So You've Been Buried Alive

Written by Luke Greensmith

Originally published on February 27th, 2022


This episode is a special listener request, from… Er… About 10 months ago. Sorry Lindsey! My life is strange, and LukeLore is a bonus strange part of it, but it was an awesome request for a LukeLore about being buried alive. I have a strong mid section on that, bookended by me going off on one with fun weird stuff related to being underground. It kind of needs the levity, though, as shall soon be known…


But let’s start this off with some weirdness local to me, and the graveyards around Liverpool in the UK.


SECTION BREAK - Vampire graves (boring truths)


A lot of the assorted cemetaries and graveyards around the world don’t deserve the bad reputation gothic horror would lead you to believe. They are in fact quite peaceful, acting like nice quiet public parks for the most part, although undeniably full of corpses just below the surface it’s an ordered repose. If you’ve even taking a dip in the sea, that thing is one giant festering global corpse soup, so a garden where former family are remembered is hardly fearsome for the most part.


Yet if you take the time to tour the graveyards of Liverpool, and this without irony can be recommended as a pleasant bit of adventuring, you may spot the occasional alarming grave. They’re iron cages scattered around the otherwise picturesque gardens celebrating the deceased. Cold metal welded all around the coffin below.


Locals refer to them as The Vampire Graves. They’re solid feats of metallurgy. Anything inside that grave would NOT be getting out, and spotting one can send thoughts to racing.


What are people so scared of, that you wouldn’t even risk attempting to destroy, only to contain? A question to make the imagination run wild, especially if you stumble across one of these Vampire Graves in the dead of night…


It is with a heavy heart I must say that these are not to keep anything in. They are, instead, to keep graverobbers out.


Still interesting, but nowhere near as cool as vampires.


These caged graves are from harder times where the person being buried was affluent enough to be laid to rest with items worth robbing, or at least give enough of an impression they do so the grave would be desecrated finding out, yet not rich enough for the full mausoleum treatment. Liverpool has a long standing tradition of ironworks, being such an active port town, to the point where there’s a surprising amount of small family business still doing it across the city. It seems as though commissioning a metal cage for the interment was the compromise needed to keep a regular grave for eternal rest without anyone disturbing them hunting for jewellery or any other valuable trinkets.


In its own way, it speaks to horrific times. Graverobbing isn’t generally something most people will do unless they REALLY need the money, and regular robbing isn’t going to work due to their being nothing worth breaking and entering a home to take. The city of Liverpool is never without character, but it’s frequently without wealth for the common people living there who didn’t reap the benefit of the big business at the port. These Vampire Graves are a strange reminder of this, and given the truth behind them the more fun spooky story should probably be left alone. Let children tell and retell the exciting story, not the one of empty bellies and far too normal fear.


But if it makes you feel better, they’re far from Liverpool’s only vampires!


Liverpool historically has a tradition of denying murderers a Christian burial, and from then expecting the killer may come back as an extra murderous vampire out for revenge over such a thing. Now, Scousers aren’t known to back down from fights. This includes the undead, so not even the threat of a revenant murderer would dissuade them from denying the Christian burial. The criminal was getting every disrespect coming to them, so upon the unceremonious dumping of the unwanted dead they would be taken to a remote crossroads and buried face down with the sentiment of “good luck digging your way to hell” by pointing them in the wrong direction, just in case should they reanimate. Plus there was the idea a good crossroads could do the trick of a crucifix and seal the unholy bugger belowground for good. And we know this is more than simply stories, because on top of this community shunning via strange burials being on record in multiple places, these corpses have a tendancy to be dug up in modern earthworks.


One such example, and there’s a weird amount of these to pull from, is that of Thomas Cosgrove. Thomas Cosgrove was not a nice man, it came out in court that his poor wife was constantly in fear of being beaten, and how he ended up in court was shocking.


Cosgrove was found on the evening of February 15th 1815 staggering out of his home in Cheapside wearing nothing but a nightcap and covered in his own blood, his throat slashed open. A total of three bystanders ended up helping him back into his house and saving him from what was to turn out to be a self inflicted wound, done to himself by Thomas Cosgrove after strangling his poor wife to death.


