Edgar Allan Poe dramatizes this amusement in his short story, "The Premature Burial." However, Poe's narrative is not regarded as realistic by live burial enthusiasts who claim that the story is melodramatic and does a "disservice" to their pastime by "making it seem horrible rather than fun." Had Poe tried live burial himself before disparaging it in his story for the sake of producing cheap thrills and earning a few dollars from his ignorant and gullible readers, he would have characterized the experience as rapturous and divine, they contend. Once a year, in a national cemetery, live burial devotees burn copies of Poe's story during a weenie roast.
Actually, like most practices, live burial is nothing new. It was a popular form of entertainment centuries ago. It is a safe practice, when performed under parental supervision or by adults. However, one should not remain buried alive for more than a few hours without proper oxygen supply. If the individual is buried in a casket (recommended), a supply of food and water may be included. For those who are buried after cremation, such provisions usually are not necessary.
Live burial is also performed in Haiti and other Caribbean countries as a means of increasing the labor force. After being drugged and buried, superstitious natives are dug up and told that they have been brought back from the dead. As "zombies," they work their masters' plantations. Young people in the United States are not dissuaded by this practice. "We don't live in Haiti," one young man observed, "and, like, a dude's gotta be, like, really ignorant to join a voodoo cult. Duh! I mean, like, whoa! That's just, like, totally wacko."
The custom of live burial is believed to have begun innocently enough as a protective measure. Wounded hunters were shut up inside caves and sealed therein by massive tree trunks or boulders. Some were able to escape the caves; others, such as those who lost a large amount of blood form the wounds inflicted by their prey (wooly mammoths or saber-tooth tigers) tended to die in place.
Simon Magus buried himself alive, counting upon God to free him before he expired. However, the deity was otherwise occupied and the expected miracle never occurred.
Matthew Wall was on his way to a live burial when his pall-bearers, being rather clumsy oafs, dropped his casket, thereby spilling his "remains" onto the ground. He picked himself off, dusted himself off, and celebrated his "resurrection" every year, thereby popularizing live burials in England, the land of his birth and near-death experience.
It is believed that legends of vampires resulted from the unintended live burials of catatonic or epileptic people who, awakening inside a dark and silent coffin, scratched at the wood, rolled over, or otherwise behaved in an unseemly and irresponsible manner. Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played a vampire slayer on TV, confirmed the existence of vampires, explaining that she used to see them every day. In testimony before the U. S. Senate Committee on Foolish Teenage Pranks, she also stated that "numerous adolescents enjoy live burials as something to do on a Saturday night or as a way to rebel against life and stuff." She says that she has been buried alive so many times that TV and film critics refer to her as "one of the walking dead." Sean Penn has also been criticized as performing roles worthy of a "dead man walking."
Robert Ripley, author of Ripley's Belief In It Or Not, revived live burials by encouraging youth to compete with one another, nationally and internationally, for the world's record for the longest live burial. The winner was Ima Stinker, of Cadavers County, California, but she was disqualified when it was discovered that she'd had herself embalmed before her burial and was, therefore, "technically dead." First place went to her runner-up, D. Compose, who managed to stay buried for nearly three days, subsisting on finger sandwiches, toe cheese, and ribs supplied by surrounding corpses and drinking his own urine. "It wasn't exactly a diet of nectar and ambrosia, but it served its purpose," he said of his meals.
Compose said that he and his friends practiced for the "real thing" by burying themseves in sand at a popular nude beach, leaving only their heads exposed. This worked well in helping them to adjust to spending long periods being immoble, but an unpleasant side-effect was being at the mercy of urinating dogs, incoming surf, and beached jellyfish and "seeing people's private parts up close, from a worm's eye view--phew!"
Parents who are concerned that their children may be participating in live burials should look for these warning signs:
An oblong wooden box, especially one with an escape hatch built into it, in the bedroom, garage, or utility closet.
The presence of picks and shovels in the child's bedroom closet, under the bed, or in the trunk of the car.
A bell attached to a rope (this could be used as a signaling device to alert others above ground to the presence of the buried person, should something go "wrong" during the live burial).
Freshly turned earth or uprooted sod in the back yard or garden.
Unusually dirty clothing.
A gaunt appearance.
The presence of worms, maggots, or lice in the bed, bedclothes, or shower stall, or on the child's person.
Prolonged periods of inactivity.
Pronounced or frequent nightmares.
Soiling undergarments or bedwetting.
A sudden interest in God, angels, demons, heaven, or hell.
A last will and testament.