Thomas Pursell’s and Wildwood Cemetery of Williamsport, Pennsylvania~3 min read
In the suburbs around Williamsport, Pennsylvania, there are some places of great interest. There is a road called the “End of the World”, that appears to be the edge of the world when you drive along it in the middle of the night.
About 8 kilometers from that, there is Wildwood Cemetery. The cemetery has a good side and a bad side, and it’s an ambiguos place for different reasons: is supposed to be filled with fairies on a clear night, but there is also a hill at the top of which it seems there is a banshee who sings sorrowful songs. There are many small mausoleums, however, inside several of them you can hear knocking or voices, as if the entombed are having a conversation!
From the road it’s possible see a statue called Crying Lady that literally cries and changes position on her pedestal.
And then there is Nicolle Thomas Pursell, who lived in Williamsport, was consumed with the fear of being buried alive. He and his family are buried here.
Thomas Pursell wanted to make absolutely sure that neither he nor his family would suffer the nightmare of an awakening three meters underground….
To prevent this, the retired firefighter concocted an advanced version of the safety coffin: the escape burial hatch.
Obsession with the safety coffin, which became especially intense between the 18th and 19th centuries, was born from widespread fear of being buried alive.
Do you remember the “hospitals for the dead” that prevented the fear of being buried alive?
Since the Middle Ages, there were historical records which name specific victims of this cruel fate, and while there were contemporary accounts of erroneous death pronouncements, the paranoia was especially rampant in an age when comas and other death-like medical conditions were sparsely understood.
Thus the safety coffin was invented in various versions, to draw attention to the gravesite should the deceased not actually be deceased. If historically coffins were outfitted with bells and tubes for air and even feeding, Pursell took matters into his own hands: in his opinion, a ringing bell in an empty cemetery wouldn’t do. He would ensure that he and his family could escape the premature burial that he so desperately feared.
So, he designed a vaulted apparatus that would allow the revived to ventilate their coffin from the inside via a patented wheel lock that he himself devised. Each tomb was lined with felt for comfort, warmth, and safety should they begin to panic, and any deceased family members would be buried with tools and bread.
Pursell’s burial hatch is a peculiar stone structure bearing five metal wheels, one for each tomb beneath the grave marker.
He was buried in his own creation, which resembles a large pizza oven with five metal doors, at the age of 83 in 1937. He was entombed with a board or two, an ax, a hammer and a piece of bread, but there were no sign of attempted escape!
Images from Web.