A tomb with a window overlooking the interior

There is a curious tomb in the Evergreen Cemetery in the River area, west of New Haven, Vermont, United States. It is a small mound of grass with a large concrete slab placed on top. This concrete block has a small square glass window measuring 35 centimeters facing the sky. The glass window is cloudy and has water droplets hanging on its bottom condensation product and you can not see much of the interior. However, in 1893, one could have observed the interior and directly see the decaying face of Timothy Clark Smith.

The tomb of Timothy Clark Smith. Photo credit: Geoff Howard / Panoramio

Timothy Clark Smith was a doctor, diplomat and a “world traveler.” Having received his medical degree at the University of the City of New York in 1855, he joined the Russian army as a surgeon, where he remained until 1857. From 1861 to 1875 Smith was a US consul in Odessa, Russia, and later in Galati , Romania from 1878 to 1883. Prior to becoming a physician he worked as a professor and employee at the United States Department of the Treasury.

Timothy Clark Smith suffered from an incurable fear of being buried alive.Known as tapefobia, from the Greek word taphos, meaning “tomb,” the fear of being declared wrongly dead and buried in a pit, when in fact one is alive, something that is not very common today but in those days , Before the advent of modern medicine, fear was not completely irrational. There is a book that describes chilling real stories of living burials . Throughout history there have been numerous urban stories or legends of people who have accidentally been buried alive. Horrifying cases have been documented of people who after falling into a state of sleep or coma were buried alive and was discovered years later, when opening the tomb, finding the unfortunate victim with the nails torn and the coffin scratched.

 The Premature Burial” (1854), a painting by Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz depicting a cholera victim waking up after being placed in a coffin.

Scottish philosopher John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was buried alive after one of his occasional coma attacks, which was misinterpreted as his death.When he opened his grave years later he found the body outside the coffin and hands and wrists shattered as he tried to escape the grave . On February 21, 1885, The New York Times made a disturbing account of a man identified as “Jenkins,” whose body was found on the inside front of the coffin, with much of his hair torn off. There were also visible scratch marks on all sides of the interior of the coffin. Another story reported by The Times on January 18, 1886, speaks of a Canadian girl named “Collins,” whose body was found with bent knees and broken shroud.

Apart from these occasionally terrifying news, many writers described stories about premature burials to overwhelm their readers. Edgar Allan Poe was especially fertile in this field.

Some afflicted with this phobia began to use what is known as a “security coffin.” A security casket is equipped with some kind of device that allows the buried person to communicate with the outside world so that that person can be rescued after their wrong burial. Many of these types of security coffins were invented and patented during the 18th and 19th centuries. Most designs include a rope that the undead could pull from inside the coffin and touch a bell or raise a flag placed on the outside. Others had ladders, evacuation traps, and even food and water supplies. Ironically, many designs neglected to include the most essential element: a breathing tube to provide air. As can be seen on the website of the Australian Museum in Sydney “most of the models had enough design flaws to suggest that they would have been unlikely to have worked properly if they had to be used.”

Although many people wanted to be buried in a security casket, they had asked their relatives to have their bodies veiled for several days to prove that they were dead, George Washington prompted his assistants not to bury him until two days later. There are very few recorded examples of people using a security coffin and none of anyone saved by it.

Photograph of a crypt built around 1890 to protect against premature burial.
When Robert Robinson, an English dissident minister, died in Manchester in 1791, a glass panel was inserted into his coffin and the mausoleum had a door through which a watchman could inspect the body to make sure it was really dead.Timothy Clark Smith’s coffin at Evergreen Cemetery was of a similar design.When he died on Halloween day 1893, he was buried in a specially prepared tomb consisting of a fixed glass window that faces directly into a concrete pit two meters deep at the end of which is Timothy’s face. In addition, he was buried with a bell in his hand so he could call for help.

According to the cemetery register, there is a second room inside the crypt that houses Timothy’s wife. A set of stairs lead to the crypt, crowned by the stone in the front of the mound.

The tomb of Timothy Clark Smith is a rare example of a phenomenon that still persists today. The latest patent for a security coffin was introduced in 1995. This modern security coffin includes an emergency alarm, intercom system, flashlight, breathing apparatus, and heart monitor and stimulator.

Design of a security casket. Photo Credit: Road Trippers


The window in the tomb of Timothy Clark Smith. Image Credit: vermonter.com

On the mound is the tomb of Timothy Clark Smith. Image Credit: vermonter.com


Sources: Road Trippers / www.findagrave.com / Wikipedia / Wikipedia / Australian Museum

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A tomb with a window overlooking the interior

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