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Buried Alive

Posted on August 30, 2009

I have a story that I would like to share with everyone on this site. I was born in Longobucco, the Cosenza province of Italy. This is a story that my grandmother told me. My grandmother was born in Longobucco in 1916, this event took place there in 1929. They had neighbors who were a husband and wife, with children. The children were young, but I’m not sure of their ages.

One day the husband had come home from work to find his wife lying on the floor – she was dead. They called the doctor who pronounced her dead, then they called the priest to administer the last rites.

At that time and region it was the family who personally washed the body (they don’t embalm). They would then put the body into the coffin and take it to the chapel. The dead were not guarded at home. The chapel is situated next to the caretakers house, the cemetery is located 40 kilometers away.

The body was placed in the chapel, that night there the caretaker started to hear noises and someone screaming. The caretaker was too afraid to go and look, as he probably thought it was the “undead”.

The next morning the caretaker waited until everyone had come for the ceremony to pay their respects for the deceased, he then told the priest what he had heard the following night. The priest asked the family to open the coffin (it was screwed shut, or sealed). They opened it and found the woman covered in blood. She had scratch marks all over her face, and had torn out most of her hair.She had woken in the middle of the night and I imagine that she realized where she was. They didn’t know at the time if she had died of suffocation or if she had a heart attack from fright.

Today in Italy they keep the dead at home for three days, if you don’t want to keep the body, it can be kept at the chapel, until the funeral. I’ve heard that years ago in the United States, they used to attach a rope in the coffin with a bell attached to the other end, in case someone was buried alive, they could ring for help.

This is a true story that my grandmother told me, I would like to know if anyone else has heard of this?

Translated by Karen M. for Giuseppe M. Copyright 2009

Here is some extra interesting informationsent in by Karen:

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer…

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37 Responses to “Buried Alive”
  1. Caretaker says:

    It is difficult to even imagine how horrible it would be to wake up in that situation.

    I have no doubt that there were a lot of people who experienced something like this in the past. I have heard stories about corpses who were found who had scratched their coffins so hard that they literally tore their fingernails out. These have been found when graves have been relocated.

    Near to where I live a large old cemetery was relocated to make way for a hospital. Severla bodies were found that appeared not to have been dead when they were buried!

  2. LEILA YOUNG says:


    • Pat says:

      Yes the thought of being in a casket and still alive to me is the ULTIMATE horror!!!!!!!

      • AnNa says:

        when i see movies that people are buried alive i want to help them.i know its only a movie but still.and knowing it happened in real life thats scary.

  3. Bracket says:

    Just so you guys know, many of the stories of premature burial came from a misunderstanding of decomposition. As the body decays, the gases make the abdomen expand and eventually explode, damaging the inside of the coffin, making it appear to be scratched. The nails would also fall out do to decomposition, making appear that they had been torn out through scratching. I’m not saying that premature burial has never happened but it happens EXTREMELY rarely.

    Also, just so you know, the bells attached to the coffin was done more in the Eastern Europe but it did happen rarely in the U.S.

    • Caretaker says:

      Excellent points Bracket and I do think this is extremely rare these days but happened more in the distant past

  4. Bracket says:


    Yeah, it still kind of happens today but more in the morgue since it’s impossible for someone to survive the preservation practices. In fact, i think it was in the news recently that someone woke up in a morgue. I forget where, i think Florida.

  5. Karen M. says:

    Bracket, this took place during one night, yes she was buried alive and there are lot’s of stories where this has been proven true!

  6. Karen M. says:

    and they didn’t embalm in those days!

  7. Elden says:

    There is a certain condition which is rare, but real.Where a person just faints , and a pulse or heart beat can’t be detected. They might stay that way for a couple of hours or a week. One case the guy was put on the table and they started to cut him open when he came to. These people should wear a neckless or bracelet stating about their condition.

  8. trolldoll1681 says:

    i too have heard these stories. i heard about some from louisiana. they have cemetaries down there that are buried above ground in crypts. that would be a very horrible was to die!!

  9. Karen M. says:

    Those bells attached to the coffin is where the U.S. got the term working the graveyard shift!

  10. Lady Chantie says:

    I have heard quite a few tales of people being buried alive. I can’t imagine what someone would go through when they discover they have been buried alive.

    • Caretaker says:

      I doubt that many even realized what had happened. Think about it, they ‘wake’ up and everything is completely dark and silent. They would also have a difficult time breathing as there would be little oxygen available. I can imagine the complete confusion and terror that would strike them.

