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Today is the day after the longest day of the year (Summer Solstice) The kids are out of school–bored and maybe driving you crazy? Well, slow down and enjoy the 15+ hour day with some little known (and most likely cared about) tidbits. Share these and show others how nerdy you really are…

Buried Alive

The Legend:

Some poor fool is committed to his or her eternal resting place, even though they aren’t quite ready to take that final dirt nap. Scratch marks are later found on the coffin lid along with other desperate signs of escape.

This not only happened, but back in the day it happened with alarming regularity. In the late 19th century, William Tebb tried to compile all the instances of premature burial from medical sources of the day. He managed to collect 219 cases of near-premature burial, 149 cases of actual premature burial and a dozen cases where dissection or embalming had begun on a not-yet-deceased body.

Now, this may seem ridiculous, but keep in mind this was an era before doctors such as the esteemed Dr. Gregory House gained the ability to solve any ailment within 42 minutes. If you went to the doctor with the flu in those days, he’d likely cover you in leeches and prescribe you heroin to suppress your cough. Their only method for determining if a person had died was to lean over their face and scream “WAKE UP” over and over again. If you didn’t react, they buried you.

The concern over being buried alive back then was so real that the must-have hot-ticket item for the wealthy and paranoid were “safety coffins” that allowed those inside to signal to the outside world (usually by ringing a bell or raising some type of flag) should they awake 6-feet under.

Unfortunately safety coffins aren’t in vogue anymore, so if you’re at the cemetery and hear a muffled voice calling out “OK guys, joke’s over. Let me out!” it might be a good idea to inform someone with a shovel quickly.

Of course, that last sentence was merely facetious, there’s no way something like this could still happen today. Uh, well, except for this story about a Venezuelan man waking up during his autopsy. On second thought, you might want to consider adding a line in your will that states you’re to be buried with a gas-powered auger in your casket when you go.

Nathan Birch also writes the disgustingly cute webcomic Zoology.

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Summer solstice 2011

The annual ritual is celebrated at the world heritage site of Stonehenge on England’s Salisbury plane.

Revelers surround the ancient Stonehenge monument prior to the summer solstice on Salisbury plain in southern England June 21, 2011. Stonehenge is a celebrated venue of festivities during the summer solstice – the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere – and it attracts thousands of revelers, spiritualists and tourists. Druids, a pagan religious order dating back to Celtic Britain, believe Stonehenge was a center of spiritualism more than 2,000 years ago.

KIERAN DOHERTY/REUTERS   


This week’s “peek” into the world of NOVEMBER IN SALEM is a look at old Salem Village.  Although it’s now called Danvers, the original site of the Salem Witch Trials has not been forgotten by many in this coastal Massachusetts city.  Modern day Danvers is a bustling place, and the old Danvers State Hospital (the basis for the asylum in my novel) has been partially demolished and remodeled into a luxury condominium complex

But it was not always so scenic. The original hospital once sat on over 500 acres. It was built in the late 19th century as a place for those with “mental afflictions” to spend their days in a beautiful and peaceful setting. But as sometimes happens, over the years the asylum became a repository for the poor and indigent. Family members who no longer could care for, or who wanted nothing more to do with that member of the family who was “odd,” placed them into the state-run facility to be forgotten. In fact, there were so many “forgotten” that the patient population ceased to exit. They lost their identity and became simply an assigned number. It is easier to dismiss a number. No need to show mercy to a statistic on a spreadsheet. And the population of Danvers Hospital remained thus even after death. Behind the great buildings, far back into the wooded grounds there lay oddly shaped markers with numbers on them. Hundreds of them. They are the only reminder of those whose lives held so little meaning they were buried in graves behind the hospital like so much refuse.  The asylum  closed in 1992 and for more than two decades the moody old buildings sat grinding their bones as vandals and urban explorers crawled through their veins and underground labyrinths.  It was to this that I was drawn. The grim old buildings, the spacious grounds, once so carefully tended–now overgrown with weeds. And the lonely graves sitting on the windswept hill. The Hill of Hathorne. The hill that once witnessed the hanging of more than 17 people accused of witchcraft in 1692.  The ghosts of all of those who linger –  watching and waiting.


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