The Victorians feared the Resurrection Man, but they feared premature burial more. Today we lift the lid on stories of burial alive and find the subject seething with maggots of horror. What is it like to hear those clods falling on your coffin lid while you are helpless, trapped….
The final chapter in my just-released book The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past tells of a little-known 19th-century panic over those mistresses of the dark, The Women in Black. This story is a good illustration of some of the features of the apparitions: clothed in widow’s weeds, seen outdoors at night, bullet-proof and evasive.
There are many noises believed to presage death: birds tapping on windows, the death-watch beetle, howling dogs, crashes or knockings–and the sounds of a coffin being made. We’ve previously discussed the sights and sounds of the phantom funeral. Today we look at the sounds of the phantom coffin makers–well-known as a death omen.
The life of a graveyard guard was a thankless one. He had to walk the grounds of a cemetery in the dark and in all weathers, ever vigilant for the dreaded body snatchers. More than one watchman was murdered by these ghouls or exchanged gunfire among the tombstones. It was no wonder that, in the 1880s, a new occupational disease emerged.
You are walking in the twilight when you see a funeral procession approaching. You see the coffin on the shoulders of the bearers, the mourners following in their black clothes. You stand aside to let them pass. And then they disappear. You have seen a phantom funeral and it is an omen of death.
The graveyards of Victorian London were swollen with bones, stenches, and half-rotted corpses. In 1875, a macabre garden-party was held at the Duke of Sutherland’s London mansion to do something about it.