Idiotic or Inspired?

Doubtful Cases of Death


The 1800s were a time of renaissance in the medical field. Anasthesia came into widespread use, the cleanliness of operating rooms was finally made a priority, germ theory replaced spontaneous generation theory or “the vapors”, and vaccines for a variety of plagues were developed. Despite this, determining if someone was dead or alive seemed to be problematic at times and there were several cases of people being buried alive. Luckily, enterprising people like Christian Henry Eisenbrandt of Baltimore, MD were there to make sure those buried alive didn’t have to endure a grueling, lonely death with his invention of “A life-preserving coffin in doubtful cases of death”.

Of course, it probably wouldn’t work too well if six feet of dirt were on top of it.

[Image Credit: US National Archives via Retronaut]

  • Slow_Joe_Crow

    A coffin with a bell on it features in "The Great Train Robbery" as a means of smuggling Edward Pierce into the baggage car..

    • sawer-massey

      One of the best films ever made. I read that upon its release in theaters some audience members actually fainted or had other medical emergencies upon viewing the final scene (no spoilers).

  • TheOtherMacLeod

    I've also heard tell of another, arguably more effective, means of preventing people from being trapped alive in a coffin: A nine inch spike was installed in the lid over where the occupant's heart would be.

    • The embalming process takes away most doubt today.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    Goooood niiiiiight.

    [youtube 1KVROqGETwE youtube]

  • This used to be a real problem! The crematorium had to install a hot line!

  • lil-red

    I read recently that is where the saying "Saved by the bell" came from, A string was run from a bell mounted on a nearby headstone through a hole drilled in the lid of the coffin and tied to the occupants finger.