Lee St. John, a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, is a #1 Amazon ranked humorous author. Look for her on Facebook, Twitter (@LeeStJohnauthor), and on her blog at www.leestjohnauthor.com. Her new release, “SHE’S A KEEPER! Cockamamie Memoirs from a Hot Southern Mess” can be found on Amazon.com.

Last Halloween, I was one of many celebrating the season in my hometown. Several houses participated in guided tours as we all lived in close proximity to each other and close to one of many cemeteries in the county. My job was to entertain groups with some Halloween-related story when they stopped at my doorstop with their leader. I chose to discuss ‘vivespulture’. What the heck is that? If you are a young reader, you must stop now and get permission from your parents to continue reading. The remainder of this article is rated PG-13. Go ask your parents if you may continue. I’ll wait.
Vivesepulture means being buried alive. Taphophobics means the FEAR of being buried alive. Maybe you are asking how could someone be buried alive and why would there be a fear of it? Before the 20th century’s established death identification and before there was embalming “The London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial” was established in 1896. There was such a fear of being buried alive that many preventive measures were taking place in the 19th century to prevent pre-mature burial.
People fell into comas and such that were misunderstood by doctors who pronounced them dead. The story I relayed at my stop dealt with a young Argentinian woman who was buried once but died ‘twice.’ In 1902, this young woman was getting ready to enjoy her 19th birthday when she lost consciousness and collapsed. Three doctors declared her dead. She was placed in a coffin, given a funeral, and sealed in a tomb. A few days, according to legend, a cemetery work noticed that the coffin had moved and suspecting a grave robber, he opened the casket and discovered scratch marks on the inside. Buried alive, she awakened in her tomb, attempted escape by smashing and scratching the lid before she died of cardiac arrest.
If doctors were getting this all wrong in the 1800’s, how else could a pre-mature burial be prevented? Their solutions were to keep bodies in mortuaries for an extended period until the beginning of putrefaction as to make sure the person really was dead. Or they established hospitals for the dead to wait it out in the same way. To deal with it, they placed loads of flowers around the beds of dead patients. There was once a location called the APPARENT DEAD HOUSE where they placed feathers or mirrors under the nose of a person to check for breathing. A disgusting practice they also used to test for signs of life among the apparent dead was to give tobacco smoke enemas. This was mostly practiced in Europe in the late 1800s. Smoke – blown through a pipe into the rectum – was thought to bring people back from the brink of death. Maybe that’s where the saying, “Blowing smoke up my ***” came from.
If there was still any doubt, they created safety coffins for the dead. They tied a string around the deceased’s finger that was inserted through a hole in the coffin and up through the ground in a tube and again tied above ground to a bell hanging on a hook. If the person came back from the dead, they could ring the bell for the cemetery watchman making rounds day or night. Such sayings from this invention were “Dead Ringer,” “Saved by the Bell,” and “Graveyard shift.” Those buried in vaults used spring-loaded lids to crawl out. However, there are no such reported cases of the left-for-dead being saved by such contraptions.
The thought and fear of being buried alive encouraged Edgar Allan Poe to write the short story, “The Premature Burial” in 1844 about a man being obsessed with the idea of falling into a trance and mistakenly interred.
With our modern day science, we do not have this fear. We have others. And as Jerry Seinfeld said, and I paraphrase, the number one fear these days is public speaking. Number two is death. So, a person would rather be IN the coffin than giving the EULOGY.