we reached the place we thought we saw a light going from grave to grave. We came through the graveyard, but did not see anything, and we concluded that we were mistaken.’ How I could have ever overlooked the fact that Mr. __, who lived near the cemetery, was seriously ill and that neighbors were continually going to and from the house, is more than I have ever been able to explain, except that in my trouble and intense suffering I forgot it.

“However the matter was settled, and I was not even suspected, and I determined never to tell the secret to anyone, but the matter was brought to my mind so forcibly to-night, that I decided to tell it that some of you young undertakers may not make the same mistake I did, which came so near causing the loss of my life, or, worse, my reason.”

The Wichita [KS] Daily Eagle 1 June 1907: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has written before of premature burial. It was a subject that obsessed many people of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. There was no simple way to tell if someone was actually dead. Physicians might use the mirror; they might prick, burn, or whip the skin, or apply a galvanic battery, yet the only certain test was to wait several days for signs of decomposition. Hygienic concerns often encouraged hasty burials, yet there are also stories of corpses left unburied for weeks because they showed no signs of bodily dissolution, even when unembalmed. Some persons made death-bed requests or wrote in their wills that they wished to have their throats cut or hearts pierced, just to make sure they were really, truly dead. Mrs Daffodil will undoubtedly have a story or two on this subject in the near future.

One appreciates that this undertaker was conscientious about whether he had buried a living man or a corpse, but three months is rather a long time period over which to develop scruples.

There will be many stories about death, funerals, mourning, and other grewsome subjects in The Victorian Book of the Dead, which is nearly ready for distribution.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

A Child Buried Alive and Saved on the Dissecting Table: c. 1830s

A Victorian child's coffin

A Victorian child’s coffin

Even grave-robbers may once in a while be the unconscious means by which a human life is saved. Mr. Hayward, who lives in Missouri, is the man who went through this strange experience. The Kansas City Journal, which I quote, contained the following: “To be buried alive while sorrowing friends stand about the open grave, and then come to life in a dissecting room, is the actual experience of George Hayward, an Independence jeweler. Although years have elapsed since he was lowered gently into his grave, the memory of the moment when the undertaker screwed down the lid of his coffin, shutting out the sunlight, and the sensations he felt as he was lowered into the grave, while a funeral dirge was being chanted by the village choir, still remains to him as a horrible dream. He was conscious from the time he was pronounced dead until he was snatched from the grave by the medical fraternity and laid on the dissecting table in the ‘interest of science.’ Mr. Hayward still retains the grim recollection of hearing the damp earth falling on the coffin lid, a mournful accompaniment to the sobs of relatives. He was unable to help himself or make a sign, and, knowing this, his agony was at times intense. His greatest agony of mind occurred when the sexton rounded up his grave on top and the sound of receding footsteps smote his ears. Mr. Hayward says that at this moment he fell into a dreamy sensation peculiar to a drowning man. How long he remained in this condition he does not know, but his sense of living again came over him when he heard a scraping on his coffin lid some little time after he had been buried.

