Old grave has window and breathing tube

200709100649 In the 19th century, Timothy Clark Smith of Vermont was so concerned about the possibility of being buried alive that he arrange to be buried in a special crypt that included a breathing tube and a glass window in his grave marker that would permit him to peer out to the living world six feet above.

The crypt is still in New Haven, should you care to see if Mr. Smith has revived and needs recusing. Link


  1. Actually, fear of being buried alive somehow became quite common in the 1800s. The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying has a pretty good article on the phenomenon and mania surrounding it at that point. Of particular note in that entry is U.S. Patent #4,367,461 (filed under class 27, subclass 31), a Coffin Alarm System filed as recently as 1980. Apparently premature burial is still a concern for a few people.

  2. Fear of premature burial is a common 19th century meme (see, for example, Poe’s story on that theme, titled–aptly enough–“The Premature Burial.”) A cataleptic trance, an inept doctor, and a living person could well wake up immured.

    There’s a classic work on this subject by William Tebb and Edward Perry Vollum, “Premature Burial and How it May be Prevented with Special Reference to Trance, Catalepsy, and Other Forms of Suspended Animation” published in London, 1896, see Google Books


    This is full of examples of those who escaped live burial–and, unfortunately those who didn’t. Not for the squeamish.
    There’s a host of other books and pamphlets, published on both sides of the Atlantic, earlier in the century. One of my favorite devices involved (as I recall) a sort of semaphore flag, which could be raised by the victim. Of course, this presupposes that someone was watching the grave…

    Lest anyone think I’m making this up, Snopes has a delightful (?) article:


  3. It sounds like the tube was connected to the window, not actually for breathing… Interesting when you consider the fact that if he were alive, it would be most likely that he would suffocate, all the while looking out a window at the sky in his sealed tomb…

  4. Apparently George Washington was similarly afraid of being buried alive.

    He requested that his body be left alone for a period of days before being interred, on the off chance that he was –you know– just sleeping.

  5. Years ago on a visit to Laurel Hill cemetery in Philadelphia I saw an old grave that appeared to have a kind of peaked skylight over it in lieu of being filled in. Grass and weeds had grown on the inside, such that you couldn’t actually see very far down into it, but it was certainly eye-catching. I’m not sure what condition it’s in today. Laurel Hill has had its ups and downs in terms of maintenance.

  6. Damn, I used live in New Haven, VT and never knew. 375 registered voters and way more cows than people c. 1973.

    15 miles away in Middlebury there’s the grave of Prince Amun-Her-Khepesh-Ef, two-year-old son of King Senwoset III and Queen Hathor-Hotpe [sic], who died in 1883 B.C.

  7. I grew up near New Haven. That grave was an awesome place to scare the bejesus out of your friends. The condensation under the glass was always particularly freaky.

  8. Fear of premature burial is discussed at length in “The Romeo Error” (early ’70s) by Lyall Watson, who had previously written the fortean-ish titles “Supernature” and “Gifts Of Unknown Things”. I seem to remember that little bell towers above graves with bell ropes threaded down pipes into coffins were big in Italy for a while.

  9. You said “recusing”, I think you meant “rescuing”.

    Or maybe that was just your wry way of suggesting Tim isn’t fit to practice the law. Although I’m sure he’s just as good as many judges.

  10. As stated, fear of being buried alive was a common concern. This was the main reason for the traditional 3 day wake. It was called a wake because they were waiting to see if the person was going to ‘wake’ up. The fear of being buried alive also spurred the custom of being embalmed. People were assured that once they were embalmed, they would not awaken.

  11. This is actually my great great grandfather’s grave. He was also a medical doctor and quite an educated man for the time. My grandfather however was a independent man and left a long long line of physicians and dignitaries to be a miner, ranch hand and a traveler. His name was Michael Smith and as a child was smuggled out of czarist russia where he lived with this man Timothy Clark Smith who was then the consulate of the United States stationed in Odessa Russia which I believe is now the Ukraine. He left in the midst of the revolution in the early 1900s. It is a shame that Timothy Clark Smith is remembered for his unusual grave and not for his other occomplishments.

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