The Museum of Hoaxes
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Iceberg floats into Sydney Harbor, 1978
Jennifer Love Hewitt's Disappearing Breasts
What do the lines on Solo cups mean?
The damp spot that hoaxed a city, 1912
The Crown Prince Regent of Thulia, 1954
The Hitler Diary Hoax, 1983
The Diaphote, a television hoax, 1880
Rare planetary alignment decreases gravity, 1976
Prof. Wingard's Death Ray Hoax, 1876
Baby Yoga, aka Swinging Your Kid Around Your Head
Clairvoyant Gets Message From Woman Buried Alive
Status: Almost definitely an urban legend
The Leicester Mercury has printed a spooky story that sounds very much like an urban legend. (Though I know some people say that true urban legends don't involve the supernatural, so I guess it would be a ghost legend.) Since I don't believe in ghosts, I'm assuming that the story is mostly b.s. But I'm curious if any parts of it are true.

The story goes like this: In 1950 Dr Guiseppi Stoppolino of Camerino University was testing an Italian clairvoyant named Mario Bocca to see if his powers were real. During the test Bocca picked up a message from a dead woman calling herself Rosa Spadoni, who claimed that she had been buried alive back in 1939. Stoppolino and Bocca searched for the grave of Rosa Spadoni, but couldn't find it until they realized that her tombstone bore her married name, Menichelli. They convinced a court to exhume Rosa Menichelli's coffin, and, sure enough, discovered evidence that she had been buried alive. As the Leicester Mercury tells it, "There was little more than a skeleton left in the coffin, but the spine was arched in an attempt to lift the lid, and the fingers still clawed at the woodwork."

A version of the story can also be found on the World of the Strange website, where they add this ending:

"The outraged public reaction that followed rocked Italy and even threatened to bring down the government. Within months, Dr. Stoppolini succeeded in his crusade for mandatory embalming of the dead. As the story spread to other European countries, burial practices were also hastily changed."

You would think that an event like this that supposedly changed burial practices in Europe would be easy to confirm, but a google search brings up almost nothing. Just about the only part of the story I can confirm is that there really is a Camerino University in Italy. I can't confirm the existence of Dr. Guiseppi Stoppolino, Mario Bocca, or Rosa Spadoni. However, a post (in Italian) on Google Groups revealed that the Spadoni story was told in The World's Greatest Ghosts, which came out in 1984, written by Nigel Blundell and Roger Boar. I'm wondering if Blundell and Boar's account is the first published account of the story. And, if so, did they simply make it up?
Categories: Death, Paranormal
Posted by The Curator on Tue Feb 14, 2006
Comments (31)
How did a clairvoyant persuade a court to exhume a body? Especially as it was only 11 years in the ground, you'd have thought that the familly might object.
Posted by Rob K  in  UK  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  06:54 AM
This sounds a lot like the legend where a rich man has a phone installed in his crypt and then dies. His wife gets a phone call from him afterward, and sometimes she dies herself from a heart attack. If caller ID is introduced to the story the numbers always have some paranormal value. If this ghost wanted her burial condition revealed why did she forget to give her maiden name? Why would she want her family to go through the agony of knowing this anyway?
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  07:18 AM
Strike that she did give her maiden name, she forgot to give her married name.
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  07:25 AM
Gotta be a hoax/urban legend. The show Myth Busters did a segment on being buried alive. The coffin started to collapse under the weight of the dirt, the oxygen level in the coffin was not enough to sustain life past the .5 hour mark, and the person buried was unable to handle the stress of being buried alive for any extended period of time (much past the .5 hr mark.). All the elements that had to be cosidered for such a venture were covered, t'was a very interesting show...
Posted by Christopher in Joplin, Missouri  in  Joplin, MO  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  07:30 AM
I
Posted by Beasjt  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  08:57 AM
This story is true. Mario knew that she had been buried alive because he put her there to begin with. He just played dumb when he looked for her by her maiden name.
Posted by dae dae  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  12:36 PM
If the corpse is just a skeleton, what was holding the spine in an arched position, and the hands clawing at the lid? Once a person dies, the muscles relax.

