Text: Anonymous, “Premature Burials,” New England Farmer and Horticultural Register (Boston, MA), vol. 23, January 22, 1845, p. 240


[page 240, column ?:]


Premature Burials. — The “Philadelphia Newspaper” contains a thrilling article from the pen of Edgar A. Poe, Esq., on “Premature Burials.” To be buried while alive, he remarks, is, beyond question, the most terrific of the extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere humanity. That it has frequently occurred, cannot be denied. The boundaries which divide Life from Death, are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins? We know that there are diseases in which total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality occur, and yet in which these cessations are merely suspensions — only temporary pauses in the incomprehensible mechanism. A certain period elapses, and some unseen, mysterious principle again sets in motion the magic pinons and wizzard [[wizard]] wheel. The silver cord was not forever loosed, nor the golden bowl irreparably broken. But where, meantime was the soul?

Mr Poe records several remarkable cases of life burials, from which we select the following, which people of weak nerves may omit to read:

“One of very remarkable character, and of which the circumstances may be fresh in the memory of my readers, occurred, not very long ago, in the city of Baltimore, where it occasioned a painful, intense, and widely extended excitement. The wife of one of the most respectable citizens — a lawyer of eminence and a member of Congress — was seized with a sudden and unaccountable illness, which completely baffled the skill of her physicians. After much suffering she died, or was supposed to die. No one suspected, nor had any reason to suspect, she was not actually dead. The face assumed the usual pinched and sunken outline; the lips were of the usual marble pallor; the eyes were lustreless; there was no warmth; pulsation had ceased. For three days the body was kept unburied, during which it had acquired a strong rigidity. The funeral, in short, was hastened, on account of the rapid advance of what was supposed to be decomposition.

The body was deposited in the family vault, which for three subsequent years was undisturbed. At the expiration of this term, it was opened for the reception of a sarcophagus; but oh! how fearful a shock awaited the husband, who personally threw open the door. As its portals swung outward, some white apparelled object fell rattling within his arms. It was the skeleton of his wife, in her yet unmoulded shroud!

A careful investigation rendered it evident that she had revived within two days after her entombment — that her struggles within the coffin had caused it to fall from a ledge or shelf to the floor, by which it was so broken as to permit her escape. A lamp which had been accidentally left, full of oil within the tomb, was found empty; it might have been exhausted by evaporation. On the uppermost of the steps which led down into the dread chamber, was a large fragment of the coffin, with which, it seemed, that she had endeavored to attract attention, by striking the iron door. While thus occupied, she probably swooned, or possibly died, through sheer terror; and in falling, her shroud became entangled in some iron-work which projected interiorly. Thus she remained, and thus she decayed, in an erect posture.”




This article is a reprint of material originally printed in the Hartford Courant for September 14, 1844.

The “Philadelphia Newspaper” was actually the Dollar Newspaper, which was published in Philadelphia.

The editor, or typesetter, made a number of changes to the text quoted from Poe’s tale “The Premature Burial.” In some cases, these changes are merely adjustments in punctuation, but there are also several changes in text. Whether these changes are the result of carelessness or intent is not clear.


[S:0 - NEFHR, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Premature Burials (Anonymous, 1845)