  11. Robbie Scifres says:

    I read a story that was supposed to have taken place in England. A wealthy family lost the mother due to some unknown ailment and she was declared dead, etc. She was dressed in her best and her favorite jewels and laid to rest in the family crypt. Robbers heard about the beautiful jewels and decided to break in and help themselves. They had no trouble removing her from the coffin and laid her out to search her person for hidden treasures and then began to remove those they could see, rings, necklaces, earrings, etc. There was ring that would not come off no matter what they did so they decided to cut the finger off and remove the ring that way. The pain of the finger being removed woke the women from a catatonic sleeping state. Needless to say the robbers ran off leaving their treasure behind. The local constable found them at the local pub, drinking and jibbering and swearing to never steal again. The women realized where she was and so started walking home. Not being to sure on her feet, she fell down a few times and so her dress was torn and dirty when she reached the house. She walked right in and straight to her husbands study. The shock of seeing his dead wife up and walking (and she looked pretty gruesome what with the torn and dirty gown and the blood from her hand) gave the husband a fatal heart attack. The children were frightened out of their wits and would not accept her as their mother. She was seen by a doctor and the local constable and both swore she really was the lady in question. She lived into her nineties as a recluse in her country home, and she hardly ever talked at all. If anyone doubted her story she would hold up her hand with the missing finger. Robbie

  12. DarStarr says:

    That would truly be a nightmare come true. I, for one, am certainly grateful for the embalming process now a days. I just can’t imagine waking up in my coffin!

  13. Jamie F. says:

    This is one of my worst fears! I couldn’t even imagine how awful it would be!

  14. Karen M. says:

    Cool story, Robbie and I belive that!

  15. Pat says:

    What a story! This too is one of my worst fears- being buried alive or not really dead when they start to work on me- UGH! I have heard of potions in Africa and South America where the heart beat is undetectible… hence the term zombies or walking dead. They wake up with the lasting effects of these potions/drugs and seem to be very weak and slow moving and after being pronounced dead everyone is scared of them! What a horrifying tale!

  16. DarStarr says:

    That’s like the movie “The serpent and the rainbow” It is “supposedly” based in part on a true story, but it really gave me the shivers.

  17. Pat says:

    Yes that movie was freaky!

  18. DarStarr says:

    Wasn’t it!?! There is just SO much out there we just can’t explain. That’s why I wonder why there are people on this site that seem to just say EVERYTHING is a fake, or a lie or whatever. I understand that you can’t take everything on blind faith, but we all have to admit that this world is a wonderous and ever-changing thing and that anything is possible.

  19. Bracket says:


    Yes that movie is very loosely based on a true story and the filmmakers themselves have some strange stories of their own.

  20. DarStarr says:

    Oh, I’m sure. I think you can’t help BUT have stories when you mess with that stuff, even if only for a film. Bad mojo – LOL!

  21. Diana96 says:

    If thats the case then i would never wanted to be a graveyard shift!!

  22. Nikki says:

    (From The Sydney Morning Herald)
    ‘Dead man’ wakes up in morgue

    An Indian pilgrim knocked unconscious in a stampede that killed 150 people woke up in a morgue as doctors prepared to perform a post-mortem examination on him.

    Mange Ram, 19, lost consciousness in the stampede triggered by rumours of a landslide that caused panic among thousands of people climbing a steep mountain path, a newspaper reported today.

    Ram told The Times of India he awoke in a hospital morgue after Sunday’s tragedy at the Naina Devi shrine in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.

    “When I woke up, I was in the middle of a row of bodies waiting for post-mortem,” he said.

    “My throat was parched and I asked for water. Towering over me the doctors and nursing staff at Anandpur Sahib Civil Hospital looked dazed.

    “They must have been surprised to see a dead man come alive like that,” he said.

    Sat Pal Aggarwal, a doctor on the pilgrimage, said few checks were carried out to see if victims were alive and might have been saved.

    “People were dumped quite haphazardly into trucks without following any procedure or checking if they were alive,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

    Despite the huge loss of life, the pilgrimage continued only hours after the corpses had been cleared.

    The temple, devoted to the goddess Naina Devi, sits on a hilltop in the Himalayas and devotees must climb a narrow stairway to reach it. It has been the site of previous deadly accidents.

    Crowd control is poor in India and stampedes are common.

    Three years ago, 257 Hindu devotees, mainly women and children, were crushed to death in a stampede at a religious pilgrimage in western India.

  23. TammyMom says:

    Karen M., I’ve read many stories over the years, 46 years today, about people being buried alive. It was before doctors had stethoscopes, when sometimes people were breathing too shallow for their breath to fog up a mirror. I’m sure that’s why, after they realized this, that in almost every country in the world, they started holding wakes. They had family members, or friends, take turns watching the body both day and night for 3 days. If the body began to decompose and stink within that time, there was no doubt that they were dead. The old sayings such as “saved by the bell”, “dead ringer” and “graveyard shift” are also very interesting. From now on when someone says, “You are a dead ringer for (whomever).”, it will take on a whole new meaning.