That alone would make me question this story.
Posted by Nigel  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  12:39 PM
Corpses move around a lot after death as the body starts to decompose, due to the buildup of gases, soft tissues shrinking (which is why many people think the hair and nails continue to grow after death--they don't, but the surrounding flesh shrinks, making them look longer), and so on. It's entirely possible that if this story took place, the corpse moved into a position that made it look as though she were clawing at the lid.
Posted by Ann F.  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  01:10 PM
It's not like being buried alive is unheard of, and there are a lot of stories playing into that specific fear. A month ago I knew what it was called too! tomb... something... a phobia ... I lost it. Anyways, It's pretty unlikely. P.S. I saw that mythbusters episode too, it rocked.
Posted by Dracul  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  03:36 PM
Is it taphophobia? I'll look it up ... one sec. I was right! It's this "Taphephobia Taphophobia- Fear of being buried alive or of cemeteries."
Posted by Dracul  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  03:38 PM
If you knew the place Rosa Spadoni was supposedly buried, it would be easy enough to test this story. If a court ordered an exhumation, there ought to be a court record, and if the incident created a public furor, it would have been covered in some Italian (and probably international) newspapers of the period.
Until somebody can document some of the above, I'm going to assume the whole story is bogus.

By the way, I would say that "The outraged public reaction that followed rocked Italy and even threatened to bring down the government" must be a wild exaggeration, except that bringing down the Italian government isn't as big a deal as you might think. Italy has had somewhere around 100 different governments (in the sense of different parties or coalitions being in control) since World War II, from which we can conclude that it doesn't take a whole lot to topple an Italian adinistration, nor do these changes of government seem to be too traumatic to the Italian people.
Posted by Big Gary, late for feeding time  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  06:15 PM
"Taphophobia- Fear of being buried alive or of cemeteries."

Hmm, I'd say these are too radically different things. I'm not scared of cemeteries, but please don't bury me alive.

It's sort of like coining a single word-- Tigracurdaphobia, let's say, that means "fear of tigers, or of lemon custard."
Posted by Big Gary, late for feeding time  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  06:19 PM
"to topple an Italian adinistration,"

Er, I mean, "an Italian administration."
Posted by Big Gary, late for feeding time  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  06:22 PM
Being burried alive would SUCK.

Anyway I actually have that book, and that's where I heard the story. It's basically the same as what's up there except apparently the person they were testing was actually in a classroom, and the Dr was offering classes on paranormal stuff or something. They got her in there, she apparently gave personal messages to the students posing as their dead relatives, and then went on about being burried alive before collapsing.

Rest of it is more or less the same.
Posted by Soldant  on  Tue Feb 14, 2006  at  06:29 PM
"Being burried alive would SUCK"

Nah, really?
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Wed Feb 15, 2006  at  01:29 AM
"The show Myth Busters did a segment on being buried alive. The coffin started to collapse under the weight of the dirt, the oxygen level in the coffin was not enough to sustain life past the .5 hour mark, and the person buried was unable to handle the stress of being buried alive for any extended period of time (much past the .5 hr mark.). All the elements that had to be cosidered for such a venture were covered, t'was a very interesting show..."
Posted by Christopher in Joplin, Missouri on Tue Feb 14, 2006 at 07:30 AM


The way you describe it, it sounds like they tested it for a person who was merely keeping still. In order for a person to be thought dead and then buried, their breathing and circulation would have to be drastically slowed down. This would lessen the amount of oxygen needed by the body. Plus, some people get buried in larger coffins than others, and if you have a small person buried in a largish coffin, that would leave even more airspace. Did Mythbusters take all that into consideration?
Posted by Accipiter  on  Wed Feb 15, 2006  at  03:16 AM
Accipiter, yes they did. It was actually very well done (in my opinion). What they did was sealed him in the coffin (a metal one) first with all the monitoring equipment hooked to him and the coffin. This was done to clarify whether he he could handle it, and if so, for how long. THEN, after it was determined that he wouldn't freak out being 'locked' in a coffin, they buried him alive. The whole thing (inside the coffin, and at 'graveside') was videotaped. He lasted longer sealed in the coffin than he did being buried, as he put it, he started freaking out when he heard the coffin collapsing under the weight of the dirt, and thus his breathing increased as did his heart rate. Needless to say, his oxygen use increased accordingly.

