Halloween Horror Post #2: The woman who survived premature burial

Antoine Wiertz painting entitled Premature Burial. Image credit: Wikipedia

Antoine Wiertz painting entitled Premature Burial. Image credit: Wikipedia

Frightening stories of people who were accidentally buried alive, also known as premature burial, have been repeated around fireplaces and reported in newspapers since the 18th century.  True or not, these tales really scared a lot of people so families went to extreme measures to make sure someone was really dead.  People buried loved ones in safety coffins, coffins that were constructed with devices that allowed an occupant to signal to the surface they had been buried alive, or placed them in dead houses, structures where bodies were stored until they started to decompose.

The widespread fear of being buried alive, also known as taphophobia, eventually emerged as an urban legend known as the “Lady with the Ring.”  This legend has variations told throughout Europe and common features, besides premature burial, include an expensive ring and grave robbers. But one of these “Lady with the Ring’ tales went beyond legend and left its mark in an Irish cemetery.

In Shankill Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Belfast, there is a grave marker for a woman named Margorie McCall that has the following inscription, “Lived Once, Buried Twice.”

Margorie McCall resided in the town of Lurgan with her husband, John McCall, about 300 years ago. She came down with a sudden illness in 1705 and seemed to die. During the wake, her loved ones tried to remove an expensive ring from her finger because they feared it would attract grave robbers. But the band didn’t budge and Margorie was buried in Shankill Cemetery with it on her hand.

Grave robbers found out about Margorie’s expensive ring and went to the cemetery the night after she was interred to dig up her grave. When they failed to pry it off her hand, one of the grave robbers pulled out a knife to cut off her finger. As soon as the blade cut Margorie’s finger and drew blood, she woke up from her deep sleep with a start. This scared the crap out of the grave robbers and they immediately ran off. She then climbed out of her coffin and walked home.

Margorie’s family sat around the hearth talking and mourning her loss when they heard a knock at the door. John opened the door and saw his wife standing in the doorway in her dirty funeral clothes.

Margorie McCall supposedly lived for years after this and even had children after the traumatizing event. According to the tale, when she died for real, she was buried in the same plot she climbed out of in 1705.

Mark McConville and Denise Calnan interviewed Jim Conway, a local historian, for an article they wrote for the Independent. Conway researched parish records in Lurgan and found records for the deaths of nine Margorie McCalls, three of which were married to a John McCall. But he could not find any evidence of a Margorie McCall who was married to a John McCall and died in 1705. Despite this, Conway believes this story is true because parish records may not have been accurate because of a famine.

Read about tales of premature burial that were reported in newspapers from the 18th to the 20th centuries.



Categories: History

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