  24. TammyMom says:

    By the way, I thought the term “saved by the bell” was actually referring to boxers in the ring, when the bell rings between rounds.

  25. Karen M. says:

    TammyMom, me either I never knew where those expressions came from, I always thought saved by the bell meant that too! This is my husbands story, I just translated cause his english isn’t that great!

  26. anna says:

    that would be the scarest thing to happen to anyone.i have heared of the story and it acually was on creepy canada.good show by the way.anyways thanks for the story and i hope that never happens again.

  27. big barney says:

    usually i am critic about most stories i read….for some reason i cant find a thing to complain about on this one

  28. troj says:

    here we chop up body so no problem…unless eerie hand crawls for you.

  29. Matt says:

    Hi Karen,
    Yourr storie reminds me of the stories my grandfather used to tell me. When my mother was a child my grandfather used to work as a grave digger. And he said that a couple of times when they had dug up old graves they would find scratch marks on the inside of the coffin, and even once they found that a person had rolled over inside the coffin! Scary stuff.
    Also my uncle had told me that his grandfather had that rare condition spoken about earlier where the person would seem dead but was not. Apparantly he had woken up in the morgue and when he was allowed to leave (i dont know how long that he was kept there, but my uncles mother still thought he was dead). He showed up at my uncles house, he was still a boy, and his mother answered the door and screamed and fainted on the spot! Whether his storie is true or not, i dont know, but a funny one none the less.

  30. jennieboo22886 says:

    Karen.M i loved your story.i always wondered the meaning behind a wake. and as for the graveyard shift wow i worked the grave yard shift for a few years and now i know why they call it that yikes! Your story reminded me of a ghost story that i read when i was a little girl. although i am sure it is not true anyways here it is. a 17 year old was sitting by his grandfathers hospital bed. His grandfather was pleading with him that when he is dies to make sure that he is really dead before they bury him. the grandchild ill give him the name Roy looks at his grandfather rather seriously and asks him “why’?His grandfather then tells him a story that happend to him when he was a boy. He and his best friend bobby use to play out by the river and the log mill. they would stand on the logs going down the river laughing as they would move thier feet seeing who could stay on the log the longest before falling of. anyways George was haveing a good ole time the river was fast and so was his feet becuase he looked back and roy was still on his log but george was well ahead of him. Geroge so focused on not falling off the log didn’t look back to check on roy. well Roys logs rushes by him with no Roy george becomes frantic. Roy roy he screams. he jumps of his log into the water the current is up and he struggles to make it back to the riverbank. not knowing what to do he geos running down the river bank his eyes frantically looking out for any sign of Roy. George comes across two fisherman leaning over something. as he walks towards them his heart drops and all the color drains from his face there lying pale his lips blue and his body laying motionless is his dear friend Roy. the Doctor comes puts his ear to roys chest shakes his head sadly and prenounces him dead. 3 days after roys funeral george is out in the woods at the spot him and his best pal use to play.He’s just looking sadly at his feet quilty for what happend to roy when to his horror he looks up to see Roy’s ghost. Roy steranly tells George that he wasn;t dead I wasn’t dead” George says i can’t belive it roy i saw for myself you were dead. Roy says see for yourself then. So George runs home causes a ruckus and convinces the boys parents to dig up Roy. well when they do offcourse they find out that Roy had been burried alive. Roys nails were broken and bloody and his face was twisted into such an awful grimace. The doctor then informed them that when roy was knocked unconscious he was put into such a canotonic state that one could not feel a heart beat or see any breath from his body. thus poor little Roy had been burried alive. The grandson swore up and down that day that he would make sure his grandfather was dead before they burried him.
    sorry for all the spelling i was rushed anways its not true and its not mine but i found it to be extremely frightening and for years i was terrified that i would one day be burried alive.i dont remember which book i read it from maybe one of you all know.

  31. tithi kumari says:

    ohhhhhh grosss! wat a scary presentation man. its awesome, as if i love d way u wrote it. i myself love reading storybooks, specially haunted and scary ones. it was a superb intention reading yur experince. it just rocked……woooooeeeeehhhh!!! fabbb!!!

  32. Raquel says:

    My grandmother, when she was alive, she use to tell my mom and her other children that she wanted to be cremated when she die because she was so afraid of been buried alive. I don’t know what happened to her in the past that she was so scared of this hapening to her. She died two years ago at the age of 90. And yes, she was cremated.

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