31 Days Of Halloween…Day 16….”The Death Bell”

“FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS”

shallow graves presents the 31 days of halloween

People in the “olden days” were routinely buried with a string tied to their finger that ran above ground to a bell . . .

153726-Wiertz_burial

. . . so that in the event the deceased was merely comatose, not dead, and happened to awaken, the movement would cause ringing, giving us the expressions “dead ringer” and “saved by the bell.”

I’d been meaning to get to this one (“I’m not dead yet!”) for some time, but Susan Smyer’s forwarding of this article from George Mason University’s website, cited below, cinched it for this, the week of Halloween. 

“One of the most characteristically Victorian fixations was the fear of premature burial. . . Accounts of this horrifying yet fascinating fear commonly describe the “escape coffins” reportedly sold in the nineteenth century to allow those mistakenly declared dead to save themselves at the last moment. The most popular of these, it is often said, was the cheap and simple “Bateson’s Belfry,” a bell mounted on top of a casket with a string running to the corpse’s hand within… so that, if the “deceased” suddenly awoke — before burial but in an extremely unwelcome predicament — he could instantly and easily summon help. 

The striking life-story of the inventor George Bateson is also often invoked. In 1852, he patents the belfry as the “Bateson Life Revival Device.” Rising rapidly to fame and fortune, he receives the OBE from Queen Victoria in 1859. But, obsessive fear of premature burial gnawing at his own mind, he designs ever more complex alarm systems for his own coffin, finally insisting his family have him cremated. In 1868 (transposed to 1886 in some accounts), he panics his instructions will be ignored, douses himself in linseed oil and incinerates himself.

Positively dripping in Victoriana, satisfyingly redolent of Poe’s dark tales, the Bateson story has made many appearances, continuing to feature in popular books, historical web sites, and even the occasional news article. Earlier this year, it inspired a prize-winning graphic novelette.

There’s just one problem. George Bateson and his belfry never existed.” 

Read the entire, very interesting article at http://hnn.us/article/153726#sthash.wD8oN3YA.dpuf

But did a bell device like this exist? If it did, it would not have worked, since the lack of air in a buried coffin would have killed any comatose person rather quickly. And while there are various patents filed that intended to “save” not-dead-yet people from premature burial with periscope-like devices that supposedly introduced air into the coffin, none has been documented as used. 

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