A police officer called to the scene bound the neck wound, then arrested Cosgrove. The courts saw him quickly enough, but there was no sympathy for him. The neckwound was severe enough that even after it being stitched up in custody it only took 2 weeks for the killer to succumb to the injury. The case was declared a murder suicide and Cosgrove was denied a Christian burial for his crime. Face down under the Hatton Garden crossroads of Vauxhall Road and Tithebarn Street.


Which was all fine and dandy, until sewage works were done only 40 years later, and the workmen unearthed the body in 1855. This created quite the spectacle, as the superstitious workmen had to panic their way through exhuming the potentially now-a -vampire while a crowd of onlooking Liverpudlians gather to enjoy the free show.


The weirdest thing about this tale of Liverpool vampires, is that it’s far from the only one I could have talked about. I even avoided a stand out longer story for the sake of brevity. If, and probably when, I circle back around to Vampires at some future point, I’m definitely tagging the city of Liverpool back in. I’m not sure where the corpse ended up, but there’s a story that goes the sewer pipe running under that junction has a sudden curve in it to avoid where the body was found, even if it wasn’t dumped back in its ignoble resting place once the work was done: the very earth it rested in was avoided as if it was too cursed even for sewage to flow through.


SECTION BREAK - The Ringing of Bells


Vampire Graves aren’t even the most worrying kind we can talk about, we have instead the main reason for this episode.


Being buried alive is quite the common fear, and even if you don’t share it you can certainly understand it. It got even worse going back a hundred or so years in history, when you actually had a reasonable chance of being mistaken for dead and bunged six feet under with little scrutiny!


These days, you’re looking at extra stages of medical and post-mortem intervention to catch these things. You get to chill in a morgue, you’re up for an autopsy, donated organs will soon be inside of new owners, and nothing else a funeral home will embalm you. Even if you weren’t actually dead you’re not making it to the grave alive, as cold a comfort as that may be if you think about it too much.


But in the 19th century, with no common embalming processes, and less diagnostic tools, it was possible to be buried alive. Not exactly common, but shallow enough heart rate and breathing could get you pronounced dead when there was still a chance of you reviving. You don’t need many cases of this to be found terminally too late to have people panicking about them.


So this led to the development of safety coffins. There are quite the variety of these, going back to the 18th Century even, it seems that Cholera epidemics played a huge part in these panics due to how shallow someone’s respiration can become at near death points. No one wants to pull off a one in a million lucky recovery only to find themselves in a box underground, and there are uncomfortable stories of excavated graves were claw marks were found on lids… Although I suspect these circulated most in fiction, it being a great stinger image to scare the crap out of an audience, and a lot of premature burial fears will come from someone waking up after being pronounced dead and it’s the idea of the near miss that drove people into cold sweats. Especially the poor sod who has to sign to a correction of their death certificate!


Got a little sidetracked explaining the Why here, back to the What. Safety coffins! Most historic designs are an assortment of ingenious ideas of feeding tubes and viewing apparatus which then go on to forget people need to breathe, so weren’t exactly fit for purpose, but the idea evolved and refined to the point of being simple and effective. A breathing tube was eventually recognised as a key design principle, and a bell would be hooked up to a length of string fed down it into the coffin. Should you awaken in the dark, you were supposed to reach around for the string to pull the bell and could also call up the breathing tube. It was expected someone would be quite weak, should they bounce back from being so near death they were accidentally buried alive, and it was the bells that were the focus. Vigils of the graveyards at night, whether paid or volunteered, would involve waiting for the sound of bells so a safety grave could be checked. There are no firm records of a safety grave actually saving anyone, although there are patents for versions of them as recently as 1995 that make use of modern intercom systems. In older graveyards where the practice used to be common you can sometimes spot these metal tubes, the bells removed and the tube filled in so as not to be a surface to corpse pipeline long term.


But the gentle tinkling of bells in a graveyard should send chills down your spine. My first thought wouldn’t be windchimes at 3am surrounded by graves, that’s for sure.


This may even be the origin of the phrase “saved by the bell”, a phrase kind of taken for granted as a school bell leading to escaping classes, it could be rooted in a significantly darker take. That the bell of the safety grave could save you from a second and far more final death, if you were lucky enough for someone holding a vigil to hear you…


With this being such a powerful, obvious fear… Quick PSA: So You’ve Been Buried Alive.


