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Cemeteries Revisited?

Lately, I've been doing a little side-study on the rather not-terribly-happy topic of death and dying from a scientific, historical and cultural view. In doing studies like this, you end up finding out more about things "to come", so to speak, than sometimes you're prepared to find out... such as something that made me re-think one of my views.

If I had a nickel for every time I have said "Cemeteries and Burial Grounds are statistically NOT very haunted! There are precious few "true" ghost reports from them! People, or rather 'the ghosts that represent the dearly departed', tend to haunt the places where the person the ghost represents (or is) worked, played, lived or passed on, NOT where they are buried!"

Well, here's a thought... that last option... where they passed on. Maybe more than we might think passed on AFTER internment in the ground.

With the modern technologies at our disposal, we feel VERY secure about the time of actual bodily death. Instruments can detect the slightest brain activity or lack of it and the last few beats of a heart but we have all heard tales of people that have even recovered from a modern diagnosis of death in recent years despite the fact that medical professionals had assumed that their number was indeed up.

Now, let's go back a few years... How did they tell when the living person had finally, truly passed into final rest? To be honest, they really didn't have any perfect ways to tell. Sure, a stethoscope (which was used to detect heartbeats and only used/accepted as a true measure of death as of 1846) was occasionally used but the only true measure of a person's body being dead was "putrefaction", or in laymen's terms, when the body began to rot. The first usual sign of putrefaction is a discolouration in the lower right-hand side of the abdomen (where the appendix is) and this discolouration could take several days after which the liquefaction of the organs and the general "nasty smell" would have started. Not a pleasant way of telling that indeed someone had finally left this mortal coil! Needless to say, many 'tests' were used to check for death in the days before refrigeration and not all of them were perfect.

Tests such as the mirror under the nose to look for it misting (showing that the person was still breathing,) temperature (a cold corpse as opposed to a warm person... probably a bad idea for a test in the cold conditions of the Canadas during the winter) and pricking, stabbing and even burning (with a candle) the 'corpse' to ensure that it was indeed insensible and therefore "dead" were used (this was, of course, before anyone had thought that sleep = painlessness... before anesthetic for surgery). All of these were horribly inaccurate and probably sent more than a few folks to the grave who otherwise didn't belong there yet!

Back about 200 years ago, a doctor's 'death certificate' literally could legally say 'X' person died on 'X' date, so I'm told. meaning that the doctor did not even have to view the corpse or do an autopsy (most corpses were not "cut open" because of a general fear and loathing of autopsies and dissection after death) to proclaim someone ready for burial.

During the several cholera outbreaks in Upper Canada, it is not unlikely more than a few people were plunked into a coffin and interred in an extreme state of catalepsy or coma and MIGHT have revived once six feet under.

In 1849 in Gloucester England, there was an outbreak of cholera that claimed 119 lives. A contemporary interview of a church sexton by Tebb and Vollum revealed this...

"Sometimes, they come to afterwards and we hear 'em kicking in their coffins, but we never unscrewed 'em 'cause we knew they got to die."

Basically, the thought was, better to have the sick die interred than infect more of the living if, post putting them into a casket, the corpse came back to life.

It's a well known and historic fact that the bubonic plague caused an extreme catatonia and coma-like condition that lead to thousands in Europe being wrapped in a shroud and thrown into the mass burial pits to be buried alive and to possibly revive in a heap of corpses.

There are literally thousands of stories about graves being exhumed right up until the early 1900's across the world to find the "corpse" had tried to claw it's way out of it's coffin. Torn fingers and wood splinters under their fingernails.

It's not unlikely that the above also lead people to stronger beliefs in vampirism! Just putrefaction and this sort of thing would definitely chill the hearts of a group looking at an exhumed person... The liquefaction of the organs and gasses that build up during this can cause bloating and blood to run out of the mouth and a reddish hue to the cheeks and lips. Top this off with a horrible stench and the possibility of a premature burial victim's attempts to claw themselves out of the trap before passing and no wonder the fear of the "undead" was so prevalent!

Could the same happen in Upper Canada or Ontario? Now-a-days, it's HIGHLY unlikely. I'm sure your chances of winning the Lotto Super Seven are MUCH, MUCH, MUCH better than being prematurely buried BUT back in the 1800's and before... well... it was still unlikely but not impossible to think that indeed people probably were buried while alive.

So, guess what that COULD mean... The person died in the cemetery!

So, do the ghosts of cemeteries represent those people that shouldn't have been there quite so soon? Could be!

There is the story of St. Frithstane who, when saying a mass for the dead in a cemetery outdoors said the Latin phrase "requiescat in pace" which garnered a chorus of voices from the graves responding "Amen".

Just a thought...

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