In my opinion, it is possible to have had people buried alive. But to go so far as to say they survived for any length of time (beyond a few hours at best) is drastically stretching the truth.

Think about it. The person is assumed dead. Even if it is an open casket funeral at graveside, the person is still at one point, sealed into the coffin when the lid is closed, at which point his oxygen supply is being consumed while he is dead. The person is usually lowered into the ground, and a family member throws the first shovel of dirt into the grave. The coffin usually is not covered completely until after every attendee has left, and then not right away. At best, maybe an hour after the last person left. If the dead person was going to come back to life, now is the best time for him to do so, as he's been sealed in that box for at least two hours, and his oxygen supply is running real low...

For somebody to have been in the condition to have been taken for dead in the first place, probably would never be able to regain the strength enough to leave claw marks in the top of the coffin in the first place, much less to have the oxygen supply left over in a flat-top wood coffin (as was the style of most coffins in the era of the myths), AFTER exhausting the energy required to leave claw marks in the coffin lid in the first place!!!

My opinion: nothing but ghost stories, better left for the camp fire...
Posted by Christopher in Joplin, Missouri  in  Joplin, Mo  on  Wed Feb 15, 2006  at  04:50 AM
In Europe in the middle ages they used to dig up coffins to reuse them. On some of these coffins they found scratch marks on the inside. They then figured out that not everybody they assumed was dead was. Modern medicine would prevent this, but back then they didn't have that knowledge so they started waiting around a bit before burying a 'dead' person; they would spend a night or so waiting for them to wake. That's where the term and tradition of have a
Posted by The White Monkey  in  PA  on  Wed Feb 15, 2006  at  10:11 AM
White Monkey cites a widely-circulated urban legend, but there's no evidence for it that I know of. In particular, lead poisoning doesn't cause a temporary coma that the victim then wakes up from.
Posted by Big Gary, late for feeding time  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Wed Feb 15, 2006  at  12:52 PM
The classic work on this subject is "Premature Burial" by Edgar Allen Poe (classic, but not necessarily accurate). Everyone should read it.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were numerous inventions patented to prevent or remedy the supposed problem of people being (accidentally) buried alive, including emergency air supplies, alarm systems, and so on. Some of these must have actually been used for at least a few burials, but I'm not aware of any recorded case of someone having been rescued after being buried alive.

On the other hand, there are many reports of people being discovered to be still alive during preparation for burial or while awaiting burial, but that's a different question, isn't it?

The most credible stories of people regaining consciousness and being rescued after premature disposal, in my opinion, are those where the unfortunate person was placed in an above-ground tomb or crypt, not buried underground. That allows a possibility that fresh air could be seeping in somewhere.
Posted by Big Gary, late for feeding time  in  Dallas, Texas, USA  on  Wed Feb 15, 2006  at  01:01 PM
A pine box might not be all that air tight until it is totally buried in dirt, so if the casket sits mostly exposed until the mourners leave there can still be air cycling through the box. PBS did a special on the 1918 Spanish Flu and released a book version of it, called 1918, or some other such generic title. Anyway they recovered some log pages of cemeteries, doctors, and clergy. One of these was the story about a woman who was placed in a casket, probably not a very good one since people needed them faster than they could be made. But her child was sick with the flu too, so the father asked the casket not be buried until the child died so the baby could be buried with mom. Eventually the child dies and when the casket is opened the wife's corpse is twisted, her hair pulled out and her fingers bloodied. Of course this sounds like a text book urban legend, but it seems to avoid the problem of air circulation. It might seem odd that the casket would be locked up if they planned on going into it again later on, but then you don't really want animals and such getting into it.
Posted by Lonewatchman  on  Wed Feb 15, 2006  at  02:17 PM
...In the movie Le Pact des Loups, the main character is burried after being "poisoned" by an Italian prostitute. Later, she digs him up and gives him something to reverse/combat the poison and wake him up.

