Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Buried Alive: Some Historical Connections to Poe's Writings

One little-known fact of the Victorian era was their overwhelming phobia of being buried alive.  Victorians had many death rituals that to a modern person appear morbid…yet fascinating.  When someone died in the 19th century, it was a common practice to let the body lay out on the bed for a few days.  This served as a sort of in-home wake, as well as giving the body a chance to…revive.

Because of limited medical knowledge even among learned doctors, it was possible for someone to be declare dead when really they had only lapsed into a coma.  Some people revived much to the shock, relief…and sometimes annoyance of their grieving relatives. 

The result of this phenomena was the creation of things like Bateson’s Device, a pulley-bell contraption rigged to underground coffins; the Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive (also known as the S.P.P.B.B.A); and in the case of those annoyed relatives not wanting their relatives making a comeback tour of the land of the living, special coffins with fragile glass poison caplets that would finish the job should a relative try to unbury themselves.

Considering that Victorians’ obsession with death is perhaps second to none but Ancient Egyptians throughout history, Poe at the time was possibly not seen as creepy as he is by contemporary readers.

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