Buried Alive!

by P. Cesar De Los Santos | 4/18/01 5:00am

Back in the "good old days," people used to harbor a very real fear that they might be declared dead and put in the ground while still alive. According to CDs by Bob Hiebert, an authority on the topic, in the 19th century numerous patents were given in England and the U.S. for devices by which the elect could decline the nomination, either by signaling to people on the outside (bells, flags, electric lights activated from inside the coffin) or escaping on their own. One very common device for such matters was a bell mounted on the coffin lid, with a string running down inside the coffin, which the corpse could pull to call for room service. A bell like this figures at one point in Nicholas Meyer's book "The Great Train Robbery." In this novel, Meyer tells us that macabre 18th century tales about exhumed corpses that had been found to have clawed at the interior of the casket were not wholly fanciful: graveyard excavations reveal that nearly two percent of those interred before the advent of embalming in the 20th century were buried alive. One possible explanation for the clawed-casket stories was post-death contractions of the muscles of the deceased occurring inside the casket after burial. But according to "the Doc" (Mr. Hiebert), this logic makes little sense: rigor mortis sets in a few hours after death and locks the muscles in whatever position they are in at that time; the muscles relax 12-24 hrs after that, when the first stage of decomposition softens them to the point that they cannot hold the bones in place, and of course they cannot move or contract again at this point. Therefore, these stories of people being buried alive must be true.

On a similar note, on January 5th, 2001 at midnight I went to the Annual First-Snowfall-of-the-Year Snowball Fight on the Green. In case you happen not to know of this little tradition, let me briefly explain: Every year since the founding of Dartmouth college way back in 1769, Dartmouth students have congregated on the Green at midnight on the night of the first snow of winter term, as legend goes. This event has only become more popular in the 250 years since. In 1913, the first casualty was reported. Allegedly an elderly lady was crossing Main Street when a stray snowball left the chaos and hit her in the forehead, instantly decapitating her. Following this instant, the College attempted to stop the event, but to no avail. Every year since the college has outlawed snowballing, it has grown in popularity. Last year 98 percent of students were there, snowballs were clocked at 77 miles an hour, and bodies were seen thrown hundreds of feet into the air.

Well, I went to the snowball fight ready to "rumble in the jungle." I threw the biggest snowballs and I hit the most people and merely got scratched (not hit) three times. And, of course, I was one of the first one to arrive at the fight and the last one to leave around 2:30A.M. But just as I was going to my room and was about to check the time I noticed that my CASIO (module No. 1175), Wrist-Remote Controller, All-weather-Proof Watch, was gone! My heart was broken into a million pieces. I went to the Green and searched for it in vain for a while. Then I decided to go back to my room and go to Weather.com, the official website of The Weather Channel, to check what time the sun was going to rise in Hanover the next morning. I was at the Green at sunrise and aimlessly searched for my watch for a long time, but did not find it. Instead, I found a glove, a wallet (packed with cash, credit and debit cards, pictures, Official IDs, and keys, which I returned as soon as ASAP to the freshman from New Hamp that had lost it the night before, basically making her day), a Motorola walkie talkie (which was stolen from me later in the week), and many other items, but no sign of watch. I searched the Green many times during the following weeks looking for my watch, but did not find it and prayed to God for the safe return of watch. Without my watch, my winter here was very eventful (in a very negative way), to say the least. I had been with that watch during my high school years, public speeches, DOC trip, all-nighters, vacations, and accidents, among many things. My watch and I were one; we were a dynamic duo.

Without it, a part of me was missing. I felt unfulfilled, incomplete, and empty, ever since that fateful day in January. But just last week, Wednesday, April 11th, 2001 at 10:57am ET, when all hope was almost lost, and as I was riding my bike through the green and singing "I can see clearly now (the snow is gone)!" and thinking about my lost watch, guess what I saw right near the middle of the Green. You guessed right -- my long lost watch! It had survived, buried alive in the snow for over 3 months, the roughest winter in recent history and it was still working perfectly.

So, what is the lesson behind this story? Well, as my friend Tony says:

Life is strange with its twists and turns,

As everyone of us sometimes learns,

Don't give up though the pace seems slow,

You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out,

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit,

It's when things seem worst

That you must not quit.