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10 Historical Accounts Of People Who Woke Up In Their Coffins

by Oliver Taylor
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The Lady with the Ring is an Irish legend about Margorie McCall, who reportedly awoke in her coffin. The story goes that Margorie died of a fever in 1705 and was quickly buried to prevent the sickness from spreading. On the evening of her burial, some body snatchers dug up her grave, hoping to steal the expensive ring on her finger and sell her body for profit.

Margorie woke and let out a loud scream as one of the body snatchers tried cutting her swollen finger to retrieve the ring. One account states that the shocked robbers died on the spot, while another states that they fled and never raided another grave again. Margorie left for home, where her husband, John McCall, died of shock the moment he saw her. He was buried in the same grave she had just left.

Margorie went on to remarry and had more children before dying properly. She was buried in Shankill Cemetery, Ireland (where she was initially buried). In 1860, stonemason William Graham carved a gravestone that reads “Margorie McCall. Lived Once, Buried Twice” and placed it over her grave. It remains there to this day.[1] While Margorie’s story is disputed, here are ten undisputed stories of people who woke in their coffins.

10 Essie Dunbar

In 1915, 32-year-old Essie Dunbar was declared dead after suffering from a fit of epilepsy. Her body was put into a coffin and and slated for burial at 11:00 AM the next day. She would have been buried earlier, but the delay was necessary to allow her sister, who lived in the next town, to see her corpse for one last time. Essie’s sister did not make the burial on time despite the length of the ceremony. She appeared few minutes after her sister’s body was lowered into the grave, but it was quickly exhumed to allow her to pay her last respects.

The supposedly dead Essie sat up in her coffin and smiled at her sister. The three ministers who oversaw the burial fell into the grave, and one suffered three broken ribs when the other two clambered over him to escape. The three ministers fled the scene with Essie’s sister and the rest of the burial party. Essie herself didn’t help matters, as she ran after the burial party as they fled into the town and caused a commotion.

Years later, people still believed that Essie was a zombie that returned from the dead.[2] She passed away in 1955, though some accounts mention 1962. A newspaper announced her death with the catchy headline “Second funeral is held for South Carolina woman.”

9 Matthew Wall

Photo credit: John Salmon

The village of Braughing, Hertfordshire, celebrates Old Man’s Day on October 2 every year. The celebration is not in remembrance of old men but of Matthew Wall, who was almost buried alive on October 2, 1571.

Matthew Wall was preparing for his marriage when he died, or rather was presumed to have died. He was being carried to the village church in a coffin when one of the pallbearers slipped on some wet leaves and dropped the casket. The shock awoke Wall from his coma, and he started banging on the coffin, screaming to be let out. He went on to get married, have two sons, and live for 24 more years. He died in 1595.

In his will, Wall requested that the church bell should be rung for a funeral and then a wedding on the second day of October every year. He also requested that Fleece Lane, where the pallbearer had slipped, should be swept free of leaves. The request seems odd, since it was the same leaves that prevented his premature burial. The people of Braughing still execute his will today. On the second day of October, they ring the church bell as he requested while the priest and local children sweep the lane.[3]

8 Mrs. Blunden

Hampshire resident Mrs. Blunden had the misfortune of being declared dead and waking up in her coffin, twice. On July 15, 1674, she took ill and fell into a deep sleep after taking poppy water. Her body became cold, she wasn’t breathing, and she had no pulse or heartbeat. She was declared dead and was buried against the wishes of her husband, who was away on a trip and wanted her buried on his return.

Mrs. Blunden’s body was exhumed after some children playing around the graveyard complained of hearing sounds coming from her grave. She had awoken in her coffin, and her body was covered in wounds and scratches from her attempts to escape. She was now still, however. No signs of life were detected, and she was declared dead again and reburied.

Mrs. Blunden was found with more injuries when her body was exhumed again to allow a coroner’s inspection the next day. She had also bitten her mouth until it was bloody and had torn her clothes. A guard posted at her grave should have detected when she awoke again, but he claimed he didn’t. It is speculated that he left the graveside.[4]

7 Unnamed Girl

Sometime in the 1850s, an unnamed young girl appeared to die of diphtheria while vacationing at Edisto Island, South Carolina. She was summarily declared dead, and a burial was hurriedly organized to prevent her disease from spreading any further. She was buried in the mausoleum of a local family.

The mausoleum was only opened years later when the family wanted to bury a son they had lost to the ongoing Civil War. The skeleton of the girl was found just behind the door. She had definitely woken up in her coffin and had tried to get out of the mausoleum.[5]

6 Margaret ‘Maggie’ Dickson

On September 2, 1721, Margaret “Maggie” Dickson was tried and hanged for concealing her pregnancy. The Edinburgh woman was separated from her husband and had taken a job at an inn, where she started an affair with the son of the owner. The affair led to her getting pregnant, but she hid it because she didn’t want to lose her job. The baby she birthed was too weak and died few days later.

