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Premature Burial: Jean-Yves Péron-Autret

"Only think of being buried alive, stifled to death -
pent up on all sides - earth above, earth below - no hope -
no room to move in - suffocated, stupefied, horror-struck -
utter despair. Is not the idea dreadful ? Only think what
your feelings will be, when you come to life in that narrow
charnel-house, and know your situation."

     from: Dr. Robert McNish "The Metempsychosis" [1826]

The Roman physician Forestus already warned his colleagues not to be too hasty in pronouncing someone to be dead, especially in the case of people who were drowned. And the famous anatomist André Vesalius (1514-1564) was dissecting the "corpse" of a Spanish nobleman when, all of a sudden, his subject started screaming and jumped off the operating table. The Danish anatomist Wislaw himself had two narrow escapes from being buried alive. In 1740, in Paris, he published his "Ab mortis incerta signa minus incerta a chirurgicis quam ab aliis experimentis", which was translated into French as "De l'incertitude des signes de la mort".

Since it is very hard to determine if someone is dead or alive, it is obvious that mistakes have been made from time to time. It is sad, but not surprising, that over the years quite a few people have been (and are still being) buried alive.

The French psychiatrist Dr. Jean-Yves Péron-Autret is the author of an interesting book called "Les enterrés vivants" (1979). In his book Dr. Péron-Autret has collected an amazing lot of material on premature burial, a subject on which he seems to be quite a bit of an expert. Sadly, I am less impressed by his theory about vampires. For he claims that premature burial offers the explanation of historical cases of vampirism. He tells us that "vampires" were in fact unfortunate people who had been buried alive. That is why their blood looked fresh when their heads were cut off. And that is why they were known to cry out loud when a stake was hammered through their heart.

In my opinion this might perhaps explain one or two historical cases. But hardly more than just that. For in his enthusiasm Dr. Péron-Autret seems to overlook the fact that in many cases those vampires were disinterred only weeks, months, even years after they had been buried. I, for one, find it pretty hard to imagine that someone who has been buried alive will not be extremely dead after such a long period.

Then again, everyone is entitled to his own opinion.
And I must admit, it's not a bad book at all.

Dr. Jean-Yves Péron-Autret: "Les enterrés vivants" (1979)
France Loisirs, Paris, France, 1979 - pp.192
iSBN: 2 7242 0836 6

Premature Burial: Jan Bondeson

There is another book about premature burial, which does not even mention vampires. Nevertheless, it is much more interesting. It will be easier to find, and - as a bonus for those who do not read French - it is in the English language. The book is called "Buried Alive". It has been written by Jan Bondeson, a professor at the University of Wales College of Medicine. This professor appears to know an awful lot about the weird side of Medical History. Some of his other books are "A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities", "The Two-Headed Boy" and "The London Monster".

"Buried Alive" must be the most comprehensive study that has ever been written on the subject. It seems to cover about everything that has ever been written or said about premature burial. From the story of "The Lady with the Ring", to Security Coffins, from Waiting Mortuaries to the Signs of Death. An incredible lot of the most remarkable information can be found in this wonderful book. And, strange as it may seem, despite the gruesome subject, the book turned out to be extremely entertaining. If you have any interest in premature burial, or even in case you are just looking for a good read, I can highly recommend this book.

Jan Bondeson:
"Buried Alive - The Terrifying History of Our Most Primal Fear" (1979)
W.W. Norton & Company, New York, USA, 2002 - pp.320
ISBN: 0 393 32222 X

© 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changes 28 July 2009
Illustration based on a work by Hans Holbein Junior - Photo "Fairground Skull" © 2005 by Rob Brautigam

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