Their story is similar to one told to me four years ago by a man from Maryland who had been out hiking the battlefield one fall afternoon. He was on Reynolds Avenue near where Gen. Reynolds was killed during the first days’ fighting. As he walked the fields, stopping to read each inscription on the monuments, he noticed the pungent aroma of what he thought was a rotting dead animal. He began to feel ill and light headed as the smell got stronger. He had to get away before he fainted so he turned to run back to his vehicle. But before he could take a step he realized he was not alone. There, not thirty feet away, he saw an image that was so unbelievable he didn’t want to tell anyone-ever!
He was looking at a filthy dirty man partially buried in the ground before him. His left leg and left arm below the elbow could not be seen and appeared to be buried trapping him where he lay. The horrible vision lasted but a few seconds before it disappeared into the ground.
He had to tell someone, however, and after one of our Ghost Bus Tours he picked me to hear his tale. I politely listened and was fascinated by what he had to tell. Although I’ll never know who he saw in the image, I explained that some soldiers were mistakenly buried alive.
Medicine was not what it is today and with so many traumatic deaths during the battle there is no doubt that some unfortunate soldiers were accidentally taken for dead and buried prematurely. Being buried alive was a very real fear up to the following century. With the lack of proper equipment and no embalming, mistakes were made.
There are cases where the dead were dug up for a variety of reasons and when the caskets were opened they found evidence that the dead had returned to life. Fingers were worn down and bloody from clawing at the casket cover, knees were broken from kicking, desperately trying to escape, hair was pulled out and distorted facial features were found as if the dead were screaming for help.
Some of the rich tried to escape this terrifying death by planning an escape. They would be buried with a cord tied to their finger. The cord would be run through a tube to ground level where it would be attached to a bell. An attendant would be paid in advance to sit by the graveside and listen for the bell to ring. If it did, he would then eradicate the unfortunate soul. Because of this unique escape plan, we do have two expressions that live on today: “saved by the bell” and “A dead ringer”.
With the thought of such a horrible death implanted in the minds of that generation and then the reality of being buried alive on the battlefield, I can just imagine that these two hauntings are the result of “Premature Entombment!”