Behold the Life-Preserving Coffin


Premature burial no more! ©National Archives/Science Faction/Corbis

Look, we're all terrified of premature burial. That's why my casket will have mechanized legs, a self-contained life support system and a wireless Internet connection.

But our predecessors were not so lucky. Before modern embalming techniques came along to make live burial impossible (and supplant it with fears of merely being embalmed alive), it seemed an incredibly possible fate. You might just wake up in the dark of a casket six-feet deep.

And sure, it happened, but never more than 2 percent of the time. Still, some folks worried over such a ghastly fate and devised means by which the dead might be inspected in the casket through a glass window, as well as means by which the dead might communicate with the surface world. They'd ring a bell, shout up through a breathing tube or, as we see in this image, bust open the lid entirely. Here's what the National Archives says about this 1843 design:

The fear of being buried alive led Christian Henry Eisenbrandt to patent a "life-preserving coffin in doubtful cases of actual death." In his application, he claimed that through a series of springs and levers, even the slightest motion of the head or hand would instantaneously open the coffin lid.

So there you have it. It's a perfect way to save your life if you're buried alive, or to ruin a funeral if you're just a corpse shifting due to rigor mortis.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.