Mr. Hayward is a man of sixty-nine years of age. For years he has been in the jewelry business at Independence, and at present conducts a shop on South Main street. He has the belief that many people are buried alive, and his own experience has a tendency to confirm this belief. To a Journal representative Mr. Hayward related this burial and resurrection experience with the unconcern of a man who does not fear death. ‘It was in Marshville, England, County Gloucestershire, where I was buried,’ said Mr. Hayward very grimly. ‘My father had a large family of boys, and he raised us all on the farm near the village. I was quite young, and it was my chief delight to go to the fields with my older brothers. In those days the farmhouses were surrounded with big yards filled with straw. This straw was allowed to rot, and in the fall of the year it was loaded on wagons and carted to the fields as a fertilizer. It was a bright morning when we started for the fields, and I ran ahead of the horses. The horses in England are not driven with reins, but they follow the command of the voice. After reaching the field the pitching of the straw commenced. The men used hop picks, which are fashioned somewhat after a heavy pitchfork. While standing near one of the hands, by accident I was struck on the head with one of the picks. It penetrated my scull, and at the time made me feel faint and dizzy. My injury was not considered serious. After returning to the house I was sent into the cellar, and, much to my surprise, I could see in the dark as well as in the light. After coming from the cellar my strength failed me, and I was soon bedfast. Two doctors were called. One of them insisted that my condition was due to the blow on the head, the other that I had pleurisy. At any rate two weeks elapsed, and my eyes closed in supposed death. It was death as far as my relatives were concerned, yet I was painfully conscious of every movement going on around me. My eyes were half closed, and as I was laid out I heard my elder brother, John, walk into the house. I saw him approach the cot with tears in his eyes, and sympathizing friends consoled him by asking him to dry his tears. “He is gone,” they said, and other similar expressions were used around the bier. Well-known faces would peer down at me as I lay with my eyes half closed. Tears rained on my face as the burial shroud was wrapped around my body. As soon as the undertaker arrived I knew I was to be buried alive. Try as I would, nothing could break the spell which bound me. Every action and every word spoken are as distinct to my mind now as then. Well, the time for the funeral arrived, and the service was preached over my living but rigid body. The undertaker approached and the lid of my little prison-house was fastened down. Life seemed all but gone when this took place; but, as I stated, no effort of mine could break the spell. The coffin was shoved into the wagon, and the trundling of the vehicle sounded in my ears. I was painfully conscious of the fact that I was soon to be lowered into my grave. Strange as it may seem, at times I did not feel fear at my impending fate. The coffin was taken out of the wagon and lowered into the grave. In those days boxes were not used as a receptacle for the coffin. The clods of earth fell heavy on the lid of the casket. There I was being entombed alive, unable to speak or stay the hands of my friends. My effort to move proved futile, and the close air of the coffin seemed stifling to me. Suddenly the shoveling ceased and the silence of the tomb was complete. I did not seem to have the fear then that a person would naturally expect under such circumstances. All I remember is that the grave is a lonely place, and the silence of the tomb was horribly oppressive. A dreamy sensation came over me, and a sense of suffocation became apparent. My whole system was paralyzed; were it otherwise my struggles would have been desperate. How long I remained in this condition I do not know. The first sense of returning life came over me when I heard the scraping of a spade on my coffin lid. I felt myself raised and borne away. I was taken out of my coffin, not to my home, but to a dissecting room. I beheld the doctors who had waited on me at my home, dressed in long white aprons. In their hands they had knives. Through my half-closed eyes I saw them engaged in a dispute. They were trying to decide how to cut me up. One argued one way, while the other doctor took another view of the matter. All this I witnessed through my half-open eyes. My sense of hearing was remarkably acute. Both approached the table and opened my mouth to take out my tongue, when, by superhuman effort, my eyelids were slightly raised. The next thing I heard was: “Look out, you fool, he is alive!” “He is dead,” rejoined the other doctor. “See, he opens his eyes!” continued the first doctor. The other physician let his knife drop, and a short time after that I commenced to recover rapidly. Instead of cutting me up they took me home. There was great rejoicing among my relatives. I owed my life to the doctors’ dispute as to what ailed me during my illness. I suppose I was kept alive for some purpose,” continued Mr. Hayward, as he finished his grewsome tale, “for I am the father of ten children.”

The Encyclopaedia of Death and Life in the Spirit-world, Vol. 3, John Reynolds Francis, 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  There are a shocking number of actual first-person narratives from persons buried alive, only to be saved by thieves or Resurrectionists. One English doctor investigating premature burial estimated that 2,700 people a year in England and Wales were buried alive. To counteract this distressing trend, an Association for the Prevention of Premature Interment was founded in 1895 by Colonel Edward P. Vollum, a US Army surgeon, and Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson, eminent sanitary reformer and anaesthetic researcher. One of the suggestions made was to leave a flask of lightly stoppered chloroform in each coffin so that the person buried alive could drift painlessly off into a real death. When Dr. Richardson died in 1896, he was cremated–nonsensically, another method advocated for avoiding premature interment. One must question the logic that promotes being burned alive as a more desireable outcome than being trapped in an airless casket.

For more accounts of burial alive, please see this post.

The account above appears in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.