Margaret could not bury the child since the pregnancy had been a secret, so she dumped it into the river. Unfortunately, the body was found along the riverbank the same day and was traced to her. Maggie was hanged at the gallows, and her body was put inside a coffin. She woke up while being transported to a graveyard 10 kilometers (6 mi) away.

Margaret’s supposed resurrection was taken as an act of God, and it was assumed that God had given her a second chance at life and forgiven her for her crime. She got back with her husband and had more children. She was nicknamed “Half-hangit Maggie.”[6]

5 Unnamed French Gendarme

On March 17, 1889, the Press Democrat reported the story of a French gendarme (police officer) who was almost buried alive. The unnamed gendarme living near Grenoble, France, had gone into a trance-like sleep after drinking too much potato brandy. He slept for a whole day before his friends noticed that his body was becoming rigid, as would be expected of a dead person.

The unfortunate gendarme was declared dead but awoke as he was being lowered into a grave. He banged on the coffin, demanding to be let out. The undertakers lowering him into the grave immediately stopped the burial and quickly opened the casket. However, it was all for nothing, as the gendarme had hit his head on the coffin and died.[7]

4 Eleanor Markham

In 1894, Eleanor Markham was declared dead in her village of Sprakers, New York. She had complained of heart problems two weeks earlier and was being attended to by one Dr. Howard. Her health continued declining until the morning of July 8, 1894, when Dr. Howard declared her dead. Her death certificate was issued, and two days later, she was put in a coffin in preparation for burial.

Eleanor awoke and made a noise as her coffin was being carried into the vehicle that would have taken her to the cemetery. The coffin was opened, and a surprised Eleanor exclaimed that she was about to be buried alive. Dr. Howard, who was among the burial party, quickly calmed her down, assuring her that the error will be corrected. Eleanor later stated that she was conscious all through the preparation for her burial and could hear everything being discussed, even down to whispers.[8]

3 Unnamed Three-Year-Old Boy

On April 25, 1913, the unnamed three-year-old son of Mrs. J. Burney sat up in his coffin as he was about to be buried in Butte, California. The boy stared straight at his grandmother, 81-year-old Mrs. L. Smith, who immediately passed away in shock. Then, the boy became unconscious and fell back into the coffin. A doctor later declared him dead.[9]

The boy’s story sounds like that of Kelvin Santos, a two-year-old Brazilian boy who was almost buried alive in 2012. Santos sat up in his coffin just before his burial and asked his father for some water before falling back into the coffin. He could not be resuscitated and was declared dead a second time.

2 Octavia Hatcher

In January 1891, James and Octavia Hatcher lost their only son, Jacob. Octavia fell into depression after Jacob’s death and refused to leave her bed. She soon took ill and fell into a coma before being declared dead on May 2, 1891. She was buried immediately. A few days later, her husband’s family noticed that several other townspeople who had been in comas were recovering and waking up. Local legend states that they and Octavia had been afflicted with sleeping sickness, which is caused by the bite of the tsetse fly.

James and his family, suspecting that they had buried a living woman, raced to the grave and dug it up. They were too late. Octavia had awoken in her coffin and had tried getting out but couldn’t. The inner lining of the coffin was torn, and her hands were covered with blood. James reburied her and erected a monument of her holding baby Jacob over the grave.

Residents around the Pikeville, Kentucky, cemetery claim to hear the sounds of a crying woman or kitten coming from Octavia’s grave. Some even say that her statue faces the opposite direction on her burial anniversary. Some vandals also entered the cemetery and vandalized the arm holding the baby. It remains at the foot of the monument today.

James, fearing that he might be buried alive himself, ordered a custom-made coffin long before his death. The coffin could be opened from inside to allow him escape if he was ever buried alive.[10]

1 Madame Bobin

On November 16, 1901, The Hereford Times reported the story of one Madame Bobin who died of yellow fever after arriving in the city of Pauillacin, France, from Senegal. Her body had stiffened, and her face had turned ashen. She was promptly buried. A nurse who saw Madame Bobin before her burial reported that she was not as cold as expected and claimed to have noticed little movements in the muscles of her abdomen. She suggested that Madame Bobin might not be dead and must have been buried alive.

Madame Bobin’s father had the body exhumed and was shocked to see that his daughter had birthed a child inside the coffin. An autopsy revealed that she did not have yellow fever and was alive at the time of burial. She suffocated to death inside the grave. Her family sued and was awarded 8,000 francs.[11]


Read more creepy accounts of people being buried alive on 10 Horrifying Stories Of People Who Were Buried Alive and 10 People Who Survived Being Buried Alive.

fact checked by Jamie Frater