Today's post has to do with the most terrible topic of all: THE DEAD. More specifically, how do you know if someone's really dead? This may seem like a pretty simple question, but before the twentieth century, it wasn't always all that easy to tell. Back then, doctors didn't have our machines and computers. All they could do was take a person's pulse or monitor her breath. Sometimes it worked--and sometimes, horribly
, it didn't.
Nobody knows how many people were buried before they were truly dead. But legends told of coffins exhumed to reveal scratches on the inside of the lid--or corpses with long, flowing beards. Eventually, people became so paranoid that they began to build "safety coffins." These were coffins that were rigged with breathing pipes or ropes attached to aboveground bells. (According to a fascinating article
at vermonter.com, these bells may have inspired the phrases, "saved by the bell" and "dead ringer.")
Then there was the option chosen by Vermonter Timothy Smith, who died in 1893. He had a window installed in his underground crypt, which would allow him to look up at the world if he found himself buried alive. He even had a bell placed in his hand so he could alert passersby. Now imagine you're in the graveyard one night and you hear a bell begin to ring . . .
Not gruesome enough to merit my warning? There's another topic I'd like to address today. It's called post-mortem photography. Those who've seen the movie The Others
(one of my favorites) will know what I'm talking about. Those of you who haven't . . . hold onto your socks.
A strange practice arose shortly after the first cameras were invented in the 1830s. People realized that a photograph would be the perfect way to remember a deceased loved one. Unfortunately, they weren't always able to take the pictures before
the loved one died. So many had them taken afterwards
. The results, as you might imagine, are unbelievably creepy. In fact, they're so creepy that I'm not going to post any on the blog. Those who are interested can look into the subject on the PBS website. But please make sure that neither you--nor your parents--will be too disturbed by what you see!