Anywho, I don't think this really happened.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Thu Feb 16, 2006  at  09:17 AM
In response: Court TV's psychic detective Noreen Renier has been sued in the state of Washington by skeptic John Merrell, twenty years after he lost a case in Oregon and later filed a lawsuit against Noreen Renier in Florida. Renier was the author of a recent book 'A Mind For Murder' which drew extended media attention in 2005 and 2006. For more, view the website http://www.amindformurder.com
Posted by John Merrell  in  Seattle  on  Sun Mar 12, 2006  at  12:05 AM
this post is a little old but i was just doing a search about people being buried alive because today my friends talked about things like this happening. and i think it is true. ive learned that someone can go into some sort of coma where it looks like the person is dead but might not be. like its some kind of a mental disease where your brain can just shut down. i dont know much more about it, which is why i'm searching for more information about stuff like this. but yes, there have been cases where a person that people thought was dead is pretty much buried alive because they regain conciousness later from that coma. i dont know if that made sense. but .. its possible that that can happen
Posted by elle  in  San Francisco  on  Tue Jul 18, 2006  at  02:29 AM
well its creepy, but as nobody has any proof i dont believe it...
some of you say its not possible to be buried alive :\
but [and this is true] i know this is true, because my sister learnt it in year 11 i think, or year 12, in one of her health classes i think, that this guy actually learnt to stop his heart for like im not sure how long the time was, but a certain amount of time, and he told people not to bury him straight away if they thought he was dead, because he might not be...
and anyway, he "died", they buried him, and months later they dug up the coffin which had scratch marks on the inside of the lid...
:\
very scary...
i have no idea how you can learn to stop your heart, i didnt think it was possible!? :\ but i guess this dude did...god knows why he would want to do that...but yeah...
Posted by Emma  in  Australia  on  Sun Sep 24, 2006  at  12:23 AM
Lots of people used to be buried alive because medical science wasn't advanced enough for physicians to tell the difference between some states of coma and actual death (no heart monitors then!). There are true stories of people actually waking up at their funerals and wakes (one woman woke up when the sexton tried to steal her rings..)Plus in epidemics, such as the plague of 1665, people didn't want a body hanging around to infect others, and besides, so many people died there was no time for proper burials, so if someone looked dead, they were just dumped in the pit.

I've never understood people who say they want to be embalmed or cremated rather then buried in case they get buried alive. Tell me, how is getting embalmed alive or burned alive better?
Posted by Nona  in  London  on  Thu Feb 22, 2007  at  08:05 AM
Well, assuming you weren't actually dead then embalming or cremation would pretty much kill you right then and there. As far as I'm concerned, that beats the hell out of waking up in a coffin and living the last hour or so of my life in a state of absolute panic.
Posted by Charybdis  in  Hell  on  Thu Feb 22, 2007  at  11:01 AM
Hello,
today I read a book from 1988 written by Viktor Farkas."Unerklaerliche Phaenomene". He tells this story, too.

I
Posted by Werner Molzahn  in  Germany  on  Sun Jul 06, 2008  at  07:21 AM
Dr. Giuseppe is real, and he studied paranormal phenomena also. Here is the proof:

http://www.unicam.it/museomemoria/accademia/dromedario.htm

La Scienza e il Paranormale

Ci
Posted by Vitor Moura  in  Brazil  on  Mon Jan 19, 2009  at  11:56 AM
Some news about the case:

http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2009/01/the-premature-burial.html

Best wishes,
Vitor
Posted by Vitor Moura  in  Brazil  on  Sat Jan 31, 2009  at  02:15 PM
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