You wake up in total darkness. You have no way of making light. You reach around, you’re in a wooden box not much bigger than you are.


Do. Not. Panic.


Your air is limited, and a timer that’s counting down.


Give the boards above you a smack, let some soil tumble down to confirm the worst.


Remain calm. Go to your happy place, zone out, just don’t go into a screaming fit.


Next, take your arms out of your what you were buried in, wrap as much clothing around your head as possible. Air will pass through, soil will not. This will stop the earth from smothering you with what comes next.


You need to break the wood above you. You may not be able to, but at least you’ll go out fighting. You need to break through.


You also need to continue to remain calm.


It’s better to go slow and steady, than exhaust yourself and your air. This is the one point the earth is on your side, you need to try to keep the wood moving until it succumbs to strain from your actions as well as the soil weighing down from above.


As you break the box containing you, push the soil down towards your legs as much as possible. As you displace the soil and begin to run out of empty box, start to displace the soil behind you, prop your back up on it. As you progress you will start to hit fresh air. You may still have a ways to go yet, so don’t move the cloth off of your face as yet. Keep going until you’re pulling yourself out of the earth as you go.


There will come a point where you can now safely take the cloth of your head, feel the fresh air on your face, and likely have a good cry. I damn well would.


You are now free to finish clawing your way out of the ground, redress as best you can, scare the hell out of anyone nearby (go on, have fun with it, you’ve more than earned this treat), then go looking for whichever son of a bitch buried you alive. For maximum ironic retribution, see if there’s a solid chunk of grave wood to whack them upside the head with. You’ve earned that treat also.


SECTION BREAK – Brazil’s Graboid Cryptid


Okay, that may be the most horrifying segment LukeLore has yet seen, let’s lighten things up with some fun monsters.


Well, fun to talk about monsters. They would be considerably more alarming face to face.


This is over in Brazil and we have the stories of the Minhocão. Minhocão quite simply being “big earthworm”, this isn’t too tough a cryptid to wrap your head around. Anywhere from 75 feet up to 150 feet long, being up to 10 feet thick, they’re reported to have a teeth filled mouth at the end of their black and scaly body with what appears to be tentacles around this jagged maw.


Now, what worries me here, is that this sounds a lot like an earthworm under a microscope, which lends worrying validity to the tales, and Brazil is a big biodiverse place with a lot of unexplored wilds yet to be turned into cattle ranches. The Minhocão is a forest dweller which can also turn up in aquatic habitats, being able to prey on large land animals up to and including the aforementioned cattle. Cows bred for burgers ain’t small, people, they’re basically meat tanks. Any earthworm big enough to gobble one up has no need to fear any birds no matter how early they are.


During heavy rains rivers diverting and manmade structures collapsing into sinkholes could be blamed on Minhocão tunnelling. The heavy rains are the obvious culprit, but it’ll be far more drastic than usual activity which gets the Minhocão blamed, when the rains were heavy enough the monster would come to the surface like a terrifying colossal version of the exact same behaviour their regular sized versions enact. They’re supposedly extinct, with no solid sightings of the giant worm being any more recent than 130 years ago. But do you want a “fun” fact about dormant earthworms? It’s called aestivation. A regular earthworm can effectively just – stop - living. They don’t need to eat, move, or reproduce. They just… Stop. And they wait, for the right conditions for them to prosper to return. This gets weirder with microscopic worms which have been known to come back to life from being frozen for over 40,000 years! I’m sure we’re all fine, and there’s no weird weather conditions that could revive a Tremors style subterranean behemoth large enough to gobble up a cow. But if I have listeners in Brazil, and I know there’s at least a few, please keep an eye out for suspicious sinkholes and river diversions for me. We could be on the cutting edge of cryptozoology if we keep an eye out, and also more importantly not get any LukeLore listeners eaten by being vigilant!


SECTION BREAK


Again, I’m so sorry this took so long Lindsey, but we got there in the end. It can just take some time for that which is buried to resurface, often when you least expect it…


Quick outro this episode. Loads going on, loads to hopefully report soon, but February 2022 has been a weird one for me. I will be chasing up a fair few LukeLore things soon!


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Goodbye for now.