There are many reasons that people fear death: pain, emptiness, wondering what lies beyond. However, few really think about the horrors that could be waiting if they end up in their coffins before their life actually comes to an end. Although we’d like to trust that a doctor would never make such a mistake, there have been dozens of documented cases of people who woke up in their graves. Below, read about some of these terrifying stories.
10. Matthew Wall
If you’ve ever visited Braughing in Hertfordshire, England, you may be familiar with the story of Matthew Wall, one of the most famous people who woke up in their graves. His story was so compelling that the village created a holiday to celebrate it, known as Old Man’s Day, celebrated on October 2.
In 1571, Matthew Wall was preparing to be married when he came down with a fever and died. Officials decided that he should be buried quickly so that his sickness wouldn’t spread. As his casket was being carried, a pallbearer slipped on some leaves and dropped his corner of the casket. Much to their surprise, the fall resulted in screaming from inside the casket.
As it turns out, Matthew was only in a coma. After he woke, he married and had two children. He eventually died 24 years after his near burial. His will stipulated that the church bells must ring for a funeral and a wedding every October 2 and that the area where his casket was dropped must be swept of leaves on that same day. These traditions became part of “Old Man’s Day.”
9. Essie Dunbar
30-year-old Essie Dunbar had suffered from epilepsy for much of her life. In 1915, she had an attack bad enough for a doctor to be called. When the doctor arrived, he declared that Essie had died.
The parishioners decided to wait until the following morning to bury Essie so that her sister, who lived in a neighboring town, would be able to attend. They gave Essie a long funeral, but her sister still didn’t make it in time.
When the sister finally arrived, she demanded that the grave be dug up so she could take one final look at her sister. The ministers agreed and the grave was exhumed. When the coffin was unsealed, those watching were shocked when Essie sat up and smiled at her sister. The three attending ministers were so startled that they fell into the open grave, one breaking a rib. The other mourners fled in a fit of hysteria, believing Essie to be a ghost.
Essie lived for another 47 years, but the locals never quite trusted her after the incident. Some believed that she was a zombie that had returned from death, making her one of the most feared people who woke up in their graves.
8. Octavia Smith Hatcher
In 1899, Octavia Smith married a successful businessman, John Hatcher. Two years later they were overjoyed to welcome a son into their family. Unfortunately, Octavia’s happiness didn’t last long; her son lived for only a few days. His death plunged her into a deep depression. She fell into a coma and was eventually pronounced dead.
Soon after, other people in the town began to exhibit the same symptoms. They fell into comas but eventually woke. Worried that Octavia might not have actually been dead, her husband dug up her grave. He was horrified by what he found. Although she had been buried on her back, Octavia was found on her stomach. The lining of her coffin was shredded and her fingernails were broken and bloody: evidence of a gruesome fight from inside the grave.
Like many people who woke up in their graves, stories about Octavia abounded. Some say you can still hear her wailing in the cemetery where she met her tragic end.
7. Eleanor Markham
22-year-old Eleanor Markham was pronounced dead in 1894. The family decided to hold the funeral quickly, so she was placed in a coffin and carted off to the cemetery. However, on the way to the burial, the pallbearers heard a strange noise coming from inside the coffin. They decided to remove the lid. When the coffin was open, Eleanor jumped out and yelled, “You are burying me alive!”
Eleanor fainted after her proclamation. When she awoke, she told her family that she could hear everything happening while her body was being prepared for burial, but she was unable to move or speak. It was only her extreme terror once inside the casket that allowed her to summon the strength to call out. Fear of people who woke up in their graves abounded in her time, and her case became legendary.
6. Angelo Hays
Of all the people who woke up in their graves and made it out alive, Angelo Hays may have the record for the longest amount of time spent underground. In 1937, he was riding his motorcycle when an accident caused him to be thrown from the bike headfirst into a brick wall.
He was declared dead, and because of the gruesome nature of the injuries to his face and head, his family was not permitted to view his body. Three days later, he was interred. Two days after the burial, his grave was exhumed because of an insurance investigation. Examiners were startled to discover that his body was still warm. Evidently, the head injury sent him into a coma, which meant that his body needed less oxygen, allowing him to live in his grave for two days.
He eventually recovered from his injuries and became a local celebrity because of the unusual story.
5. Mary Norah Best
Many stories of people who woke up in their graves have happy endings. Unfortunately for Mary Norah Best, hers isn’t one of them.
In 1871, the 17-year-old contracted cholera. A surgeon pronounced her dead and she was sealed inside of a mausoleum. Ten years later, the vault was opened to entomb the body of another family member. Shockingly, Mary’s body was found lying half inside and half outside of her coffin.
It is said that the surgeon who proclaimed Mary’s death stood to benefit from her demise, so many believe that he poisoned the girl and certified that she had died. She eventually awoke from the poison’s trance and pushed the lid off the casket. The strain caused her to faint, and she hit her head on a rock and died draped over the edge of the casket.
4. Margorie McCall
Margorie McCall was a young woman when a fever took her life. She was buried quickly to keep the sickness from spreading. Many in the town knew that she had been sent to her eternal rest wearing an expensive ring. This lured grave robbers to the cemetery.
The thieves dug up the grave and began to cut Margorie’s finger so they could remove the ring. The pain from the cuts caused her to suddenly awaken with a scream. According to legend, the grave robbers were so shocked that they dropped dead from fright.
Margorie pulled herself from the grave and went home. Her husband was so shocked to see her return from the dead that he, too, died of fright. Margorie, however, lived for many years before passing away and returning to the same cemetery where she was mistakenly interred.
3. Catherine Boger
When Catherine Boger died in 1893, her doctor tested thoroughly to make sure she was deceased before placing her in the ground. This didn’t stop her from becoming one of the most legendary people who woke up in their graves.
A while after Catherine was placed in her grave, someone told her husband that because Catherine was prone to hysteria, she may have been declared dead mistakenly and buried alive. The thought plagued the husband until he was nearly driven mad by it. To calm his mind, the grave was exhumed.
To his horror, Catherine was now lying on her stomach in the casket. The lid of the coffin was broken, her clothes were torn to shreds, and her body was covered in bruises and scratches. Clearly, her eventual death in the coffin had not been a peaceful one.
2. Maggie Dickson
In 1723, Maggie Dickinson found herself pregnant. For whatever reason, she chose to conceal the pregnancy. It is unclear whether the child was stillborn or murdered shortly after death, but the baby’s dead body was eventually found alongside a river. Maggie was charged with killing the child and sentenced to death by hanging.
On September 2, 1724, the sentence was carried out and Maggie went to the gallows. After her hanging, her family took possession of her body, placed it in a coffin, and set off for the cemetery. They stopped along the way at a pub, at which point someone saw the lid of the coffin moving. Upon opening the coffin, they found Maggie alive and well.
Courts determined that because the sentence of hanging had in fact been carried out, Maggie was free from further prosecution. She lived for another 40 years, known as Half-Hangit Maggie.
1. Madame Bobin
In 1901, a woman named Madame Bobin arrived in France from Senegal. She was apparently suffering from yellow fever, so she was quickly placed into seclusion, where she eventually died. Her body was stiff and pale, but one of the nurses who attended Madame Bobin noted that the body remained warm. She believed that the woman had been buried prematurely. Madame Bobin’s father eventually heard these rumors and had the grave exhumed. What he found was truly horrifying.
Evidently, Madame Bobin had been pregnant when she was buried. The baby had been born in the coffin and eventually died alongside the mother. Autopsies showed that the cause of death for both mother and child was not yellow fever, but asphyxiation from the lack of oxygen inside the grave.