Premature Burials mentioned in Richmond newspapers (1849- July, 1854)

Posted on October 12, 2016 by


In continuing to recognize Poe on the 167th anniversary of his death… and recognizing what may have been one of his greatest fears… I’ve combed through some of the antebellum newspapers of Richmond, Virginia, using the online source, Chronicling America, (I’ll be using my other online resources for some additional newspapers of interest) and, using the phrases “premature burial” and “buried alive”, I have the first few stories that will make-up my transcriptions of such things…

Richmond Enquirer, July 31, 1849:

ANOTHER WARNING. – The Missouri Statesman of the 6th inst., published at Columbia, Mo., gives the following additional instance of a person apparently dead from the cholera being almost buried alive:

Mr. Alexander Graver, a stage driver, had a severe attack of cholera during last week. Seeming to baffle all medical skill, the disease was given up for a time to do its work – indeed the conviction was general among physicians, nurses and friends that Mr. Graver was dead. – Preparations were therefore made for his burial – his grave was dug, and his coffin was in progress of being made by the undertaker. – Dr. Buster, determined to do all in his power, and not to abandon him even to the last ,applied an outward application of mustard and brandy to his breast, and the pulse returned – symptoms of life appeared! At last accounts Mr. Graver was fast recovering.

The Daily Dispatch – April 27, 1852:

The horrible story which we subjoin, is taken from the Albany Register. We have no doubt of its truth, for we have, ourselves, heard of similar instances of the king. One was that of a distinguished merchant, in a Virginia town, not Richmond, however. One of the most eminent men that has ever done honor to the deliberative bodies of the Commonwealth, was once on the point of being buried alive. He represented his situation as horrible beyond all expression. He was perfectly conscious, and could understand every word that was spoken. Yet he could move neither hand nor foot, his heart had apparently ceased to beat, no breath that could possibly riffle a feather came through his lips, and he was, to all appearances, a dead man. He heard his wife at the door, eagerly striving to get in, He knew if she could be admitted he should be safe. But well meaning friends opposed her entry most strenuously, but as it happened, vainly. She came, and seeing, at once, that he was not dead, administered the proper remedy. He recovered, and lived to distinguish himself as one of the most eloquent members of the great Convention – the Convention of 1829-’30.

But to the promised extract:

Some years ago, we were perfectly cognizant to an occurrence of this kind which was of the most heart-rending character. The wife of a gentleman was taken suddenly ill in church, and was carried to her home in a state of syncope. In a few hours she partially recovered, but immediately relapsed, and never again showed any signs of consciousness. She lay in this condition nearly two days, baffling the skill of the physicians, and then, as it was thought, and as there was almost every reason to believe, died. No signs of breathing could be detected, the limbs became rigid and cold, and the eyes remained open with the fixed and glassy stare of death; BUT there was no change in the color of the skin. Dissolution had not taken place. The poor bereaved husband, almost frantic at the loss of the young and beautiful wife whom he almost idolized, clung with desperation to the hope limned in her face, and long resisted the unanimous decision of the physicians, that she was certainly dead. – They told him what is doubtless true, that it sometimes, though very rarely, happens, that there is no discoloration for days, and even weeks, after dissolution has taken place. But still he resisted, and it was not until three days had passed without the faintest signal of change or sign of life, that he finally gave up and suffered the burial to take place. She was entombed in a vault. Months passed. A cemetery having been laid out, the husband purchased and beautiful lot, erected an elegant monument in it, and when all was ready, superintended the removal of the body of his wife from the vault to its final resting place. When the vault was open he remembered the circumstances of her death, above detailed, and a desire suddenly seized him to once more behold the corpse. By his direction the coffin lid was removed. The spectacle which presented itself was inconceivably horrible, for it showed that she has been buried alive. She had turned quite over upon her side, she had clutched her nails into the coffin until her fingers bled, portions of her grave clothes were torn, and in her horrible struggles she had contrived to carry her hand to head, and had plucked from it a mass of hair, with portions of the cap that covered it.
The poor man never recovered from the shock of that awful spectacle. He was borne away senseless, and for the rest of his weary life, was an utterly broken and miserable being.

The Daily Dispatch, July 13, 1854:

BURIED ALIVE. – A shocking instance of premature burial is related in a Manheim Journal. A woman, who, according to the official register, had died on Easter Monday in a child-bed, was duly buried. The cure of the parish, whose house was close to the cemetery, afterwards hearing moans from that place, called a medical man and ran to the cemetery. The unfortunate woman was found turned on her side in the coffin, weltering in her blood, but still warm. Her real death appeared to have been preceded by a severe struggle, as the coffin had been forced open, and the woman had torn her hair from her head. She could not have been dead many minutes before the persons arrived. This subject of premature burial has excited the attention of the French Government, and it is proposed to establish dead houses, where the bodies of deceased persons may be kept until decomposition commences, as that is now universally allowed to be the sure evidence of death. Similar houses have long since been established in many parts of Germany.

More to follow in the days ahead…