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 information�sent 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…